War is hell. It costs lives, shatters souls and picks at the spare threads that hang from society's seams until the whole thing unravels like a cheap Christmas sweater. War, indeed, is hell. But, man -- all morality and sanctity of human life and blah blah blah aside -- sometimes it just looks plain friggin' crazy, doesn't it?
#12. World War II Sure Had Some Creative Setpieces
Oh, come on -- that's a still from an Indiana Jones movie. Even the soldier looks shoddily greenscreened into that clearly fake, overdramatic movie set. Some half-mechanical Nazi insect monster is going to pop out of that giant Iron Cross jack-in-the-box, and then Hellboy's going to charge on screen and punch him right in his fascist wang.
But nope: It's totally real. In 1913, the people of Leipzig, Germany, pooled all their money together to build an immense monument to the 1813 Battle of Leipzig, a defining moment in German history when an allied army defeated Napoleon. And we guess they figured the best way to do that was to re-create one of the more preposterous sets from The Chronicles of Riddick:
Via Wikimedia Commons
"With monuments like this to inspire us, nothing unfathomably vile could ever happen in Germany!"
Now let's fast forward past a few decades of boring civil engineering and construction and get to the action: As the Americans fought their way across Eastern Germany, 150 SS fanatics holed up in the monument and packed the sucker full of enough ammo and food to hold on until their Necromonger reinforcements could arrive. What they didn't count on was the one thing America had in abundance: moxie.
Well, that, and a shitload of artillery. After a steady pounding from the big guns, shell-shocked SS troopers eventually emerged from their bunker, took a look back at the Bond villain lair they'd just crawled out of ...
... and reluctantly conceded that, yeah, they were probably the bad guys all along.
#11. Seas of POWs
In 1939, Stalin and Hitler plunked two straws into a single milkshake and became best buds forever when they signed the Treaty of Non-Aggression Between Germany and the Soviet Union. Then, in 1941, Hitler got a memo reminding him that he was an evil asshole (he knew he'd forgotten something), so he dropped everything and rushed off to go break the pact. Operation Barbarossa saw the Nazi war machine storming across the German/Russian border. Taking the Soviets by surprise, the Germans captured around 5,500,000 POWs -- that's five and half MILLION Russian prisoners of war -- prisoners that they obviously didn't have room for in the backs of their tiny, efficient German cars. So when the POWs asked where they'd be doing their time, the Germans pointed to "over there" and quietly insisted "It is too a prison."
"OK, half of you be the fence and the other half of you be the prisoners."
Unsurprisingly, with no roofs over their heads, a bunch of callous Nazi wardens in charge and only the cold, unfeeling bosom of Mother Russia to nestle up against at night, the camps were a living hell. The casualties were so unfathomably high that even telling you the number would instantly ruin even the greatest comedy article (it was a soul-shattering 3.3 million. Dang. We were on a roll here, too).
But if it's even the smallest consolation, the Russians got to paint their own lovely pastoral scene out of Nazis when the war ended:
"Does anyone know that song about Eskimos and vaginas?"
#10. Star Wars Control Centers
Did you immediately start scanning for Wookiees in that picture? Psh. Nerd. We spent the first few minutes staring at that giant map and trying to figure out the best place to deploy our Space Marines -- you know, like cool guys do. But even though glass displays and glowing vector graphics have been a sci-fi trope since Luke was cruelly bull's-eyeing womp-rats in his T-16 (harming small animals: first sign of a sociopath, buddy) ...
"For this mission, we'll need a pilot who's not afraid to shoot first."
... that top photo is pure uncut reality. It's actually the American flight command center for South Vietnam at Tan Son Nhut Air Base in 1966. That's right, that Minority Report-style war room up there existed over a decade before the first Star Wars film even came out. Those rebels weren't kidding when they said they needed new supplies ...
#9. The Statue of Liberty Army
What you're looking at here are 18,000 U.S. troops standing in a formation that resembles the Statue of Liberty. The photo was used as an advertisement for war bonds during World War I, because nothing says "patriotism" like a human Magic Eye poster.
Now, if you just look at the base and see the dozen or so guys standing there, then let your eyes fuzz out to take in the rest of this image -- this doesn't look that impressive. It's what, a hundred guys? Big deal.
But note the angle of the photograph: It's not taken from directly above -- it's a 3/4 overhead view -- and yet the image stays in perfect proportion anyway. How did they do that? Well, the number of men in formation had to increase exponentially the farther away they were from the camera. For example: There are 12,000 of them in the torch alone. The whole human statue, from foot to tip, is nearly a quarter of a mile long.
Man, the guys in the base are freakin' HUGE!
Dang, say what you want about Lady Liberty, but she sure can handle a lot of dudes at the same time.
#8. Some Planes Go Off-Roading
That's a perfectly still image, taken from exactly overhead, and from a great distance away. It's tiny, black and white, and hard to resolve any details. And it is still easily the best action scene we've ever watched. This was taken at Martuba, Libya, on July 6, 1942.
Imagine being on the ground for that: You and your friends are just kickin' back, taking in some rays, when suddenly the skies go dark. You look around and find yourself right smack dab in the middle of a giant shadow, and the thing casting it wants you dead in a hurry. You nod grimly to your fellow pilots, and despite the total lack of runway, you decide to go for it: What choice do you have? You're going to try to take off. As the world bursts into fire and grit all around you, you race; you race for your life, and for the lives of your fellow soldiers; you race for your country, and your army, and your platoon; you race the speedy horse of Death himself, for your will to survive burns hot and angry in your guts; you race ... and you don't win. You are bombed into oblivion.
But that's OK, because these were Axis planes! Haha, eat aerial death, you stupid Nazis.
#7. Cleanup Was a Bitch
This photo was taken on June 18, 1953, when U.S. forces threw an objectively ridiculous amount of explosives at Chinese forces during the battle of Outpost Harry. Seriously, we know war is epic, but there's just no way this many artillery shells were actually necessary. It's like waking up after a particularly large party, only to find the entire yard buried under beer cans. It just shouldn't be possible -- you don't even remember buying that much beer. And yet, here you are. Your parents come home in two hours, and now you have to pick up like 10 million artillery shells while suffering through what has to be a vicious battle-hangover.