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Posts Tagged ‘World War II

“Great necessities call out great virtues”*…

 

ksyndrome

Fatebenefratelli Hospital, Tiber Island, Rome

 

Behind the closed doors of the Fatebenefratelli hospital in Rome was a ward filled with patients being treated for K Syndrome. This new and unfamiliar disease – whose name evoked Koch Syndrome (tuberculosis) – was a strong deterrent to the occupying Nazi soldiers who carried out routine searches of the hospital for Jews, partisans and anti-fascists. Fearing infection, the Nazis did not dare enter the ward, turning their attention elsewhere.

Patients in this ward had been hospitalised and classified as suffering from K Syndrome in late 1943. On 16 October of that year, the Nazis combed the Jewish ghetto and other areas of Rome, deporting about 1,200 Jews. Only 15 survived the camps. After this, the hospital’s doctors and friars welcomed ever-increasing numbers of patients. These patients were, however, refugees. K Syndrome was an invented illness…

The remarkable story of hundreds hidden from the Nazis: “K Syndrome, the Disease that Saved.”

* Abigail Adams

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As we admire audacity, we might recall that it was on this date in 1932 that Germany held a Presidential election.  With six million unemployed, chaos in Berlin, starvation and ruin, the threat of Marxism, and  a very uncertain future, the German people turned to Hitler by the millions.

Incumbent President Paul von Hindenburg was 84 years old and in poor health. Never enthusiastic about the presidency (or public office in general), Hindenburg had planned to stand down after his first term. But the prospect of Adolf Hitler being elected President of Germany persuaded the reluctant incumbent to seek a second term.  In the first round of voting, Hindenberg received 49.6% of the vote, just shy of the majority necessary to avoid a run-off.  Hitler polled 30%; Thälmann, the Communist candidate, 16%, and other candidates, 7%.

Hitler took to the skies, criss-crossing Germany by airplane in the run-off campaign.  He raised his total to 37% of the vote.  Although Hitler lost the presidential election of 1932, he achieved his goals when he was appointed chancellor on January 30, 1933.  Then on February 27, Hindenburg paved the way to dictatorship and war by issuing the Reichstag Fire Decree which nullified civil liberties.  Hitler succeeded Hindenburg as head of state upon Hindenberg’s death in 1934, whereafter he abolished the office entirely, and replaced it with the new position of Führer und Reichskanzler (“Leader and Reich Chancellor”), cementing his rule.

170px-Reichspräsidentenwahl_1932_-_1._Wahlgang

1932 Ballot

source

 

Written by LW

March 13, 2019 at 12:01 am

“Everyone sees what you appear to be, few experience what you really are”*…

 

machiavelli

Niccolò Machiavelli has a bad reputation. Ever since the 16th century, when manuscript copies of his great work The Prince began to circulate in Europe, his family name has been used to describe a particularly nasty form of politics: calculating, cutthroat and self-interested. There are, to be sure, reasons for this. Machiavelli at one point advises a political leader who has recently annexed a new territory to make sure to eliminate the bloodline of the previous ruler lest they form a conspiracy to unseat him. He also praises the ‘cruelty … well-used’ by the mercenary captain Cesare Borgia in laying the foundations of his rule of the area around Rome. However, Machiavelli did not invent ‘Machiavellian politics’. Nor was his advocacy of force and fraud to acquire and maintain rule the cause of individual leaders using them. What then did Machiavelli do? What did he want to achieve?…

Machiavelli’s  name has become synonymous with egotistic political scheming, yet his work is effectively democratic at heart; Catherine Heldt Zuckert explains: “The people’s Prince.”

[image above: source— also worth a listen on this subject]

* Niccolò Machiavelli, The Prince

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As we ponder power and presentation, we might send traitorous birthday greetings to Mildred Elizabeth Gillars; she was born on this date in 1900.  After failing to find a career in the theater, vaudeville, or music in New York City, she left the country, ending up in the 1930s in Berlin… where, in 1940, she became announcer for the Reichs-Rundfunk-Gesellschaft (RRG), German State Radio.  She broadcast English-language propaganda throughout World War II, earning (with her colleague Rita Zucca) the nickname “Axis Sally.”  She was captured after the war and convicted of treason by the United States in 1949.

AxisSallyMugshot source

 

Written by LW

November 29, 2018 at 1:01 am

“Encryption works”*…

 

SIGSALY-1943

A SIGSALY terminal in 1943

 

During World War II, a British-American team that included Claude Shannon and Alan Turing created the first digitally scrambled, wireless phone known as SIGSALY…

Declassified only in 1976, it was a joint effort of Bell Labs and Britain’s Government Code and Cipher School at Bletchley Park, north of London. It had a scientific pedigree rivaling that of the Manhattan Project, for the British-American team included not only Shannon but also Alan Turing. They were building a system known as SIGSALY. That was not an acronym, just a random string of letters to confuse the Germans, should they learn of it.

