One was John Browning’s masterpiece firearm, the other was nicknamed “the right arm of the Free World” because of its nearly global presence as an answer to the Kalashnikov. Both weapons are among the most successful military firearms ever developed.
My articles at War Is Boring explore the history of the M1911 .45-caliber pistol and the Fabrique Nationale FAL 7.62x51mm battle rifle. It’s been said that the M1911 is the best military handgun in the world not only because of its rugged reliability in the field but because of the power of its .45 ACP cartridge. (There is no denying these implements are designed to kill people efficiently.) The FAL could have been the U.S. main battle rifle of the 1950s and 1960s had not the politics of procurement and shortsightedness of military brass obstructed its adoption. Would it have been better than the M14, which fired the same NATO cartridge? In my opinion, yes. The M14 has enjoyed a renaissance as a designated sniper’s weapon and it is great rifle. But the FAL was adopted by almost every NATO country, which means both parts and ammo would have been more readily available.
You can make up your own mind about these weapons and I hope my articles provide grist for the mill.
My gig with War is Boring is now steady: Three stories a month, and the editor clearly likes my articles on military history and military weapons. As a writer, I have found a small but stable niche, and I enjoy writing for the publication.
Here are a couple of recent stories. One is about the Smith & Wesson M-76 9mm submachine gun, a weapon that was both a replacement for another sub-gun favored by U.S. clandestine operators and a prominent movie gun. The other story is about the iconic Browning Hi-Power 9mm pistol, arguably the most widely used military sidearm in the world and the first high-capacity pistol.
Some of the headlines on the stories are, well, lurid. But I learned a long time ago to never argue with the copy desk.
The Web site PortRevolt, which is dedicated to displaying art related to the American Revolution, has a brief history of the origins of the Declaration of Independence. It is readable and accurate, well worth the time for a Web visit that will combine history with the chance to view some of the most significant art associated with the Founding Period or portraying that period. As I wrote in an earlier post, PortRevolt is a valuable resource on the Web because of its emphasis on iconography, the systematic study and interpretation of paintings, drawings, and other portrayals of people and events to understand the past.
Armed men wearing military fatigues gather by Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) as they stand guard outside the regional state building seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 16, 2014.
“Russia will invade Ukraine, probably within the next few weeks. They will annex the Crimea. From there, if they meet no resistance from the West, they will take more of the country,”
― Tom Clancy, Command Authority (2013)
Call him clairvoyant. In the last novel he published before his death, Tom Clancy predicted that Russia would move against its former satellite states. As far as Clancy was concerned, that plot element was a no-brainer. Russia, whether under the rule of Ivan the Terrible or Vladimir Putin, wants its buffer states.
However, Clancy has a key qualifier in the line from Command Authority: “… no resistance from the West … .” So far, the sternest measures the U.S. and E.U. have hurled at Putin and his regime are halfhearted sanctions that will probably disappear once winter comes and Western Europe needs Russian oil and natural gas to stay warm. There is stern language from NATO, but there is also open war with Russian paratroopers found on Ukrainian soil and a massive military force just kilometers from the border.
But most of the Russian military moves are incremental. A little here and a little there, and soon Ivan has sliced up the whole sausage. This kind of “secret war” is part of a tactic called maskirovka. My article in today’s edition of War is Boring looks at the Russian’s recent use of maskirovka tactics and how it works to produce at least very little resistance from a distracted West.
U.S. Marines fire pintle-mounted M-2 HB (heavy barrel) machine guns.
My article this week in “War is Boring” profiles the M-2 Browning .50-caliber machine gun. It’s more commonly called the “Ma Deuce” or simply “50-Cal” by G.I.s, Marines and other U.S. service personnel that use it. The Ma Deuce is a beast of a weapon according to people who have fired it either on the range or in combat. I have never witnessed one in use, but perhaps a kindly reader currently in the service will invite me watch one on a live-fire range. This video from the Military Channel can give you an idea of what it is like to see the mother of all machine guns in action. Sorry about the obnoxious commercial at the beginning of the video.
A battlefield memorial at Gettysburg National Military Park. Photo by Paul Huard
The issue of mental illness arising from the trauma of combat is nothing new. Homer described the symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in the Illiad. When Achilles’ close friend Patroclus dies in combat, Achilles cries out, “My comrade is dead, / Lying in my hut mangled with bronze, / His feet turned toward the door, and around him, / Our friends grieve. Nothing matters to me now” and then embarks on a killing spree that is more like an attempt at suicide than warfare. Call it what you will: “shell shock,” combat fatigue, survivor’s guilt. PTSD is as old as history.
The U.S. Civil War was no different. While researching another topic, I stumbled across an article from The New York Times by University of Georgia graduate student Dillon Carroll on PTSD and the Civil War.
A key quote:
Historians are beginning to uncover what was a virtual epidemic of emotional, psychological and neurological trauma that afflicted soldiers after the war. Veterans labored under emotional and psychological stress in ways that are disturbingly similar to the present. Alcoholism was rampant, as was unemployment. Suicide was endemic. Civil War veterans dotted the wards of insane asylums across the country.
Despite all the valor shown during the Civil War, despite all the worthiness of the cause, soldiers both North and South were often damaged men long after the war was finished. I see a need for historians to take a close look at what might be an untouched area of study regarding the real toll of America’s worst war. What they find will not only expand our understanding of that period of history but hopefully reinforce the current argument that the United States needs to provide better services and better outreach to a generation of combat veterans who have fought in America’s wars since 9-11.
If this weapon was your sibling, it would be the rude, crude, and socially unacceptable little brother who helped you curb-stomp the neighborhood bullies.
That’s the way I like to describe the M-3 .45-caliber submachine gun, known more commonly as the Grease Gun by the soldiers who used it from World War II to Desert Storm. The M-3 is an ugly hunk of metal – words like “crafted” or “elegant” simply are not applied when discussing the looks or pedigree of the weapon. Made of stamped metal parts like a General Motors car (not surprising when you remember it was developed by GM in 1942 and produced by the same division that made metal automobile headlights) the M-3 is not a submachine gun noted for its fine tolerances and sleek design. Frankly, it looks like crap. But it is a compact, powerful gun that soldiers and Marines grew to appreciate, however grudgingly.
My article in War is Boring examines the development and use of the weapon — and it gave me an excellent excuse to provide the editor with a picture of Lee Marvin in The Dirty Dozen wielding an M-3 in one of the movie’s most famous scenes.