The Pig War: How a Dead Hog Almost Led to War Between the US and England

It was one of the oddest stand-offs in North American history; in 1859, an American farmer on an island in Puget Sound, in the Pacific Northwest, shot a pig that was raiding his potato field–and almost touched off the third war between the US and Great Britain in 70 years . . .

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US Troops camped on San Juan Island, Puget Sound    Photo from Wiki Commons

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Ohka: The Only Airplane Deliberately Designed to Kill Its Pilot

By 1944, it was becoming clear to the military leaders of Japan that the war was lost, unless there was a miracle.  So, they decided to create a miracle–or, more accurately, to re-create one. In the 13th century, Mongol invasions of Japan were thwarted when a fierce typhoon struck and destroyed the Mongol fleet. In late 1944, the Japanese military turned to suicide air attacks to help beat back the US forces that were approaching Japan. The result was the Kamikaze (“Divine Wind”) forces. And the pinnacle of the Kamikaze forces was the MXY-7 “Ohka” piloted bomb, the only plane in the world that was deliberately designed to kill its pilot.

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The Ohka piloted bomb, on display at the Smithsonian Udvar-Hazy Center

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USS Olympia: The Ship that Made the US a World Power

By 1898, the US had expanded as far as it could within the continent of North America. The “Indian Wars” were over (the last major “battle”–the massacre at Wounded Knee–was in 1890), and the US had taken everything that was not already part of Canada or Mexico (indeed, in 1848 the US had taken literally half of Mexico).

If the US was to continue its relentless expansion, it would have to look overseas. And the aging Spanish Empire made a very tempting target . . .

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The USS Olympia as she appeared in 1898.

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Florida’s Invaders: The Brown Anole Lizard

Florida is the land of invasive species. Because of our status as a center for the importing of exotic pets and houseplants from overseas, and our neo-tropical climate, we have been invaded by everything from kudzu plants to Burmese pythons. The most common of our invaders is the Brown Anole Lizard. Every tourist has seen this ubiquitous little lizard running along sidewalks, tree trunks, or fences, conspicuously bobbing their heads and displaying their brightly-colored extendable throat fan at each other.

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Male Brown Anole displaying his dewlap on a tree trunk.

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The “Spirit of Columbus”: The First Woman to Fly Around the World

Everyone knows that Amelia Earhart (and her navigator Fred Noonan) disappeared over the Pacific in 1937, while attempting to become the first woman to fly around the world. But few know who actually WAS the first woman to fly around the world (and she did it solo) . . .

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The Spirit of Columbus, on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center

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World War One: The Birth of Submarine Warfare

When war broke out in 1914, the British Navy was the largest and most powerful in the world, and the German High Seas Fleet stood little chance against it. It was, however, at sea that Britain was the most vulnerable—as an island, the British had to import nearly everything they used, and the majority of their supplies came across the Atlantic from the US. A successful campaign against British merchant shipping, therefore, would choke off Britain’s vital supplies and starve her into submission. But with the German fleet unable to stand in an open fight with the Royal Navy, the Germans could see no good way to successfully attack British shipping.

Their answer came from an unexpected source.

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An American “Holland Boat”

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F-35 Lightning II: A History of the Most Expensive Military Program Ever

While I was looking at the F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center, I must confess to mixed feelings.  On the one hand, the F-35 is an aesthetically wonderful aircraft–one cannot help but admire its long sleek lines and its graceful stealthy curves–and it represents some of the most advanced technology in the world. As a matter of history, it may also represent the last major manned military fighter ever to be designed. On the other hand, the F-35 has the dubious honor of being the most expensive military project ever undertaken by humans, and can only be viewed as a seemingly bottomless money pit.

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The F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter, on display at the Smithsonian’s Udvar-Hazy Center. This is the Marines short-takeoff vertical-landing “B” version.

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