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.
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.
This has been a tough year for the blog. I’ve had little time to write and my injured arm made typing a painful, difficult chore for months. However, like the old cowboy too stubborn to stop roping cattle I am back in the saddle again.
One recent project involves contributing to the on-line magazine War is Boring. The brainchild of war correspondent and author David Axe, who wrote the “Danger Room” blog for Wired, the site is an eclectic collection of independently reported stories on all aspects of war, the military, military history, and foreign policy. (By the way, the linked article about Axe explains the improbable name of the on-line magazine.) I recently wrote two stories: an article on how a WWII GI was misidentified as a German soldier, buried with his enemies, and declared MIA for nearly 70 years until DNA tests revealed his actual identity; and a story on the diplomatic and personnel skills of Eduard Shevardnadze as revealed in recently declassified documents from former Soviet and White House sources. I particularly enjoyed reporting and writing the latter story since it allowed me to return to my roots as a student of Russia and the Soviet Union, the topic that was my introduction to undergraduate history studies 30 years ago.
War is Boring is part of Medium, the news and culture group of Twitter.
I hope this is the beginning of a long association with the magazine, which would allow me to write about the military affairs issues so near to my heart and intriguing to my mind.
John Keegan, 1934-2012
I am saddened to read the obituary of Sir John Keegan, probably the best military historian of the late 20th Century. Although a prolific author who examined the cultural significance of global warfare and the psychology of leadership, he had a fondness for the United States and its military history. His Fields of Battle: The Wars For North America (1997) does a fine job of examining the significance of the French and Indian Wars and the War of Revolution as wars that both established colonial power for Britain and shattered colonialism’s global hold forever by ushering in the Age of Revolutions. His death is a real loss to scholarship, but also to a reading public well-served by a historian with a fine talent for writing and insight.