Saturday, August 30, 2014

Adolph Hitler's public debut - August 2, 1914 - the Photograph of the Century

Adolph Hitler.  Hands down, "Der Fuhrer" is the most famous figure of the 20th Century.  His face, even in the crudest abstract form,  (a black-plastic comb under any nose), is still the most recognizable visage in the entire world. 

All through the month of August the news media salted the airwaves and the Internet with blaring reminders that August marks the 100th Anniversary of the start of the First World War.  I suspect most of junk reportage was ignored, as the public has been fixated on Gaza, the Ukraine, the I.S.I.S. Caliphate, and Ebola.  These past four weeks I planned to write an article on "the most remarkable photograph of the 20th Century" - the exact moment when Adolph Hitler was first photographed at a public event, and nobody recognized him or had any inkling of what he would become.  It was on the Odeonplatz in Munchen (Munich), August 2, 1914.  Hitler was just "a face in the crowd," joyously cheering the Declaration of War against Russia, and joining in the lusty outburst of German National songs.

Hitler - a studio portrait taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, in Munich
This portrait, taken by Heinrich Hoffmann, was published in 1933.
This was how Hitler saw himself and how he wanted to be portrayed.

Below,  is one of a sequence of six photographs taken by Heinrich Hoffman, a Munich photographer.  Years later Hoffmann was hired as Hitler's personal photographer, and when his boss mentioned have been at the event Hoffman took the negatives into the lab and made poster-size enlargements. He was thrilled to discover that quite by chance he had recorded Hitler's face in the Bavarian crowd. It was a stunning find, and it was first published on March 12, 1932.  The photo was syndicated and appeared in an unknown number of periodicals and with sets of cigarette cards which are today in thousands of collections worldwide.  In the summer of 1914 Hitler was a complete unknown, but within the week he volunteered for the German Army and was soon in the thick of the fight.  An extraordinary man and I agree with George Will who dubbed the picture "the century's most remarkable photograph". 

Hoffmann was not alone covering the event.  Many German newspapers covered the event, as did at least one newsreel cameramen.  It was even featured in the Illustrated London News. I have collected over a dozen images of the crowd, taken in all four directions.  In addition I have found four different published versions of the shot printed in the 1930s,  in which Hitler is isolated in a circle or vignette.

In this photograph the citizens of Munich assemble in front of the Feldherrnhalle, a symbol of military prowess, to cheer the coming of a great war.  They don't yet understand that conflict will destroy their empire and brutally humble the Germanic tribes.  In that crowd is a loner, a man of intelligence but who lacks in the conventional graces, and who doesn't yet understand his own potential as a leader.  Postwar, he will be responsible for rebuilding and empowering his defeated Germany, and return annually to that very symbolic spot to perform the rituals of blood and honour intended to cleanse the stink of defeat.  The loner in the crowd on Aug. 2, 1914 was a man of destiny so potent in significance that a century after this photograph was taken there are writing men who seek their own notoriety in trying to debunk every aspect of Adolph Hitler's life - even to the petty extent of mocking this photograph. 

Hitler - the face in the crowd - Aug 1, 1914

As everyone should know,  the modern German state and most of the Germanic people are still traumatized by the Nazi period of social, cultural and political domination.   Political correctness is expected, and few Germans today are capable of producing unbiased accounts of Adolph Hitler or the Third Reich. Some academics go so far as to make false claims which they cannot back up.  For decades the Hoffmann photograph was accepted by authoritative biographers and historians.  Then in December of 2010, the historian Gerd Krumeich, a man whom one London newspaper insisted is "recognized as Germany's greatest authority on World War 1", stepped forward and declared the photo a fake. His precise accusation was that Heinrich Hoffman had doctored the photo, inserting Hitler's face, for the purpose of helping him win an election.    The story spread like an infectious contagion because of course Hitler bashing is easy and fun, and it panders to the lazy mobs that cannot seem to find any 21st Century witches to burn.

Krumeich claimed that he had examined many variants of the Hoffmann photo and found minute differences, such as a lock of hair hanging in one and absent in others.  That is not surprising as  many prints were in circulation and were screened and tinted by individual printers. I include a vignette printed in 1933 as a collectable card. It is tinted in colours and a technician has touched up the moustache to give it more definition, but there are no substantial differences.  If Hitler had a hat, it was down at his side. He is not waving it in the air as many in the crowd were doing.  More to the point, Hitler had become a practiced politician, and he was hyper-vigilant of his image.  He spent hours in front of the mirror perfecting his body language and building a repertoire of facial gestures.  Heinrich Hoffmann had photographed his client's theatrics and he had a huge archive of images on file.  If he wanted to pull some photo-fakery he could have done a much better job, and he would have had the client looking at the camera, just as others standing next to Hitler are doing.  How obvious is that?

Hitler - the face in the crowd, Munich 1914, tinted

Everyone in the crowd understood they were witnessing history, and there were cameras recording faces from all points of the compass.   So what was Hitler looking at, while the other men are looking into Heinrich Hoffman's camera lens? 

The Feldherrnhalle, Munich,  August 2, 1914 -  Hitler in the crowd.

Hitler was intensely interested in the official proceedings - ie. the declaration of war.  He longed for war, and the joy on his face is very apparent.  He was at this point in his life disassociating himself with his native Austria, and would petition the government of the King of Bavaria for permission to join his army. Permission was in fact immediately granted.

Hitler cheers the declaration of war, Munich  Aug. 2, 1914
The Bavarian State Library in Munich has many Hoffman images in its
online catalog, which it will gladly sell to publishers and film makers.
This one, "HOFF 4482" is offered without any editorializing about it
being faked or contrived. It is deemed an authentic record of German history.

The city of Munich was where Hitler found his courage, honed his iron will,  and developed his unique form of political brilliance. He was particularly enthralled by the historical symbolism of the Feldherrnhalle and after the war, when he began moulding the NSDAP, he would annually meet with Nazi recruits in the Odeonplatz for oath-taking pageantry which was highly scripted and very photogenic.

