RedState Water Cooler – 4/23/17 – Open Thread – Operation Eagle Claw


Tomorrow marks an unfortunate anniversary, and in the interests of fairness and accuracy at the RedState Department of History, it should be noted. Tomorrow is the 37th anniversary of Operation Eagle Claw, the abortive attempt to rescue American hostages in Iran.

On November 4, 1979, 66 American diplomats and citizens were taken hostage by Iranian students who also took over the American embassy in Teheran. Fourteen were eventually released but the remaining 52 hostages were held in ongoing captivity.

Public opinion in the United States was of course outraged but as the days and weeks dragged on and the already limited credibility of President Jimmy Carter took repeated blows from an inability to free the hostages, a military solution was decided upon.

The operation to rescue them was known as Operation Eagle Claw, one of the first missions of the new Delta Force. The mission was scheduled to take place over two nights: the first would see assets landed at a base known as Desert One, 60 miles west of Chabahar, and then fly to a base known as Desert Two, 52 miles from Teheran, where they would hide for the following day. Then the next night Delta Force soldiers would extricate the hostages and fly them to Manzariyeh Air Base, which would have been captured by Army Rangers. From there, C-141 aircraft would bring the hostages home.

The only thing that went right was the establishment of Desert One. Seven of the eight helicopters flew into a sandstorm known as a haboob, with the eighth abandoned in the desert with a cracked  rotor. This scattered the group, and claimed two more helicopters to various difficulties, leaving only five of the original eight.

The mission plan could go ahead with as few as four helicopters, but losses were expected on the trip and the recommendation was made by field commanders to abort the mission, a request which President Carter approved. To make matters worse, one of the remaining helicopters collided with an EC-130 refueling plane as extrication began, killing five crewmen on the aircraft and three on the helicopter.

The ensuing investigation, which produced the Holloway Report, served as an indictment of the entire command process. It cited deficiencies in command and control, planning and cooperation and led to the greatest re-organization of the American military’s command structure in 40 years.

Eventually, the Goldwater-Nichols Act of 1986 provided that re-organization and eventually improved the command and control structure:

“The brave men who attempted to rescue American hostages in Iran in April of 1980 unfortunately became a disastrous reminder of the need for unity of command, joint training, and good communications, and the dangers of overly complex and needlessly compartmented planning. The failure of their mission, Operation Eagle Claw, would be a prime motivator in the subsequent formation of US Special Operations Command.”

A memorial to the servicemen killed during Operation Eagle Claw stands at Arlington National Cemetery, but the failure of the operation had larger effects. Relations between the United States and Iran were changed yet again for the worse, but the failure of Operation Eagle Claw eventually served as a living example of the Carter Administration’s helplessness and helped lead to the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980.

Happy Sunday and enjoy today’s open thread!

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RedState Water Cooler – 4/16/17 – Open Thread – The Bible as History


With today being Easter Sunday, the RedState Department of History, in all likelihood like many of you, took the day off.

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t history, and Easter Sunday is naturally no exception. But in a divergence from the norm, today I thought it might be fun to discuss the Bible as history.

Without going too far afield, or venturing into apologetics or belief systems, the Bible as history is a subject of great interest and even fascination to historians. I’m only going to highlight a couple in the interests of brevity, but it’s a subject of great depth for the Christian as well as for anyone simply interested in the subject.

My personal favorite is a television series hosted by the controversial Canadian archaeologist Simcha Jacobovici entitled “The Naked Archaeologist.”  All three seasons of the series are available on Amazon Prime and I believe it’s a fair-minded look at the Bible as an historical document.

Particularly recommended are two episodes, one of which is especially fitting for this week: Season 1, Episode 14 details crucifixion from the point of view of the victim and serves as a fascinating discussion of what probably happened to Christ on the cross. The other is Season 1/25-26, a two-parter in which Jacobovici attempts to find Mount Sinai using only the descriptions found in the book of Exodus (it’s fascinating).

The other would be a website I enjoy entitled It features a series of write-ups of archaeological finds mentioned in the Bible, which can be viewed here.