SIGSALY was the first digitally scrambled, wireless phone. Each SIGSALY terminal was a room-sized, 55-ton computer with an iso­lation booth for the user and an air-conditioning system to prevent its banks of vacuum tubes from melting down. It was a way for Al­lied leaders to talk openly, confident that the enemy could not eavesdrop. The Allies built one SIGSALY at the Pentagon for Roo­sevelt and another in the basement of Selfridges department store for Churchill. Others were established for Field Marshal Mont­gomery in North Africa and General MacArthur in Guam. SIGSALY used the only cryptographic system that is known to be uncrackable, the ‘onetime pad.’ In a onetime pad, the ‘key’ used for scrambling and decoding a message is random. Traditionally, this key consisted of a block of random letters or numbers on a pad of paper. The encoded message therefore is random and contains none of the telltale patterns by which cryptograms can be deciphered. The problem with the onetime pad is that the key must be delivered by courier to everyone using the system, a challenge in wartime.

SIGSALY encoded voice rather than a written message. Its key was a vinyl LP record of random ‘white noise.’ ‘Adding’ this noise to Roosevelt’s voice produced an indecipherable hiss. The only way to recover Roosevelt’s words was to ‘subtract’ the same key noise from an identical vinyl record. After pressing the exact number of key records needed, the master was destroyed and the LPs distrib­uted by trusted couriers to the SIGSALY terminals. It was vitally important that the SIGSALY phonographs play at precisely the same speed and in sync. Were one phonograph slightly off, the out­put was abruptly replaced by noise.

Alan Turing cracked the German ‘Enigma’ cipher, allowing the Allies to eavesdrop on the German command’s messages. The point of SIGSALY was to ensure that the Germans couldn’t do the same. Part of Shannon’s job was to prove that the system was indeed im­possible for anyone lacking a key to crack. Without that mathemat­ical assurance, the Allied commanders could not have spoken freely. SIGSALY put several other of Shannon’s ideas into practice for the first time, among them some relating to pulse code modulation. AT&T patented and commercialized many of Shannon’s ideas in the postwar years…

The first wireless “phone”: an excerpt from William Poundstone’s Fortune’s Formula, via Delancey Place.

* Edward Snowden

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As we keep a secret, we might recall that it was on this date in 1909 that Thomas M. Flaherty filed for the first U.S. patent for a “Signal for Crossings”– a traffic signal.  His signal used a large horizontal arrow pivoted on a post, which turned to indicate the right of way direction, and was activated by an electric solenoid operated by a policeman beside the road.

Flaherty’s was the first U.S. application for a traffic signal design, later issued as No. 991,964 on May 9, 1911. But though it was filed first, it was not the first patent actually issued for a traffic signal: Ernest E. Sirrine filed a different design seven months after Flaherty; but his patent was issued earlier, and thus he held the first U.S. patent for a “Street Traffic System.”

 source (and larger version)

 

Written by LW

September 24, 2018 at 1:01 am

“He was a bold man that first ate an oyster”*…

 

“Speaking to the oysters”: a scene from “The Walrus and the Carpenter”, by Lewis Carroll, drawn by Sir John Tenniel in 1871.

In a change from chocolates and fizzy drinks, the French are starting to offer fresh oysters from vending machines in the hope of selling more of the delicacy outside business hours.

One pioneer is Tony Berthelot, an oyster farmer whose automatic dispenser of live oysters on the Ile de Re island off France’s western coast offers a range of quantities, types and sizes 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

French oyster farmers are following in the footsteps of other producers of fresh food who once manned stalls along roadsides for long hours but now use machines…

Oysters on demand at “French oysters go on sale in vending machines.”

* Jonathan Swift

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As we dispose of the shells, we might recall that it was on this date in 1943 that Sgt. Edward Dzuba received the Legion of Merit award in recognition of his talent for “using food scraps in unusual and appetizing recipes.”

Sgt. Dzuba encouraging one of his patrons

source

 

Written by LW

August 15, 2017 at 1:01 am

“War is progress, peace is stagnation”*…

 

Even if one doesn’t share Hegel’s copacetic take on conflict, one can observe that wars do, in fact, usually encourage bursts of technological innovation.  Indeed, most of us are pretty familiar (in both senses of the phrase) with the range of epoch-defining technologies that were a product of World War II: radar, radio navigation, rocketry, jet engines, penicillin, nuclear power, synthetic rubber, computers… the list goes on.