Adolph Hitler  1914 - the Feldherrnhalle on the Odeonplatz

I conclude PART 1 of this article with this water colour of the Feldherrnhalle on the Odeonplatz, which was painted by Adolph Hitler.  It is more evidence of just how important that ceremonial structure and that unique location were in his thinking process.  All my life I have read in biographies and weighty works that Hitler did not have what it takes to become an artist. The truly nasty insisted that had no talent at all, as if the man who orchestrated the murder of six million Jews must be stripped of the merest shred of humanity.  That verdict is of course absolute rubbish, shared and repeated by cowards who are afraid to form their own opinions about art and about the man.  What Hitler inflicted on Europe after he took leadership of the Nazi Party is another story entirely.    Those who make no attempt to understand the man he was before Germany's defeat in the Great War or before the coming of his leadership in the NSDAP, are not worthy of your attention.   Young Hitler walked the streets of Munich carrying an artists easel and would not have bothered with a camera even if given one. He had an eye for detail and an ear for a well turned phrase, and on August 2, 1914 he pressed close enough to  the great hall to catch the speeches and the military salutes. We are very fortunate that Hoffman preserved his negatives  long enough for one of them  to reveal something of Hitler during those formative years before he had yet to find his destiny or capture the public imagination.

Part 2 and 3 will appear when time allows.

Update Jan 7, 2015: clearly I had no time in 2014 to return to this interesting subject. That is unfortunate because it's a fabulous story muddied and distorted by a couple of recent books written by academic historians with contemporary political agendas.  I think I need a bigger gun than a Google Blog for this one.

Ronald J. Jack
August 30, 2014

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Livens Flame Projector - It made the Somme explode like some horrific industrial accident.

Flamethrower - British Toy Soldier,  Livens
Toy soldier with flamethrower - for burning the beastly Boche in your backyard.

August 2014 is of course, the hundredth anniversary of the opening of World War 1 - which is being  trumpeted by some as... wait for it... "The Forgotten War".  How significant a cliche is that? Network television is certain that 2014 - 2018 is a golden window of opportunity to flood our eyes with NO- COST reruns of old war films and documentaries, interlarded with saccharine stories believed to be of "local interest".  The Royal Canadian Mint and Canada Post are invested heavily in promoting public awareness, and will be offering tens of millions of dollars of collectible merchandise over the next four years. Veterans Affairs has no surviving Great War veterans to roll out, and so vigorously mines the memories and enthusiasms of descendants of C.E.F. volunteers.  Our news industry (which wraps advertising around content) and the Canadian government (which wraps "Heritage" money around its perceived voter base), clearly believe we need their officially  mandated and infomercial form of remembrance. Do we?

Have you noticed a nauseating stream of faux-reportage this month?  Stale stories are, I think, a propaganda effort certain to fall on deaf ears. It is a campaign which I suppose will play out over four years, annoying the hell out of those who do possess historical awareness. The problem is that reporters and politicians are not believable people, and we instinctively know that there is not an ounce of genuine interest or compassion in their commemorative message.  As one who frequently teaches young people about WW1, its technology, its poetry and its lasting impact on our society, I am constantly searching for stories which can cut through the avalanche of sticky, kaleidoscopic imagery which is over-stimulating our youth.  Obviously such images must be arresting if they are to have any chance of competing with Hollywood's output. Archival images of the muddy trenches and the poppy fields, with a bugler blowing the Last Post in the background, doesn't cut it with the cellphone generation.  Emphasizing "how very young" the boys of that "Lost Generation" were, fails to put a lump in the throat of today's teenagers. A strangers death does not scare them, and a soldiers death does not move them.

Assuming the B.C. Teachers Strike ends sometime soon, and students are one again required to struggle with Social Studies 11,  "Canada in World War One" will be on their plate. It's a given that when you teach war history it is helpful to have artifacts on the table. When a student picks up a Ross rifle bayonet and is asked to imagine the pain of a German who had that rammed threw his rib cage, it leaves an impression. I'm always seeking new ways to make such impressions. I may soon be tutoring well-rested students on really scary war-tech, like the LIVENS LARGE GALLERY FLAME PROJECTOR:

Test Firing - the Livens Flame Projector, 1916
Click on each photo to enlarge.

In May of 2010 a team of archaeologists and historians assembled on a farmer's property at Mametz, France to open an exploratory trench. They were looking to disinter a forgotten monster of WW1.  They had excellent maps, photos, Regimental War Diaries and more, which made it fairly easy to locate the blasted gallery where one of the Livens Flame Projectors was sited.  The whole excavation, which included the assistance of a party of Royal Engineers, was recorded for a British network television show, called "TIME TEAM".   Over the years I have watched three or four episodes on YOUTUBE, but I had not heard of this episode. I stumbled over it just a week ago.  It seems that it was co-produced for Canada's HISTORY CHANNEL, but then H.C. is not my cup of tea.

It is very clear to me that the reason this documentary project went off so well is because it was meticulously researched by historians who know their stuff. Kudos to them. But while I do recommend the program for its visuals, it is obviously made for people who don't know anything at all about warfare or who divide their time between the TV screen and their cell phones.  The 47 minute program is extremely repetitious and filled with looped clips and contrived drama, which was totally unnecessary. (In researching this article I checked the production companies website. This video project is listed as a "Docu-drama". Fair enough.)  The battlefield dig at Mametz was well funded, precise in execution, and fully supported by a British university, a French Museum, the British MOD and even a few French donor companies.  As a result the  excavations generated a wealth of physical evidence and support a highly interesting story.  The team effort justified the investment of resources, and I have read that the program was  "a hit".

I first watched the TIME TEAM program on YOUTUBE, cut into four segments.  You can now watch the 47 minute show intact.  It is here -   THE SOMME'S SECRET WEAPON.

Livens Large Gallery Flame Projector - detailed model of the weapon.