Today’s entry is short — have a happy Easter, everyone!

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RedState’s Water Cooler – 4/2/17 – Open Thread – The Akron’s Sad Story


This weekend, the RedState Department of History notes the passage of the world’s first flying aircraft carrier in today’s entry — right along with the worst airship disaster in history.

On April 4, 1933, the USS Akron was lost in a thunderstorm off the coast of New Jersey, with 73 of the ship’s 76 crew and passengers killed. It was the greatest loss of life in any airship crash.

When the subject of airship disasters comes up, most people naturally think of the Hindenburg. But more than half of the passengers and crew of that ship survived the mooring disaster in 1936, and the death toll was less than half that of the Akron, terrible though it was.

But, I digress. The Akron was the largest helium-inflated airship ever built — and could carry three different types of fighter planes to escort it during fleet recon missions, making it the world’s first flying aircraft carrier. Most notably, the Akron was able to carry Curtiss F9C “Sparrowhawk” parasite fighter planes in its internal hangar, which could be raised and lowered out of the airship on a trapeze. To see the process in action, click here. In later years, the B-36 “Peacemaker” repeated the Akron‘s feat by carrying the XF-85 “Goblin” fighter plane in its belly.

But, I digresss again. The Akron had already suffered three minor accidents prior to that fateful day in 1933 – but when the ship lifted off to assist in the calibration of radio direction finder stations (the ancestor of modern radar), the Akron flew into a violent storm.

Around 12:30 a.m. on 4 April, the Akron was caught by an updraft, followed almost immediately by a downdraft. Commander McCord, the captain, ordered full speed ahead, ballast dropped. The executive officer, Lt. Cmdr, Herbert V. Wiley, handled the ballast and emptied the bow emergency ballast. Coupled with the elevator man holding the nose up, this caused the nose to rise and the tail to rotate down. The descent of the Akron was only temporarily halted, before downdrafts forced the airship down farther. Wiley activated the 18 “howlers” of the ship’s telephone system, a signal to landing stations. At this point, the Akron was nose up, between 12 degrees and 25 degrees. The engineering officer called out “800 feet” (240 m), which was followed by a “gust” of intense violence. The steersman reported no response to his wheel as the lower rudder cables had been torn away. While the control gondola was still hundreds of feet high, the lower fin of Akron had struck the water and was torn off. The Akron broke up rapidly and sank in the stormy Atlantic.

Wiley, Boatswain’s Mate Second Class Richard E. Deal, and Aviation Metalsmith Second Class Moody E. Erwin were the only three aboard to survive. Most of the fatalities were caused by drowning and hypothermia. There were no life jackets aboard and the ship’s life raft was never deployed. Wiley describes the ordeal at this link.

Wiley later commanded the USS Macon, whose crash at sea in 1935 ended the Navy’s rigid airship program. However, due to the lessons learned aboard the Akron, only two lives were lost aboard the Macon.

Friends, the news can only get better from here. Enjoy today’s open thread!

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RedState’s Water Cooler – Open Thread – 3/26/17 – Birth of the Navy


This week, the RedState Department of History celebrates the United States Navy.

Tomorrow marks the anniversary of passage of the Naval Act of 1794, which authorized the creation of what eventually became the U.S Navy — but only after a lot of debate.

The young nation had been without a navy since 1785, when Congress sold the Continental Navy’s last ship, Alliance, due to a lack of funds.

However, the incursions of Muslim pirates around Algiers forced the hand of the Congress, which authorized the construction of four 44-gun ships and two 36-gun ships — but which also called for their cancellation if peace was agreed with Algiers.

The controversy centered on two key themes: finance and imperialism. A substantial amount of debate centered around whether the young nation could afford a standing navy, and whether it would provoke European powers if one was built. However, the measure was passed, and work began on “The Original Six”, if you will:

United States

In 1796, with construction on the first three ships still proceeding, a peace agreement was brokered and the infant Navy was shuttered. However, President Washington urged Congress to allow the first three ships on the list above to be finished, and the rest followed after a dispute with France in 1798 led to the XYZ Affair and the undeclared “Quasi War” (we didn’t like them even then, I guess).

