This Memorial Day Weekend, Let’s Look at a Violation of the Geneva Convention

The German U-Boats very nearly succeeded in winning WW2 for Germany, and the reason they didn’t is a fascinating little story of an exciting sea battle, a fluke, and a fairly substantial violation of the Geneva Convention.

In the build-up before the War, the Germans worked on building up a fleet of submarines, subverting the Versailles treaty by building them and training their crews in Turkey, Spain, and Holland. German Admiral Karl Dönitz devised a highly successful attack strategy (and at the Nuremberg Trials was sentenced to 20 years). Within the first three months of launching their U-boat campaign, the Germans had successfully sunk 114 of Allied merchant ships, losing only 9 of their own.

The Brits were close to losing when the U.S. entered the war.

Allied success in breaking the German Enigma code was an important help early in the war, but changes to the naval Enigma code at the beginning of 1942 stopped the flow of intelligence, bringing an increase in the loss of Allied ships. Furthermore, the U.S. entered the war unprepared and did not initially effectively protect its ships. As a result, a small number of U-boats in the North American and Caribbean coastal waters sank nearly 500 Allied ships in the first half of 1942. (January-July 1942 was the second “Glückliche Zeit” for U-boat crews ). By July 1942, Dönitz had 300 U-boats, with 140 operational at once, hunting in wolf packs and sinking shipping at an annual rate of seven million tons, five times the rate of British replacement capacity. U-boats operated almost unopposed in the “Mid-Atlantic Gap” — the area that could not be reached by aircraft from Canada or Britain — supplied by special vessels known as “milch cow”‘ carrying additional torpedoes and food. German naval intelligence broke British codes and directed submarines to intercept convoys.

U-boat sailors had a life expectancy of about 3 months at sea, as the German command had every expectation that the captain of the submarine would scuttle it rather than permit it to be captured, and often the submarines were scuttled with the men still on board.

In June of 1944 the American Navy succeeded in capturing a U-Boat for the first time. In fact, U-505 was the first warship captured at sea by the US Navy since 1815, when USS Peacock seized HMS Nautilus during the War of 1812. (wikipedia)

On board that u-boat were two enigma machines, which changed the course of the war:

After the capture, the Enigma machines and the 900 pounds of codebooks and publications removed from the sub were rushed to U.S. Naval Intelligence in Washington, D.C. to help the Allied code breaking effort. The ingenuity of Allied code breakers, combined with German blunders, made it possible for the Allies to read most messages to and from U-boats from November 1943 until the end of the war.

In order to protect this important secret, that a U-boat had been captured enabling us to break the codes and read most messages, the prisoners captured from the u-boat (around 55, as I recall, and only one German sailor died) in June of 1944 spent the remainder of the war in a prison camp in Louisiana. They were isolated from other prisoners, denied access to Red Cross visits, and all mail was confiscated, and their families presumed them dead. Indeed, by the late summer of 1944 the German Navy told the families they should presume their sailors dead. Their families were not told they were alive until 1945. They were not released until well past the end of the war. They were sent to England to do some work putting up housing for returning British veterans. the last returning home in 1947.

Back in 2007 The Volokh Conspiracy wrote about this in connection with the ethical and legal questions.
He linked to this post, where the discussion in the comments as to what is and is not a war crime is very interesting as well.

You can visit the only German submarine in American if you ever go to Chicago’s Museum of Science and Industry. It’s a fascinating exhibit, and you can read more about it here.

General information about the submarines here

While in prison camp in Louisiana, the German sailors were guarded by the Navy baseball team, a fascinating story of its own, and the team taught the Germans to play baseball in an attempt to maintain their chances to play professionally after the war. There’s supposed to be a movie about it some time this year, Playing With the Enemy. You can read the book, too.

Incidentally, while searching for some of the above information, I earned three swagbucks, and I wasn’t doing anything anything I wasn’t going to do regardless of swagbucks:

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Junk DNA Not So Junky After All

In fact, it may just be indispensable:

Now researchers from Princeton University and Indiana University who have been studying the genome of a pond organism have found that junk DNA may not be so junky after all. They have discovered that DNA sequences from regions of what had been viewed as the “dispensable genome” are actually performing functions that are central for the organism. They have concluded that the genes spur an almost acrobatic rearrangement of the entire genome that is necessary for the organism to grow.

More here.

via Instapundit

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Emerging Stories

The Equuschick had the opportunity yesterday to sit and visit with a lovely couple yesterday afternoon, the gentleman being the kind of gruff Vietnam vet who is inclined to feed his Yorkshire Terriers cereal in the morning if they want it and to swing on a child’s swing with his granddaughter.

He is also apt to talk and to wax reminiscent, and gradually stories of caring for his mother in her last years of dementia began to emerge from his conversation.

They emerged as honestly and naturally as if he was talking about some character of fiction, and with no indication that he knew or cared that the picture of his character that was emerging with the stories was one that was at all worthy of note.