The massive flame projector was designed for a single purpose. Assembled below the front trenches in strict secrecy, they would be used as a shock weapon to neutralize a length of the German line, just as an assault was initiated.  Only four were built for the Somme.  Two were successful and two were destroyed by enemy action.  We realize today that this type of weapon is better deployed in a defensive scenario.  Image if, earlier this month, Israeli sappers had encountered such fire beasts as they entered Gaza?  Fortunately Hamas weapon makers prefer  I.E.D.s to flame throwers.

Livens Flame Projector - WW1, Test firing by Royal Engineers 2011

Following recovery of whole sections of a Livens Flame Projector buried in collapsed SAP 14, the device has been recreated in a four versions.  A  C.G.I.  graphic, a tiny scale model, a full-size scale model (sans pressurized tanks), and incredibly -  a full-sized working facsimile built and tested by the Royal Engineers.  I think the last was unnecessary (and environmentally filthy) but it made for highly dramatic television images.  

The Royal Engineers actually cheated. They did not even try to use Livens' original system of piston-driven compressed gas.  They used an electric pump attached to very large portable fuel bladders of a type which  all NATO forces have in their inventory.  Still, if you compare the test firings made with the reconstructed weapon, with the original image at the top of this article, you will agree that the  R.E.s succeeded in copying the effect. A horrifying flame weapon indeed.

Livens Flame Projector - WW1 terror weapon recreated by Royal Engineers

Something from a madman's notebook?  Not really. All weapons are murderous in intent and in use. But some are designed to scare you as well as kill you.  What is amazing about this Flame Projector, which some marketing guru has now dubbed  "The Dragon of the Somme", is that is took Livens and skilled British craftsmen and Engineers  just 25 weeks from first sketch - to fabrication - to deployment in a clay tunnel.

I have learned that an 83 minute version of the TIME TEAM documentary was edited for North American viewing. I haven't seen that longer version, but it may simply be the "Two Hour Special" produced for HISTORY TELEVISION.  If so, I might still watch it, hoping that the historians get to speak more than "Tony" the Time Team's  on-air talent.

Classics Illustrated - THE WAR OF THE WORLDS

"The War That Will End Wars"
If you have read the H.G. Wells novel THE WAR OF THE WORLDS, you will recall that the Martian heat ray was an energy weapon carried by walking machines that laid waste to much of England's urban core, incinerating London and at least one Royal Navy Dreadnought.  When I first read of Livens' devastating flame projector, in a history blog, I pulled down a riot of visual memories which enhanced my reading experience.  Odd thoughts really, such as wondering if his diabolical design was not somehow influenced by his recreational reading. It cannot be denied that Mr. Wells was widely read, and he was influential.  In his "Martian" novel, Wells described the shock effect of the hellish invaders roaming about the English countryside unchallenged, their towering machines burning all humans they encounter.  Livens' more industrial version of a death ray failed only because it was so vulnerable to German artillery that it had to remain hidden sub-surface, and because its fiery charge was expended in only a few short bursts.  The B.E.F. did make territorial gains from time to time, and the Livens flame weapon was not mobile.  Of course, once I had seen the British video, with its full colour recreation of the weapons' destructive power,  the imaginative component of  my reading experience evaporated.

Although not a combatant, H.G. Wells was a participant in the Great War from its beginning to end.  His book,  THE WAR THAT WILL END WAR was published in October of 1914, which was months before our Canadian troops (the C.E.F.)  reached the battlefield. Before long the title was "in circulation" in a skeptical form as "The war to end all wars". The book's opening line reads "The cause of a war and the object of a war are not necessarily the same." is still a basic truism.  In our own time the war making ambitions of radical Islam triggered an American response  - the declaration of a so-called "War on Terror", but as some of us realize, ever since President Wilson expressed his credo of "making the world safe for democracy" the United States government has always managed to scare up a threat to its particular way of life.

The Flame Tank - Hugo Gernsback's lurid idea for a magazine cover in 1936

The concept of flame projectors never died, but what they did do was become mobile. In World War ll all nations with tank armies developed flame-thrower variants. They were most famously used by the Americans during the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific. More recently, assemblers of books on Science Fiction art invariably include the more fanciful covers from Hugo Gernsback publications, very often including this one showing his "invention", The Flame Tank, which appeared not in a S.F. pulp but his hobbyist magazine SCIENCE AND MECHANICS (Jan. 1936).  The only thing unique about this painted scenario is that the artist has the infantry garbed in flame resistant uniforms and hoods, which implies that they would fight almost amid the flames.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

BLACK JUNE - I.S.I.S. "Selfies" of head trophies should not surprise anyone

When Shakespeare summed up human failings, he could be devastating. "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin." That was not written to flatter us, but  rather to confirm that we are all beasts, and many of us monstrous beasts.  I thought of this recently as I examined a dozen atrocity photos shared I.S.I.S. warriors in  Syria, who were not content with executing captives, but felt the need to go further. They decided to cut off their heads and make a display of the gory trophies.  

A selfie from Syria  I.S.I.S.  fighters as headhunters
An I.S.I.S.  selfie posted on TWITTER.  Head-hunting shots flatter the beast.
He was born in the Netherlands, but his heart burned for an ISIL homeland.
The idea here is the killing of the "near enemy" or impure Muslims. The
killing of the "distant enemy" we impure Westerners, can wait for now.

Consider the two men in the photos, one a passport holder from the Netherlands and the other from Australia.  Don't let the beards fool you.  Not long ago these fellows were living on our side of the divide, sitting in a food court at some generic shopping mall, cheap baseball caps on their heads, munching on junk food.  You would not have given them a second glance, and they found that infuriating.  With these photos they spit in your salad, do they not?   2013 was declared the Year of the Selfie, so what did thousands of angry Muslim youth do? They flew to a war zone beyond American military supervision, where they could trump one of the most odious forms of narcissist Western expressionism - the Selfie.  (Even the Obama's employ the SELFIE gimmick without any hint of irony.) Now we have the head-hunting selfie. Bravo fellows!