Of course, as any student of naval history knows, the USS Constitution is the oldest commissioned ship in the Navy. “Old Ironsides” still resides in the Charlestown Naval Yard to this day. She cost $302,718 to build in 1794 dollars, which works out to $6,580,826 in today’s money.

Enjoy today’s open thread!


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RedState’s Water Cooler – Open Thread – 3/12/17 – Lending a Fire Hose

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Today’s entry from the RedState Department of History has to do with the famed “Arsenal of Democracy.”

On March 11, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Lend-Lease Act into law, allowing the United States to begin sending material aid to Britain, and eventually the USSR and other nations, prior to American entry into the Second World War.

During 1940, Roosevelt became increasingly concerned about Axis ascendancy in Europe, but isolationist sentiment in the United States precluded direct support for Britain, which at that time stood alone against Hitler.

The Neutrality Acts of 1935, 1936, 1937 and 1939 tied Roosevelt’s hands to a point, but the 1939 act allowed for “cash and carry” sales of arms to belligerent nations — which to Roosevelt, meant Great Britain.

The Lend-Lease Act was described by Roosevelt at the time as “lending your neighbor a fire hose when there’s a fire”, and with Hitler’s Germany running rampant everywhere, that message resonated enough within Congress to get the act passed and signed on March 11, 1941.

The results, for the time, were staggering. A full 17 percent of American warmaking industrial capacity from 1941-45 — over $50.1 billion, or $667 billion in today’s money — went to other nations through Lend-Lease.

$31 billion went to Britain, $11.3 billion went to the USSR (including enough materiel through the Persian Route to equip nearly a quarter of the Red Army in the field in 1945), $3 billion to France and $4.2 billion to the other Allies. In return, the United States received $7.8 billion in reverse Lend-Lease, mainly in technology and rent on air bases.

Nearly one-quarter of all British munitions came through Lend Lease in 1943-44 and 92 percent of Russian railroad equipment production was American in nature, including 1,900 locomotives and over 11,000 railroad cars. In 1945, one-third of the Red Army’s truck stock was American built, 7,000 American-built tanks were in service in Russian hands, and the last of 18,700 American aircraft — thirty percent of Russian airframe production during the war – was delivered to the Eastern Front.

Russian historian Boris Sokolov had this to say:

“On the whole the following conclusion can be drawn: that without these Western shipments under Lend-Lease the Soviet Union not only would not have been able to win the Great Patriotic War, it would not have been able even to oppose the German invaders, since it could not itself produce sufficient quantities of arms and military equipment or adequate supplies of fuel and ammunition. The Soviet authorities were well aware of this dependency on Lend-Lease. Thus, Stalin told Harry Hopkins [FDR’s emissary to Moscow in July 1941] that the U.S.S.R. could not match Germany’s might as an occupier of Europe and its resources.”


Soviet Katyusha rockets mounted on the back of an American Studebaker Lend-Lease truck. By Nick Lobeck – Photo taken at the Museum of the Great Patriotic War, Moscow, Russia, CC BY-SA 2.5,

After the war, there was still the matter of repayment. American aid to Britain was given a 90 percent discount with payments set up on a fifty-year plan at two-percent interest with deferments allowed. Thus it was that on December 29, 2006, Britain paid the United States $83.3 million, officially ending its Lend-Lease debt.

 Enjoy today’s open thread!

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RedState’s Water Cooler – Open Thread – 3/5/17 – The Seabees’ Diamond Birthday

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On this date in 1942, United States Navy Construction Battalions were given a new name and a new logo – so today, the RedState Department of History wishes a happy 75th birthday to the Seabees.


The official emblem of the Seabees. (Public Domain)

The brainchild of Rear Admiral Ben Moreell, who was chief of the Navy’s Bureau of Docks and Yards,  the Seabees owe their existence to his request to organize, activate and staff Navy construction units. Known as “King Bee”, Moreell received the permission he sought, and the organization he created is now legendary.

Known for their skills in construction and demolition, the Seabees earned their fame in World War II for truly stupendous feats of engineering to help support the “island hopping” campaign in the Pacific. That said, Seabees worked on six continents in World War II as well as over 300 islands.