But we are perhaps a little less familiar with the advances– now so ingrained that we take them for granted– that emerged from World War I.  Readers will recall one such breakthrough, and its author: Fritz Haber, who introduced chemical warfare (thus lengthening the war and contributing to millions of horrible deaths), then used some of the same techniques– nitrogen fixation, in particular– to make fertilizer widely and affordably available (thus feeding billions).

Five other key developments at “The 6 Most Surprising, Important Inventions From World War I.”

* Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel

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As we look for the silver lining, we might that it was on this date in 1917, “Army Registration Day,” that the draft was (re-)instituted in the U.S. for World War I.  Draft board selections were subsequently made, and conscription began on July 20.

These draft boards were localized and based their decisions on social class: the poorest were the most often conscripted because they were considered the most expendable at home.  African-Americans in particular were often disproportionately drafted, though they generally were conscripted as laborers.

Young men registering for conscription during World War I in New York City, New York, on June 5, 1917.

source

 

Written by LW

June 5, 2017 at 1:01 am

“In wartime, truth is so precious that she should always be attended by a bodyguard of lies”*…

 

It was the summer of 1941 and a British astrologer named Louis de Wohl was becoming wildly popular among Americans with his increasingly accurate predictions in his stargazer column, “Stars Foretell.” As de Wohl’s reader numbers escalated to meteoric heights, real world consequences ensued. In August 1941, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) lifted its long-standing ban against astrologers and aired an exclusive interview with the man being heralded as “The Modern Nostradamus.” Just a few weeks later, for the first time in U.S. history, an astrologer was filmed for a U.S. newsreel, the TV news of the day. “Pathé News released the newsreels’ seminal plunge into prophecy with a nation-wide audience of 39,000,000 sitting as judge jury and witness,” declared a press release issued by de Wohl’s manager. Except it was a facade; it was all fake news.

De Wohl’s newspaper column was part of an elaborate black propaganda campaign to organize American public opinion in favor of Britain, and to ultimately get the U.S. to enter the war. In reality, de Wohl worked for British Intelligence (MI5). His so-called manager was none other than the legendary spymaster Sir William Stephenson, a man whom Winston Churchill famously called Intrepid. The average American had no idea…

The story of a man, born in Berlin, who went on, after the war, to become a fabulously-successful Catholic novelist (16 of his books were made into films): “Louis de Wohl: The Astrologer Who Helped Foil Hitler.”

[Image above, from here]

* Winston Churchill, who practiced what he preached

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As we look to the stars, we might send a cheery greeting to David Hume, the Scottish Positivist philosopher; he was born on this date in 1711.  Bishop Berkeley may have wondered if, when a tree falls in the forest and no one is around, it makes a sound.  For Hume, the question was whether the tree was beautiful (“Beauty in things exists in the mind which contemplates them. “)

 source

But then, it’s also the birthday of the (somewhat more “practical”) Roman Emperor and Stoic Marcus Aurelius, born on this date in 121.  “Why should a man have any apprehension about the change and dissolution of all the elements?”  Why indeed?

 source

 

Written by LW

April 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

“A thin grey fog hung over the city, and the streets were very cold; for summer was in England”*…

 

With his collaborator John Morrison, Harold Burdekin photographed the streets of the city of London in the dark for his book London Night, published in 1934. In a time before stricter air pollution controls, the pair chose foggy nights to make their images, giving the light in the photos a sense of weighty presence.

The book was printed a year after the much more famous photographer Brassaï published his influential project Paris de nuit (Paris at Night). Unlike Brassaï and the British photographer Bill Brandt, who published a book of nighttime photos of London in 1938, Burdekin and Morrison chose to record only scenes with no people in them. The resulting images are forebodingly empty…

More (photos and background) at “Spooky, Beautiful 1930s Photos of London Streets at Night.”

* Rudyard Kipling, The Light That Failed

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As we penetrate the pea soup, we might recall that it was on this date in 1940, during the Battle of Britain, that the German Luftwaffe launched a massive attack on London as night fell. For nearly 24 hours, the Luftwaffe rained tons of bombs over the city, causing the first serious damage to the House of Commons and Tower of London.

One year later, on this date in 1941, the day after the air attack on Pearl Harbor, Great Britain joined the United States in declaring war on the Empire of Japan.

The House of Commons, Parliament, after the attack

source

 

Written by LW

December 8, 2015 at 1:01 am

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