Australian ISIS head trophy hunter
The Australian press made a big deal out of the fact
that this immigrant, Mohamed Elomar, abused their passport, 
not to mention Aussie hospitality.   It's easy to be offended,  and 
many are these days, but harder to act. 

There is nothing new in this of course.  My ancestors were warrior Celts of the West European forests and river valleys. They were tribesmen who took heads whenever they felt the urge to publicize their fearsome courage.  They also successfully resisted the military power of the Roman Empire - less so the cultural intrusions which they considered a spiritual pollution.  The declaration of a new I.S.I.L. "caliphate" in territories which were reallocated by the Imperial British and the Imperial French, is a startling new reality.  The wheel of history is turning.  We will get used to radical Islam, or we won't. The Americans are the premier war fighters on this planet, but they have instinctively recoiled from this new radicalized form of warfare because the modern G.I. is not ruthless enough to put the blade to the throat, as our ancestors did.  

  In the Hollywood war fantasy - ALIENS -  the enemy is a creature which cannot be negotiated with, and is too lethal to co-exist with humans. Corporal Hicks, the sturdy Colonial Marine decides on Armageddon. "We'll nuke 'em from orbit. It's the only way to be sure."  Real life solutions are a bit trickier.  We cannot ever nuke our home world. Nuclear warheads are not an option for all the obvious reasons, and in the end will not even save Israel.  But where is that antibiotic, the magic bullet,  capable of flushing the homicidal beasts who infect our pluralistic societies?   

Celtic head hunter, the warrior hero, c180 B.C.
A reconstruction of broken limestone statuary excavated in France -
a Celt hero figure, circa 300 BC,  displays  head trophies for all eternity.
Roman Legionnaires smashed it to bits, fearing its power to incite resistance.

If you are interested in the significance of head trophies, there is a mass of archaeological evidence and art history which documents its function.  The only thing at all humorous about the atrocities we have seen committed (recently) in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, (and even more so in Mexico) is that the bearded beasts really think they have invented something new, when in fact they are reverting to something very ancient.  Head hunting has never completely disappeared from our world, any more than have cannibalism or even the plague.  As disgusting as the war-porn has become, it could get worse. So far at least we haven't witnessed full-reversion to the bloody ape, although recent African conflicts drew us very close indeed.  The Neanderthal would crack the human skull open to access the sweet brain. So far the Islamic Jihadists have refrained, but consumption of human flesh was witnessed in at least three recent war zones in sub-Saharan Africa.  The beasts are stirring.

severed head  c300 BC, in stone, Celtic head hunting tradition
A stone head  grasped by the hand of a Chieftain.  In a fusion of sorts,
the Greco - Roman form of expression (sculpture in stone) was used to
immortalize Celt values -  the Hero-Warrior displaying his trophies.

What is really ironic about the Islamic use of the ancient head-hunting motif, is that it has kindled interest in comparable Celtic symbolism in Western Europe, particularly in those countries where the hyper-vigilant police jump on any display of Nazi regalia, even when it appears in non-authentic, stylized form.  There is a huge European sub--culture now collecting, re-interpreting and sharing pagan symbolism, and much of it informs their political idealism.  For some, aggressive images on a T-shirt or a banner are a manifesto, and the sword or gun pose is too cliche.  A severed head, held high, is an arresting image which cannot be ignored. One can safely predict that when the next European war breaks out, possibly in the 'balkanized' Balkans, the display of head trophies will finally return to European warfare... shared of course on Facebook and Twitter.

Severed heads of British bankers - protest on London Bridge, 2009
A gruesome form of protest which doesn't turn a single head.
These head trophies were models of living British bank executives.
Would this be a "hate crime" in Canada, or deemed legitimate protest?
Bring me the head of JUSTIN TRUDEAU - and please be creative.

Celtic Headhunter, Thomas Gunn Miniatures, Wiltshire
The Celt Headhunter - Thomas Gunn Miniatures, Wiltshire (U.K)


Taliban Hunting Club,  U.S. manufactured patch
This design  is not unit specific.  It is manufactured in Nevada 
and  sold online as a "morale boosting" item.  I am not 
aware of any instance where American personnel defied Army
authority and  took a trophy,  either in Afghanistan or Pakistan.  

U.S. Army publication - VISUAL PROPAGANDA  AND EXTREMISM, July  2014

The very latest U.S. Army publication on "visual propaganda".
Not a single mention of the thousands of colour photos of
severed heads which flooded onto the Internet in 2014.

Addendum: Pixilated Postcards from the Beastly Press

Seven year old Australian boy displays head - ISIS Recruits 2014

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Black June - JOINT BASE BALAD rendered an embarrassing relic of thwarted U.S. Military Power.

Control tower, Joint Base Balad
The control tower at Joint Base Balad.

The construction of Joint Base Balad, with its rebuilt runways and advanced electronic systems, coupled the sprawling Army logistical support facility known as LSA Anaconda, cost the American taxpayers an undisclosed fortune. Balad's reinforced runways are capable of receiving the giant C5 Galaxy transports, its hardened shelters are refurbished to receive the newly built Iraqi F16s, its base perimeter was the most secure in the Iraq-  and all of that was ABANDONED because the Obama White House suddenly lost interest in a profitless war which reeked too much like America's defeat in Viet Nam.

Town of Balad, Iraq is all that is stopping ISIL sweep into Baghdad
Can it really be true?  Balad, a small city astride a great highway,
is all that is stopping the ISIL sweep into Baghdad.  That is what a 
Shiite militia commander told the Los Angeles Times,  just a week ago.