Their motto of “Construimus, Batuimus” — Latin for “We Build, We Fight” — served them well. Often working in close cooperation with the Marine Corps, in the Pacific alone they they built 111 airstrips, 441 piers, tanks for the storage of 100 million gallons of fuel, housing for 1.5 million men and hospitals for 70,000 patients. Seabees were perhaps unique in the war in that, because their jobs involved professional skill rather than youthful vigor, the average age of a World War II Seabee was 37.

Of course, as anyone who has served in the Navy knows well, the Seabees’ legacy continues to the present day. In Korea, they landed at Inchon with the troops to create causeways and also built the amazing project at Cubi Point. They cut a mountain in half to make way for a tw0-mile long airstrip plus a pier that could house the Navy’s largest carriers. The project ranks alongside the Panama Canal as one of the greatest earth-moving projects in history.

Since 1955, Seabees have been actively involved in the nation’s defense, having built the Distant Early Warning Line in the Arctic. They’ve also had one of their own — Construction Mechanic Third Class Marvin Shields — earn the Medal of Honor for actions in Vietnam.

For more information on the Seabees:

Ten Things You Need To Know About Your Seabees – The Sextant
U.S. Navy Seabees – Building and Fighting Since 1942 – YouTube

Happy Sunday to all and enjoy today’s Open Thread!

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RedState’s Water Cooler 2/26/17 – Open Thread – 777

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It’s said, and rightly, that 666 is a very bad number. The number 111 places above it is also not terribly pleasant, especially if that number is the speed at which your airframe is traveling when you leave it.

The RedState Department of History notes that today is the 62nd anniversary of G.F. Smith’s brush with death as well as with fate, when he became the first human being to survive an ejection from an airplane traveling at supersonic speed.

Smith’s remarkable story nearly didn’t happen. A test pilot for North American Aviation, Smith was quite literally on his way off the company’s test grounds in Los Angeles when he was asked to test-fly an F-100A prior to its delivery to the Air Force. Smith agreed and later, probably wished he hadn’t.

Prior to takeoff, Smith noted that the control surfaces of his plane seemed sluggish but elected to take off anyway. At 35,000 feet, the plane’s hydraulics failed and the plane went into a steep dive from which recovery was impossible.

Left with no other choice, Smith elected to eject at 6,500 feet, with his plane traveling at 777 miles per hour, nose pointed toward the ground.


F-100 “Super Sabre” fighters. Perhaps not G.F. Smith’s favorite plane. (Courtesy U.S. Air Force, public domain)

Suffice to say, Smith’s body underwent a rather traumatic experience, especially given the lack of knowledge at the time about high-speed bailouts.  His body was subjected to a drag force of approximately 8,000 pounds, resulting in a 40-g deceleration.

Mercifully, Smith did not recall what came next.  The ferocious windblast stripped him of his helmet, oxygen mask, footwear, flight gloves, wrist watch and even his ring.  Blood was forced into his head which became grotesquely swollen and his facial features unrecognizable.  His eyelids fluttered and his eyes were tortuously mauled by the aerodynamic and inertial load of his ejection.  Smith’s internal organs, most especially his liver, were severely damaged.  His body was horribly bruised and beaten as it flailed end-over-over end uncontrollably.

Smith and his seat parted company as programmed followed by automatic deployment of his parachute.  The opening forces were so high that a third of the parachute material was ripped away.  Thankfully, the remaining portion held together and the unconscious Smith landed about 75 yards away from a fishing vessel positioned about a half-mile form shore.  Providentially, the boat’s skipper was a former Navy rescue expert.  Within a minute of hitting the water, Smith was rescued and brought onboard. 

Amazingly, Smith’s story has a happy ending. After seven months in the hospital, he enjoyed a full recovery except for damage to his liver. He even flew again — and even flew the Super Sabre again, an act which would have taken more guts than I’ve got.

Much was learned from Smith’s mishap — in fact, NASA was testing high-speed ejections using chimpanzees at the time in a program known rather unfortunately as Project Whoosh.