He spoke of her days at the nursing home when it was too late for the family to keep her with them, and of bringing her supper on his way home from work every evening. He spoke of the time he took her to get her hair done at a local stylist and he spoke of the last time she spoke his name.

He spoke of the time he told her “Momma, I’m going to take you out to dinner and then bring you home to sit on the porch swing and listen to music” and another elderly resident heard him and insisted on coming along. “I’m going too,” said this other elderly woman stubbornly.

“I don’t think I can sign you out”, he told me he had said with a laugh, but he had asked anyway and was given permission.

So he spoke with a laugh in his voice and a twinkle in his eye of walking into the diner with his elderly mother with dementia and another elderly woman with a large bag full of aluminum cans. He sat at the table with them both and attempted to dissuade the one woman from stuffing silverware into her bag while watching in horror as his mother took all the crackers from the table, crushed them in her hands, and flung them all over the floor.

“But I stayed there and ate with them,” he said, “and then I took them home and set them on the porch swings and played music for them all afternoon. They didn’t want to leave.”

He spoke of the times his mother was mean and of the times when she was confused and of the time when she looked at him and said “Kenny, Johnny’s gone.”

“I know Momma,” he said. “Papa’s been gone a while.”

And that was the last time she remembered his name.

“It was hard,” he said, “but we got real close to her in those times.”

He sat leaning forward with his coffee cup in his hands, gazing into the past the way one would stare into flames.

“Yeah,” he concluded, “it was just something you had to do.”

Where did we lose that? That sense of doing something, without expectation of praise or applause, doing something hard “just because you had it to do?”

There are few enough indeed left today who will do what conscience knows to be their duty, and even those few feel somehow that they have gone above and beyond and are entitled to special praise and accommodation.

Where do we lose that sense of duty coupled with humility? How do we get it back?

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Top 100 Hymns Survey

Over at Semi-Colon
But I am really late getting this out- I started it a few days ago, got distracted, and it got buried. Oops.

Basic rules:

1. Make a list of your top ten hymns of all time.
Hymn (according to Webster): a song of praise to God
a metrical composition adapted for singing in a religious service.

For the purposes of this poll, I’m limiting the choices to Christian hymns, but the form of the song doesn’t matter. In other words, the songs on your list should be suitable for congregational singing and should be Christian. Handel’s Messiah is Christian but probably not suitable for congregational hymn singing. Anything you sing in worship service, even what are normally called choruses or gospel songs or spirituals or CCM, is fine. (Oh, English, please, or at least translated into English. Sorry, but it’s all I really speak.)

More at the link. Here’s my list:

  1. Come thou fount
  2. Can You Count the Stars– this is a lovely song I sang to my children as a lullabye
  3. I Am Thine Oh, Lord
  4. Be Thou My Vision
  5. Be Still My Soul
  6. This is My Father’s World
  7. Amazing Grace- obviously
  8. Trust and Obey-
  9. Jesus Loves Me- The basics of theology
  10. Holy, Holy, Holy– A companion to the basics, and a favorite of my children

These are just the ten I thought of this week. Another day I might make a different list. And this isn’t necessarily the order I would place them in, either. I’m already frustrated that several others are not on this list.

There’s a great list of hymns on the Amblesideonline website and I pretty much think all of them deserve to be on any list of good hymns.

Of course, many of our favorites are posted here, one each Sunday (in general, if you’re interested in these look for the ‘Psalms and Hymns and Spiritual phrases’ tab).

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Memorial Day, ’09

Blackadder is a British sitcom that took two recurring characters through various time periods in history. These two characters, Blackadder and Baldrick, were played by Rowan Atkinson and Tony Robinson (if you’ve only seen Atkinson play silly people like Mr. Bean, you’re missing an amazing dimension to this gifted actor). Hugh Laurie was a recurring character in the last two series (Prince George and Lt. George), and Stephen Fry plays a steretypical Modern Major General in Blackadder Goes Forth (the fourth and final series). It was typical British humour, which means it was a mix of brilliant, delicious, dlightful, quick, witty, clever, erudite, and literate humour liberally mixed with jokes about poo, sex, and body parts.

The final time period covered was WWI, in Blackadder Goes Forth. In this series, Blackadder is an Army Captain in the trenches of France who spends most of his time scheming to avoid participating in the mass suicide of trench warfare. He is moderately successful- until the final episode, which left all of the Common Room Family in tears, and some of the Common Room Daughters rather indignant at the DeputyHeadmistress for not warning them. We watched it first some ten years ago, and I just watched it again Friday night by myself and sobbed as much as the first time. So of course I have to share those last five minutes with my internet friends.

In Flanders FieldsBy: Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)Canadian Army

In Flanders Fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

The poppies are in full bloom where we live.

Read more about the television series here.

More about the connection between poppies and Memorial Day (as well as Veteran’s Day) here.

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