The Balad - Baghdad Highway, which the American army truckers called MAIN SUPPLY ROUTE TAMPA,  has been raided by ISIL guerillas continuously for six weeks. ISIS/ISIL swept into Balad at least twice and then withdrew. Until very recently, when visited by the British BBC and the Los Angeles Times, we had only very sketchy reports of pinprick attacks along the asphalt corridor. In and around the Shiite controlled city, a tribal enclave which is an agricultural centre hosting a population of some 100,000, newly armed militiamen have concentrated and dug in, with some heavy weapons support from the Iraqi national army. But regular  army officers are not in command at Balad.  The Shiite militia commander has described his pattern of strong points as "the front line" in the defence of Baghdad.  But of course Balad is not Normandy. There are plenty of exit ramps on the Iraqi freeways.  The Muslim road warriors do have options. The President of Iraq has fewer.

Highway outside the wire defenses - Joint Base Balad, Iraq
This was the scene in 2010 as the principal American units pulled
out of JOINT BASE BALAD, leaving only small detachments of USAF
and CIA personnel to contribute to the covert Drone strike operations.
At the top of the photo - empty trailers wait under the overpass to
go into JBB to load military vehicles.  At the bottom, loaded transports
emerge from the base.  Not the tubular concrete gun tower. Many of
these highway fortifications have already been blasted by ISIL.

Camp Anaconda - section of defensive perimeter. Joint Base Balad
Tower 32 at LSA Anaconda - just one spot in a miles-long
defensive perimeter comprised of towers, razor-wire, mines, 
gun pits and irrigation canals.  It is still intact and functioning.


JOINT BASE BALAD  is still there, but no American journalists have entered the base in 2014.  Worse, we have no explanation for the White House's massive re-investment in the superbase. In America it seems they still have mountains of money to burn.  Until the bug-out in June, several hundred employees of American corporations were beavering away, prepping J.B.B. to receive Apache attack helicopters, Iraqi  F16s and a squadron of CIA assassination drones. It was a highly secretive American outpost.  Yes,  Iraqi oil was paying for the new gunships and fighter aircraft, but the American taxpayer was footing the bill for everything else. Almost a billion new dollars to refit a base which had already squandered billions. And since the CIA budget is black, we do not know how many UAVs were in the pipeline for delivery to Joint Base Balad. There is no reason for ISIL/ISIS commanders to waste resources on attacking the hardened base. Base personnel are bottled up and chewing their fingernails. It is now clear,  after more than a month of cringing silence, that the White House is not going to need the super-base, because the U.S. cavalry will not be going in to the rescue the Iraqi armed forces. The Muslim Road Warriors will ultimately break through at the city of Balad, and finish their campaign with a rush on the Shiite capital - Baghdad.

Hardened shelter for F-16 aircraft - Joint Base Balad

We are still waiting for the "Last Battle", the decisive event which allows the experts to declare a turning point in history. The final edit of the Wiki-page. How long will it be before we witness the FALL OF BAGHDAD?  Weeks? Months?   As a concerned Canadian, trying to make sense of "Great Power Thinking",  I have to rely on journalism for much of my factual information. More and more I feel like a sucker.  Didn't we all try to make sense of events in Iraq when the ISIS assault exploded as a news story?  I found it disgusting to see how quickly the interest of "news editors" evaporated in less than two weeks.  It really is a testament to the disproportionate influence American news production has on  the worldwide information flow. The noise from New York is near deafening. By now there are hundreds of thousands of U.S. service personnel who know that their government is lying to them, on an hourly basis, but I'll wager they are no more equipped to discover what has been happening at Balad, and on the highways of Iraq than I am.  Remember that sickening video, edited like a cat food commercial,  which documented ISIS death squads roaming Iraqi highways? It was presented to us as "news"  and according to whacky Wolf Blitzer, evidence that ISIS was a "band of terrorists".   CNN and other American infotainment producers insisted the ghastly video was proof that ISIS was "scarier" than Hezbollah. Remember the "scarier than scary" narrative of Iraq during Black June 2014?  We now know that ALL of that video was shot before the ISIS offensive in June, and had nothing to do with ISIS battlefield tactics. Now we also find that Hezbollah fighters  are at Balad, in the front line defending Baghdad and the Maliki government.   Hell just got hotter.

ISIS death squad video on LIVELEAK

What was simply stunning to witness, was how quickly the Obama government distanced itself from the hapless antics of the Iraqi puppet government.  The U.S. news media fell almost totally silent, as if the only thing worth reporting was White House blathering.  During the first days of the BLACK JUNE offensive, as the ISIS/ISIL "road warriors" blitzed along the network of Iraqi national highways, CNN (ever the mouthpiece of the White House) was totally devoted to covering the Iraqi military collapse. But as soon as Obama media flaks signalled that Iraq was cut loose,  CNN stopped covering the guerrilla war at all, and found other subjects for its "panel of experts" to chew on.  Americans hate to chew on defeat,  don't they?

The Fall of Iraq - the easiest victory in history
Assessing the Black June successes of ISIS, the
U.S. Statement sees historical parallels. The Crusades!
Need we  go further back than World War Two ?

The day after I posted my last blog (June 25) on the possible utility of Joint Base Balad to American military ambitions in the region,   I was parked at a shopping mall with a bottle of water and a good read  - John Williams "FRANCE  - SUMMER 1940". As I read the introduction written by Sir Basil Liddell Hart, "The easiest victory in history",  my thoughts turned to the possibility that that we are witnessing an even easier victory. A victory made possible not by any equivalence to German military innovation, but spawned by the reality American political arrogance.  The history purest will object, insisting that there are no direct parallels between France in 1940 and Iraq of 2014.  Perhaps.  It is true that ISIS commanders deployed columns of pickup-truck borne fighters, not columns of light panzers and waves of Stukas. And while the Iraqi  government was not dependant on any "Maginot Line" or superiority in tank forces, it WAS dependant on something even more daunting in this world -  it expected backup from its powerful U.S. military ally.   But rescue was denied.