Enjoy your Sunday and today’s open thread. I hope it’s more relaxing than the day G.F. Smith endured on this day in 1955.

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RedState’s Water Cooler 2/12/17 – Open Thread – Ex Parte Merryman

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After the addition of new writers to the RedState Water Cooler (welcome aboard, all, now I’m not the n00b any more!) the RedState Department of History has moved from every other Monday to each Sunday (I know, I know, lucky you, right?)

Well, maybe not. But as the Sunday morning news shows morph into their customary glob of unintelligible mush, at least we have some history to enjoy.

Last week we spoke of the 106th birthday of Ronald Reagan. Today marks the 208th birthday of the first Republican President of the United States — Abraham Lincoln.

The iconic 1863 photograph of Abraham Lincoln.
By Alexander Gardner[1], Public Domain, Link

Lincoln was born February 12, 1809 in Hodgenville, Kentucky. As one of the most exhaustively chronicled people in American history, we won’t recount his history here, but I find his birthday today to be especially timely in light of the current legal controversy over Donald Trump’s executive order on travel from majority Muslim countries.

As history students know, Lincoln had his own controversy over the Executive power, in the case of ex parte Merryman. In that case, Army Lieutenant John Merryman was arrested for his role in destroying two bridges being used to move Union troops south toward Washington in May 1861. To hold Merryman, Lincoln used Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution to suspend habeas corpus since Congress was not in session. The Article reads:

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.

After Army officials refused to release Merryman to a lower court judge. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney issued an order himself. However, at the time it was not  clear whether Taney was acting in his capacity as a Circuit Court judge for Maryland or in his role as a Federal judge. To further complicate matters, Taney issued his order from Baltimore, not from Washington. to allow Army commanders to produce Merryman without leaving the areas of their command.

Taney’s order further did not require the Army to release Merryman but merely to produce him, and did not order Lincoln to comply in any specific manner. So, Lincoln ignored the order, which said that the President can neither suspend habeas corpus nor order anyone else to do so.

Lincoln’s allies noted that Taney, who also wrote the majority opinion in the Dred Scott decision, was a partisan Democrat, while Taney’s allies said he was acting within the scope of law. While in jail, Merryman received furniture and meals from Taney, and later named one of his sons Roger B. Taney Merryman in the judge’s honor.

Yet Taney relied on foreign law as part of his decision, noting that under English law it was Parliament, and not the King, who had specific similar powers. The controversy has never been fully resolved, but Congress passed a law in 1863 which authorized Presidential suspension of the writ during Civil War while requiring indictment by grand jury or release of political prisoners.

This article makes no judgment on the power of the executive, especially since legal minds far better than mine still haven’t come to agreement. But, I find it especially interesting in light of the current controversy to bring it up for discussion.

To further set minds to work, here is a quote from Lincoln that also bears discussion today:

We the people are the rightful masters of both Congress and the courts, not to overthrow the Constitution but to overthrow the men who pervert the Constitution. – Abraham Lincoln
Enjoy today’s open thread!

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RedState’s Water Cooler 12/26/16 – Open Thread – Christmas in the Trenches

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While today is known in a large part of the English-speaking world as Boxing Day, for students of military history December 26 is known as the day after one of the most remarkable events in the annals of warfare.

If you’re a student of history, you’ve probably heard the story by now — but it’s still well worth repeating in my view.

On December 7, 1914, Pope Benedict XV asked the warring governments of World War I, which was then five months old, for a truce, “that the guns may fall silent at least upon the night the angels sang.” The governments in question refused to sanction a ceasefire, but that didn’t stop soldiers from the armies on the Western Front from taking matters into their own hands – or rather, removing matters FROM their own hands. That very same day, a young Charles deGaulle had written that it was “lamentable” that some French soldiers desired a truce with the enemy — and in that sentiment, he was in full agreement with a young Bavarian named Adolf Hitler, who was also in the trenches that day.

However, at various places along the front, but most especially in the area of the Belgian town of Ypres — which had already seen one battle fought over its ground and which would see four more such battles causing at least 700,000 casualties by war’s end — soldiers decided that December 25, 1914 was a good time for an informal truce.

