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.
Donald Huard, the author’s father and a veteran of both the U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps, examines an M-1 Carbine from his son’s collection. Photo: Paul Huard
Today in War Is Boring, my article examines the gun that nobody wanted to give up: The M-1 Carbine.
This wasn’t a hard story to report and write. The M-1 Carbine is one of my favorite weapons, iconic in its own way not only because of its use during World War II but also because of its service during the Korean War (correctly nicknamed “the forgotten war”) and Vietnam. One of my favorite uses of the carbine was in its M-2 variant, a select-fire weapon that pumped out 900 rounds a minute in full auto. In Korea, GIs and Marines carried the M-2 on night patrols, sometimes pairing it with the Sniperscope, the first night-vision optic ever put in the hands of American servicemen. To use the language of the age, there are a lot of dead commies because of that weapon system.
So, if you are interested in cool guns and military history I hope you give the article a read.
Today in War is Boring, my article on some disturbing evidence that a Russian invasion of the eastern Ukraine could occur soon allowed me to write on a subject near and dear to my journalist’s heart: Russia’s military power and its influence on the world.
It’s a break from the usual examination of U.S. history that occurs here at my blog, but as I mentioned in a recent entry I am enjoying a chance to report and write stories associated with my interest in the military and military affairs.
I hope you will visit War is Boring and read today’s article, as well as all of the day’s entries.
When John Hancock put his John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence he certainly wrote it large enough for all to see. In fact, Hancock’s grandiose signature is the stuff of figures of speech and insurance company jingles. But what’s the real reason behind the gigantic scrawl?
Ben Blatt, tongue firmly planted in his cheek, offers an explanation why in a recent Slate article. It’s all about the number of men who originally signed the engrossed copy of the Declaration on July 4, 1776, instead of August 2, 1776. (Yes, this gets confusing, but the article does a good job of straightening out the whole “when was it signed” issue.)
In 1986, Wilfred Ritz, then a recently retired professor at Washington and Lee University School of Law, published a paper titled “The Authentication of the Engrossed Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776” in the journal Law and History Review. In it, he quotes numerous letters and journal entries written by members of the congress as evidence that some but not all members did actually sign on July 4.
So, Blatt argues, the size of the signature is about the space available.
If the historical consensus that approximately 51 men signed the Declaration on Aug. 2 is wrong, and Wilfred Ritz is right that the engrossed copy was actually first signed on July 4, and he’s right that it was signed that day by 34 men, and we accept that Hancock assumed only the 34 men present on the fourth would ever sign the document, then John Hancock’s signature was of a perfectly reasonable size. You might even congratulate him on signing at precisely the right size to accommodate all of his colleagues. Good show, John!
I guess size does matter — it certainly did to John Hancock.
Baylor University history professor Thomas Kidd writes about the violent and cruel laws used in Anglo-British colonial America to control slaves’ behavior. The brief article is particularly interesting because he describes how in 1710 one evangelical Christian congregation’s response to a particularly brutal form of punishment was decidedly mixed. According to Kidd, Christians looking for condemnations of slavery in the Bible were disappointed by what little support for opposition they found there, but they did find support for the anti-slavery position based on the cruelty of the institution.