If you think my historical analogy is half-baked, consider the opinion of a "Senior State Department Official" who accompanied John Kerry to Amman, Jordan.  In an important press briefing on June 22, 2014, (archived on the State Department web-server)  he reflected on the reasons for the unprecedented rout of the Iraqi military in the face of ISIS thrust south out of Syria.  "I'm not an historian, but if you read histories of the crusades... there's some historic parallels maybe..." (extract below).

U.S. State Department, Amman briefing June 22, 2014

American political thinking in mid-June is made clear, as Iraqi towns were falling in sequence to ISIS/ISIL.  "So we immediately faced some things we had to do.  We wanted to look for a circuit breaker to try to break that kind of domino from on and on."  Rather badly stated, don't you think?  But it is interesting to see the metaphor of a "circuit breaker" used to explain the evacuation of civilian contractors from Balad Airbase, rather than its reinforcement.  One cannot help wondering, what were the private thoughts of experts at the Pentagon, forced to accept throwing away a strategic asset which cost so much in  U.S. blood and dollars.

Instead of rescuing his putative ally, America's "Commander in Chief" bobbed and bleated on about how "undemocratic" and "sectarian" the Malaki government is.  Sure Malaki won the most votes, said Obama,  but he is undeserving of further American support because he doesn't invite opponents into a "Unity Government".  That's pretty rich coming from a De-moo-crat President, in the dis-united states of america.  Are there more than 20 countries in the entire world which could hope to meet the worn-out American notions of governance?   What the Americans seem incapable of understanding is that the entire world of nations is getting sick-to-death of lectures about democracy, American style.  The perfected form of American democracy is failing and we all see it clearly.  The United States, a two-party state, corrupt, heavily policed and polarized, is  now failing to provide the level of progress and safety for its citizens that even the Chinese people are coming to expect.  Chinese governance, a one party state, is beginning to look healthier and less frightening than the Orwellian police-state that the American warlords are hell bent on perfecting.  

A full century after World War 1resulted in the carving up of Ottoman lands, we are finally going to have to accept allowing the peoples of the Middle East to draft their own borders and make their own laws.   It will be messy and painful but the region must be allowed to determine its own natural balances.  The Americans have retreated from Iraq.  It's time they retreated from the entire region. They have troubles enough at home.

The Times has taken plenty of crap in recent years, largely due to the impression it gives off -  that it is "establishment media" ... "uber-liberal"...  "White House mouthpiece" and more. But sometimes we have to acknowledge the N.Y.T.'s efforts. Such was the case with the July 9th piece "On the Road to Samarra, Glimpses of Iraq's New Fractured Reality".  The by-line is Alissa J. Rubin,  a journalist who boldly entered bullet and mortar bomb pocked side-streets of Balad. Ms. Rubin took the time to determine the loyalties of the non-descript combatants, and reported with confidence that it is controlled by Kataib Hezbollah, "a militia trained and funded by Iran".  The Iraqi army at Balad is assisting Hezbollah fighters, and have set up a training camp in the centre of town.  Rather ironic that.   American trained Iraqi army officers are now training Hezbollah militiamen, who are being armed by Iran.    What she left unreported was activity inside Joint Base Balad.  Ms. Rubin had to drive past Balad Airbase to  get to Balad City, and pass it again in the return to Baghdad. Wasn't she curious?

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

BLACK JUNE - South Africans helped cover the covert American Bug-out at Balad Airbase

I.S.I.S. Road Warriors - mobile column of ISIS fighters in opening phase of June 2014 campaign in Iraq
Iraq is an excessively militarized country, where virtually every adult male has
access to weaponry.  However the media may characterize the lightning advance of
I.S.I.S.  columns into Iraqi towns and cities, it was not a "cowardly" operation.


Initial ISIS  attacks on Balad  Airforce Base, June 2014  - situation map

On June 24th  the Iranian FARS News Agency, reported that the town of Balad, Iraq had been "recaptured" by Iraqi soldiers.  I take that factoid to mean the town had been swept of I.S.I.S. guerrillas by the Iraqi national army.  No mention was made of any recapturing of the American-built and-equipped fortress which was being prepped for the basing of Iraqi F16s and for the return of U.S. hunter-killer drone fleets. More important was the continued blackout of any news about what was going on inside Balad Airforce Base, which is larger than many American cities.  After the initial, and very brief U.S. media interest in the "besieged" American contractors at the heavily guarded super-base, and their extraction by Iraqi Airforce aircraft,  all went very silent at Balad.  The creepy silence was not due to the base being abandoned, (there are still plenty of Yanks there) but due to the imposition of enhanced secrecy, and the willing collusion of a tame media which is adjusting to the chilling new reality : any attempt to pry into the secret activities of the American Empire is to surrender yourself to lifetime of close surveillance, which is highly destructive of a career in journalism.   

C-RAM  Counter - Rocket, artillery, Missile - deployed to Joint Base Balad


During those few days in early June when U.S. civilian contractors were cowering in protected corners of "Joint Base Balad", waiting for the cavalry to arrive, various U.S. corporations (working under contract to the D.O.D.) issued statements assuring the worried families back home that extraction was imminent.  There was no Internet service available at Balad but a few employees, working for  Sallyport Global, Michael Baker International, Dyncorp, KS International or AMK9,  managed to get out cellphone calls, text messages and Skype video.  A few displayed bravado, claiming that the Iraqi base defence force had fled, but that Americans had picked up weapons and were defending themselves.  Given the immense size of the base it is doubtful that the civilian contractors knew that much about what was really going on around the perimeter, and for 24 hours were feeding off rumours. All U.S.-employed contractors were "herded" into a compact area adjacent to an aircraft ramp to await extraction The truth seems to be that a contingent of White South Africans, all of them dog handlers and all of them with police and military backgrounds, armed themselves and fell in with the base security forces.  The South Africans - to a man - have kept their mouths shut and will continue to be employed among alongside America's secret operators in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraqi Air Force C-130 transport photographed departing Joint Base Balad

