Tag Archives: U.S. History

Concerning the M1911 and the FN FAL

M1911_2MAY10_02One 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.

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I Continue to Write About Things That Go “Bang!”

vietnam-war-01My 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.

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Drafting the Declaration of Independence

cropped-trumbull-large2.jpgThe 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.

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Costs Less, Kills Nazis: The M-3 Grease Gun

Marvin Dirty DozenIf 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.

 

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Was John Hancock’s Signature Too Big?

0903declaraWhen 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.

 

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The Violence of Colonial Slave Codes

slaveryBaylor 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.

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War Is Boring — But Writing About It Is Interesting

vietnam-war-01This 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.

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