Accounts regarding who started it depended on which side of the trenches the writer occupied, but most of the best accounts come from the British side. British Army Captain Bruce Bairnsfather described it thus:

“The Germans placed candles on their trenches and on Christmas trees, then continued the celebration by singing Christmas carols. The British responded by singing carols of their own. The two sides continued by shouting Christmas greetings to each other. Soon thereafter, there were excursions across No Man’s Land, where small gifts were exchanged, such as food, tobacco and alcohol, and souvenirs such as buttons and hats. The artillery in the region fell silent. The truce also allowed a breathing spell where recently killed soldiers could be brought back behind their lines by burial parties. Joint services were held. In many sectors, the truce lasted through Christmas night, continuing until New Year’s Day in others.” 

Other British soldiers, including Brigadier Walter Congreve, watched the truce at first hand and wrote about it later, though General Congreve didn’t get too close to the men as he felt he would be a sniper target.

The Germans kept good records of the event too. Richard Schirrmann, a German soldier stationed in the Vosges, wrote that:

“When the Christmas bells sounded in the villages of the Vosges behind the lines ….. something fantastically unmilitary occurred. German and French troops spontaneously made peace and ceased hostilities; they visited each other through disused trench tunnels, and exchanged wine, cognac and cigarettes for Westphalian black bread, biscuits and ham. This suited them so well that they remained good friends even after Christmas was over.”

Stories abound of football matches being played all along the front – one historian has suggested as many as thirty, with up to four being played between soldiers of the warring sides — but here I mean actual football as played with the feet instead of the kind involving helmets, unusually large men and a ball that doesn’t roll straight when you drop it on the ground.


British soldiers in an impromptu football match, circa 1914

In many sectors, the truce lasted into the next day. British Army soldier Francis Woodruff, who later wrote Old Soldiers Never Die under the nom-de-plume of Frank Richards, noted that while the soldiers’ desire to live another day suited them down to the ground, people on the home front weren’t nearly as pleased:

During the whole of Boxing Day [the day after Christmas] we never fired a shot, and they the same, each side seemed to be waiting for the other to set the ball a-rolling. One of their men shouted across in English and inquired how we had enjoyed the beer. We shouted back and told him it was very weak but that we were very grateful for it. We were conversing off and on during the whole of the day.

We were relieved that evening at dusk by a battalion of another brigade. We were mighty surprised as we had heard no whisper of any relief during the day. We told the men who relieved us how we had spent the last couple of days with the enemy, and they told us that by what they had been told the whole of the British troops in the line, with one or two exceptions, had mucked in with the enemy. They had only been out of action themselves forty-eight hours after being twenty-eight days in the front-line trenches. They also told us that the French people had heard how we had spent Christmas Day and were saying all manner of nasty things about the British Army.”

The newspapers of the day got a hold of the news as well, to varying reactions. The New York Times was first to report the truce from the then-neutral United States on December 31, and finally the European press had no option but to report what they could. Elements of the British press printed a statement from the Army high command that fraternization with the enemy was treason along with the Army’s claim that truces were isolated along the front — though in retrospect that does not appear to have been entirely true.


Under a banner headline, the Daily Mirror of January 8, 1915 shows fraternization between the armies

Senior commanders didn’t take well to the “live and let live” policy embodied in the truce. In December 1915, British commanders issued strict rules against non-fraternization and some ordered artillery barrages throughout the day, but some soldiers still made attempts for a day of peace. One British commander, Sir Ian Colquhoun of the Scots Guards, was court-martialed for proposing a Christmas truce to bury his dead in defiance of a standing order. He was found guilty, but his punishment was annulled by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig.

Today, 102 years after it happened, the Christmas Truce lives on in popular culture. Perhaps the most famous example is this — a lovely rendition of “Christmas in the Trenches”, sung by the Irish tenor John McDermott through the eyes of the fictional Liverpudlian soldier Francis Tolliver. Merry (belated) Christmas to all and enjoy today’s open thread!


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