After a few hairy days, during which many in Washington held their breath, the American civilians at Balad were airlifted by Iraqi C130s.  (All the White House ever really cared about is that "American civilians" would not become hostages.)  Only one photograph of those evacuees was ever published and no reporters covered the flights or tried to interview the evacuated workers.  In fact hundreds of publications contented themselves with printing American disinformation rather than trying to establish what had really happened.  The single American evacuee who opened his mouth, Anthony Akers of San Antonio, (an ex-Marine with Iraq service) was immediately fired for violating corporate media gag-policy.  It was further alleged that by talking about what he had seen, heard and done at Balad Airbase, Akers "gave out operational security details" that put lives at risk.  This was literally true, because there was, and still is an American security detachment at Balad guarding very sensitive facilities, not least of which is a newly completed Secure Compartmented Information Facility.  Airlift flights by American C17s out of Tinker AFB were already underway into Balad Field more than a month before I.S.I.S. launched its blitzkrieg columns down Iraqi highways. As much as the story is spun that Balad is Iraq's largest airbase, once the U.S. made the decision to deliver F16s and Apache attack helicopters to Iraq, as well as piggy-backing a secret MQ-9 Reaper operations centre to that FMS and basing agreement,  "Joint Base Balad" effectively returned to full American control.

Evacuation by C130 of American civilians from BALAD (Iraq) AIRFORCE BASE - June 13, 2014
This is the only available photo of the Evacuation of American civilian workers
from BALAD AIRFORCE BASE. Taken on June 13, 2014 it was leaked by an employee 
of Sallyport Global.  Only two flights out - and 73 South African personnel were left behind.

On June 25th information attributed to "U.S. intelligence officers" made the situation at Balad Airbase even muddier, as it was intended.  The story written by Eli Lake and Josh Rogin at THE DAILY BEAST,  "ISIS TRIES TO GRAB ITS OWN AIR FORCE" made headlines around the world. More important, it ensured that any snoopy journalists who might have been thinking of hitching a ride into Balad would definitely stay away.  Remember this was only a day after the Iranian news agency declared the town of Balad "recaptured" by the American-backed Iraqi regime.

"In its march to Baghdad, ISIS seized the heavy weapons of a modern army. Now, the jihadists are attacking Iraq’s biggest air base – and could soon be able to attack from the sky."
 The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is threatening to take control of Balad Airbase, Iraq’s largest airfield and one of America’s most important military outposts during its occupation of the country.
Today, Balad still has plenty of vehicles and aircraft on the base that any terrorist group would covet, including Russian-made transport helicopters, surveillance planes, and a fleet of pickup trucks fitted with heavy machine guns. Now, that airbase is coming under fire—and is in danger of falling into the hands of ISIS, according to U.S. intelligence officers, internal reports from Balad, and outside analysts. Reuters reported Wednesday that the base was now surrounded on three sides by insurgents and taking heavy mortar fire."

Map showing extent of Iraqi territory overrun by ISIS fighters mid-June 2014
Typical map showing extent of I.S.I.S. successes during the initial
period of the June 2014 campaign.  (Internet scrape on June 17th)

What I have found of particular interest these past two weeks, are the many hundreds of maps and diagrams which have been created by the world news media to document the swathe of territory captured by I.S.I.S. (ISIL) forces. Almost never does Balad Airforce Base appear. How can that be, given its acknowledged strategic importance?  Well, largely it is due to the level of secrecy that the Americans have imposed on the facility and what their special operators are currently doing there.  If I.S.I.S. could have gotten through the gates, as was alleged in initial news stories, the Islamic black flag would already be flying on the roof of the Balad control tower. Should the White House  be unwise enough to choose to re-invade Iraq,(call it Option -X)  there would be no time available for a traditional build-up of forces outside of enemy borders.  Joint Base Balad is the largest secure facility in Iraq currently available to the Americans, and it would be the entry point for an assault armada in their president ordered one.  As such it will be held, unobserved by media, until such time as propping up the Iraqi government is no longer an option.   

Friday, June 13, 2014

BLACK JUNE - the former U.S.A.F. super-base at Balad, Iraq goes down

Iraqi Airforce -  F-16 Fighting Falcon shoulder patch
F-16 Fighting Falcon patch woven for the Iraqi officers
training with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tuscon, Arizona.

BALAD - A massive airforce base that cost American taxpayers billions to construct and to maintain, has just fallen.

How did it come to this?  Less than two weeks ago the public relations folks at Lockheed Martin were blitzing the media with gorgeous photos of the F-16s in Iraqi Airforce colours, and crowing about their imminent delivery into the hands of Iraqi pilots.  Now the government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki is on the verge of collapse and the multi-billion dollar sale of warplanes is rendered meaningless. Certainly not 'too little', the Falcons are nevertheless 'too late'.  On Wednesday the U.S. State Department said the additional $838 million support program is on "indefinite hold"and that American contract workers were being evacuated from Iraq.  Just 48 hours later the situation is proving to be even more incredible.

First, some background. Until Lockheed sent out its press release with colour photos, most people were unaware of the fact that Iraqi airmen (most are high ranking officers) had been undergoing intensive training on F-16s with the 162nd Fighter Wing at Tuscon, Arizona. The average citizen simply does not follow the business of arms sales and base construction. The U.S. had competed with the Russians and Koreans  for Iraqi warplane business, which is intended to replace an entire airforce destroyed in war.  The Maliki government has ordered Russian helicopters and Korean ground-attack aircraft, but clearly the Americans got the juiciest contract. And what would be new home of the Iraqi Fighting Falcons?  It was to be Balad air base just north of Baghdad - the former U.S.A.F. super-base which was only relinquished to Iraqi national control in 2011, although secret U.S. drone operations continued from a dark corner of the sprawling facility.   The first two Iraqi F-16s were scheduled to arrive in September, with two-per-month delivery until the initial order of 18 was complete.  American contractors were already onsite at Balad prepping the base to become a Falcon roost,  ultimately to host 96 birds in hardened aircraft shelters. The bunkers which until recently protected American assets.   

