Why Eastern European Soldiers Wear Ski Masks
In April 2018 I interviewed five Ukrainian soldiers who were fighting against Russian-backed separatists in the Donbas region of eastern Ukraine. “Why do Russian and Ukrainian soldiers always wear balaclavas?” I jokingly asked one young soldier, who called himself Myhalych. “I mean no disrespect, Sergeant O’Donnell, but that is a... Read more
Iran Almost Invaded Afghanistan in 1998
In late 1998 Iran readied its armed forces for an invasion of Afghanistan. Last-ditch diplomacy defused tensions and prevented a potentially destructive conflict. On Aug. 8, 1998, the Taliban, which then ruled around 90 percent of Afghanistan, seized the city of Mazar-e-Sharif. During the invasion, Taliban forces murdered 10... Read more
In 1961, India Finally Kicked Portugal off the Subcontinent
At dawn on Dec. 18, 1961, squadrons of Indian Air Force bombers crossed a border, bombed an airfield and a communications site. Paratroopers, tanks and artillery crossed that same border on the ground, intent on seizing territory. But the ground they invaded wasn’t Pakistani or Chinese. Rather, it nominally... Read more
America Lost a Lot of Nukes During the Cold War
As the numbers of nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal grew quickly during the early years of the Cold War, so did the number of accidents involving nukes. March 10, 1956 A B-47 carrying two nuclear capsules missed a rendezvous with a refueling tanker over the Mediterranean. The aircraft... Read more
Invading Iran
Nov. 4, 1979, marked a turning point in the relationship between the United States and Iran. Less than a year after the Iranian Revolution deposed the last shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, militant students — acting on their own — occupied the American embassy, taking 52 Americans hostages.... Read more
Fold Up Your Tiny Gun, Slip It In Your Pocket
Benjamin Loomis was a Civil War veteran and a successful inventor. One of his most interesting patents, from February 1866, is for a folding revolver. From the patent description, it’s obvious that safety was Loomis’s main priority. “The object of my invention is to secure greater compactness and safety... Read more
This Fountain Pen Is a Pistol
In 1954, Sol Harry Gaylord, Jr. and James Tollinger filed a patent for a “fountain pen pistol.” The U.S. government granted the patent to the inventors’ company in July 1958. The pen pistol features a receiver that resembles a fountain pen, but with a short rifled barrel inside. In... Read more
This Mystery Gun Is Very, Very Weird
This unusual, bolt-action, manually-repeating pistol has three tube magazines running along the barrel. We don’t know who made this weapon, nor when or where. Given its general aesthetic and mode of operation, it likely dates from the 1880s. The prototype, which sold at auction in 2010, is in-the-white and... Read more
In 1941, British and Soviet Troops Invaded Iran
Iran’s aggressive military posture is often attributed to its quasi-theocratic revolutionary government. However, the Middle Eastern state also had the misfortune of experiencing three devastating, unprovoked invasions in the 20th century. The last and best known of these, the Iran-Iraq War from 1980 to 1988, killed hundreds of thousands... Read more
Hiram Maxim’s ‘Hun Stopper’ Was a Lethal Hose
In late 1915 Sir Hiram Maxim, famed inventor of the machine gun, approached the British government with the offer of a “repeating gun firing buckshot for clearing out captured trenches.” Memos from the U.K. Ministry of Munitions describe the gun as firing a cartridge containing eight buckshot and 200 birdshot... Read more
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