Iraqi Airforce  F-16D Fighting Falcon - Lockheed Press handout
Iraqi Airforce F-16D goes vertical. Lockheed P.R. photo release.

Hundreds of thousands of United States service personnel know Joint Base Balad very well indeed.  When the U.S.A.F. decided to locate its Expeditionary Wing at Balad, billions of dollars were invested in a complete rebuild, and in fortification.  "JBB" occupies 25 square kilometers (nine square miles) and is ringed by a 20-kilometer security perimeter so well designed that press handouts described it as "a fortress". (see map) The perimeter is probably all that saved the contract work force this week, because many in the base security force bugged out.  Balad was the second largest American base in Iraq and it is still as well equipped as many bases in the continental U.S.A.  As of tonight it appears to be lost, and almost certainly we will soon see some cruise missile and drone strikes intended to demolish some of the more sensitive installations. 

Click on photo to enlarge

So who were those trapped at Balad airbase by  the advancing columns of militants known as I.S.I.S.  Islamic State in Iraq and the (Levant) Syria?   Contrary to the dis-information being willfully circulated by news outlets today, (the L.A. Times for example) most of them are employees of Contrack International Inc., a company headquartered in Maclean, Virginia and which is very tight with the U.S. military.  Contrack, one of several firms working under Michael Baker International,  was responsible for building many highly sensitive installations in Afghanistan and it dispatched very experienced personnel to Balad, because the basing of F-16s was a priority project. In spite of the $$billions already poured into Joint Base Balad, the latest upgrade required eleven additional buildings.  No doubt there were secret components to the contract, intelligence related,  as JBB was formerly launching area for strike drones targeting the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We know that a U.S. training detachment was at Balad as late as yesterday, instructing Iraqi personnel in drone operations.  Senior Project Manager for BALAD is David Rutherford, who is actually not an American. He is South African and still keeps a home in Durban. No doubt he is with those evacuees who are resting safe in Baghdad tonight.  It must have been a harrowing two days for him.

David Rutherford, Senior Project Mgr., F-16 Support Facilities, Balad, Iraq
A South African national,  David Rutherford is Senior Project Manager 
at BALAD, prepping it for the basing of the F-16D  Fighting Falcons.  

BALAD, Iraq - Iraqi  Airforce Base near Baghdad - June 2014
BALAD AIRBASE MAP -  On June 12, and under intermittent fire from Islamic militia,
Iraqi Airforce C-30s extracted two-thirds of the American contractors working at the base.
Click on photo to enlarge.


CNN Headline, June 12 -  "Terrorists Stealing Control of iraq"
No Wolf, not "stealing".  They are winning control of Iraq.

The black banner of I.S.I.S.  has been displayed this week at dozens of sites in Iraq.

It was only late today that the first details emerged of the rescue of civilian contractors trapped inside the superbase at Balad. The news agencies have alluded to trapped employees and the U.S. State Department had, on Wednesday admitted the problem, but details were lacking. Clearly the crushing news of whole Iraqi cities being captured left scant room for thought of other prizes, such as the vast bases paid for by the American taxpayer, and defended at great sacrifice by American servicemen.  The conduit for first hard news was a website called WND, which received information from Americans who were communicating via the Internet with friends trapped at Balad airbase. Such personal communication contradicted an A.P. report that hundreds had already been evacuated from the base. There is always the possibility that it was not error but military disinformation. The salient point was that American citizens were boldly accusing the Iraqi army of having fled the base, and worse, accused the U.S. Government of having "abandoned" hundreds of  citizens who were about to be over-run by the most ruthless jihadists on the planet.  This after a week of nauseating political theatre in which the United States President (POTUS) blathered on and on about "never leaving a man behind". 


According to further word, 300 contractors and U.S. government employees were finally airlifted out of Balad on Friday, not on Thursday. Given the enormous size of the base, which sprawls over more acres than many American cities,  it was a reasonable precaution to "herd" foreign personnel into protected zones close to a runway.  The base had been under siege by I.S.I.S. guerrillas since Wednesday,  and as the Iraqi army had abandoned much of the base defences the civilian foreigners had armed themselves and were defending themselves. The attackers, so far, have nothing heavier than A.A.A. mounted on vehicles and the ubiquitous R.P.G.s, but it is only a matter of time before captured Iraqi army weaponry is brought to bear.  A perimeter breach was anticipated.

On Twitter, a fellow named S. Danel, who self-idenifies 
"South African" claims airfield defenders were South African.

[Note - One unsigned message was posted on a CNN forum by a contract worker inside Balad. He said that civilian Americans had been "herded" into a secure area and left in the dark about their possible Evac. He made no claim of contractors defending themselves... so the truth of what went down is very murky indeed.]

The evacuees give full credit to the Iraqi Airforce which supplied C-130 transports to extract the workers. It is apparent that the U.S. employers, Contrack International and others, had attempted to lease civilian planes, but due to the fact that Balad was taking fire, and the U.S. government was refusing to intervene, the pilots reneged on the job. At last Iraqi military pilots came through. As darkness fell  a further 100 foreigners were still waiting for rescue, but one must assume they are out by now. Flight time from Balad to one of the Baghdad airports is only a few minutes.  The I.S.I.S. fighters must understand that after all Westerners have fled the base, it may be hit by American missiles when the Obama government OKs the strikes.  It would be pointless to linger inside Balad, beyond the time it takes to loot the base.

Confirmation earlier Friday night, that the last Americans,
and hopefully one South Africa, are out. Balad is abandoned.

Arnold Schwarzenegger appearing at Joint Base Balad in 2008
TRUE LIES. In better times Joint Base Balad was so safe
that even the Governor of California could safely pay a visit.

Louis C.K. performing at Joint Base Balad, December  2008
MASTURBATION. In better times even Louis C.K.'s 
"fat ass" was safe to perform at Joint Base Balad.