Showing posts with label recent history. Show all posts
Showing posts with label recent history. Show all posts

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Bnei Menashe-A Lost Tribe of Israel

Claiming descent from Menashe (or Manasseh), the Bnei Menashe are a community of Jews living in the eastern state of Manipur in India, and over the borders in neighboring Bangladesh and Myanmar. Though they hadn't lived in the Levant area for more than 2000 years, these people are slowly making their way back to Israel, and reclaiming their Jewish religion and heritage.

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Bnei Menashe heading to Israel.
To understand the Bnei Menashe, you have to understand a bit of Jewish history. After the death of King Solomon, his son, Rehoboam, took the throne. Rehoboam was a bit of a dick, so United Israel had itself a little war. Ten tribes, under the leadership of Jeroboam, split away from Rehoboam, leaving him with two. These two kingdoms became Israel and Judah respectively. With the tribes of Levi¹, Judah, and Benjamin in the Kingdom of Judah.

So time went on, and in about 722 BCE Assyria conquered the Kingdom of Israel, enslaving it's people, and deporting them to other parts of Assyria. Judah was left alone, and most modern Jews claim their descent from those Judean tribes.

So when Assyria fell in 612 BCE, the Menashe escaped. Leery of being enslaved again, the Menashe went east, avoiding major cities. They went so far east, that in 240 BCE, they ended up in China. They started in Tibet, but later moved to the city of Kaifeng. Unfortunately, while in China they were enslaved again. The Bne Menashe were forced to assimilate, and killed in large numbers. Not being down with that, a number of them escaped to live in caves. They were safe in their caves, but in 100 BCE they were expelled from China. That's when the majority of them settled in the Manipur-Myanmar-Bangladesh region.
Image result for kingdom of israel and judah
Kingdoms of Israel and Judah in the 800 BCEs
The Menashe lived in this region for several thousand years without too much disruption. They intermarried with the locals, and adopted some local beliefs, but maintained many of their traditional religious practices, such as a festival where unleavened bread was eaten, and songs about crossing through a large body of water that split in two.

In 1894, Christianity arrived. Recognizing their own oral history in some of the tales from the Old Testament, many of the Menashe adopted Christianity, and practiced for nearly 100 years.

However, in the 1950s some of the Menashe started to question if their ancestors had practiced Christianity at all. Further research lead to the idea that their ancestors may have been Jewish instead of Christian, and while this was just fine with some of the Menashe, several of the Menashe decided to reclaim their Jewish past. They applied to join the new state of Israel, but were denied because they just weren't Jewish enough.

However, in the latter half of the twentieth century Israel changed its tune. While the Menashe are still required to undergo halachic conversion, they are now allowed to immigrate freely to Israel. In April of 2016, DNA testing proved that the Bnei Menashe share Jewish ancestry.



¹"Wait, that's three tribes!" you say. Well, kinda. the Levites were the designated priests of ancient Judaism, so the were set apart from the whole 12 tribes thing. If you include the Levites, there's actually 13 tribes: Ephraim, Manasseh, Levi, Judah, Simeon, Ruben, Issachar, Asher, Dan, Gad, Benjamin, Naphtali, and Zebulun.

Sources
After 27 Centuries of Exile, 102 Bnei Menashe Head to Israel
Bnei Menashe
Does Push for India's 'Lost Tribe of Menashe' Signal New Interest in Far-Flung Jewish Communities?
Over 100 Members of Indian 'Lost Jewish Tribe' To Make Aliya
A Long-Lost Tribe is Ready to Come Home
These Incredible Photos Show Members of an Indian-Jewish 'Lost Tribe' Moving to Israel
Who Are We?
With DNA Tests, Mystery of the 'Lost Tribe' of Indian Jews Finally Solved

Sunday, October 15, 2017

The Milk War

The Russian-Belarusian 'Milk War' of 2009 lasted a little over two weeks, and during those two weeks no shots were fired. One of the pettiest wars of all time, the only victims were Belarusian wallets and Russian dairy consumers.

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Belarus and Russia are neighbors, and have traditionally
had good diplomatic relations.
This war started when Russia banned all dairy imports from Belarus, supposedly because Belarusian dairy didn't meet Russian health standards, but more likely because Belarus wasn't doing what Russia told it to. Russia has a history of banning imports from countries that make it made, and they were pretty upset with Belarus for a few reasons.

  1. Belarus refused to recognize the breakaway states of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Russia had assisted South Ossetia and Abkhazia in declaring independence from the country of Georgia. The only other country than Russia to have recognized those countries was the Central American country of Nicaragua. Russia wanted some support, but Belarus just wasn't there for them.
  2. Russia depends on a Belarus pipeline to pipe its oil to the rest of Europe. Russia tried to buy this pipeline from Belarus, but Belarus refused to sell.
  3. Belarus had become decided more pro European, releasing political prisoners, and trying to make good with the rest of Europe. This angered Russia, who isn't very friendly with Europe.
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Russian and Belarusian military marching together
on parade in 2011, two years after the end of the milk war
Belarus responded in a spectacularly mature fashion by imposing stricter border checkpoints on the Russia-Belarus border, and by refusing to attend the meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), a confederation of former Soviet states. The meeting had been to solidify a confederation wide military union. Belarus, formerly one of Russia's biggest supporters, not being present really infuriated the Russian government.

You can essentially envisage the Milk War as an argument between two particularly passive-aggressive teenage girls. Belarus won't give Russia what it wants, so Russia won't let Belarus bring its stuff over to Russia's house. This upsets Belarus, who decides that Russia can't come over to their house either. There had been a party planned for Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, and a whole bunch of other people, but Belarus was still pissed off at Russia, so Belarus decided not to show up, which made Russia mad. A couple weeks later, they realize they need each other, and talk it out.
Today, dairy products pass freely through Belarus and Russia. Belarus still doesn't recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia, and continue to make pro-European overtures. Russia isn't very happy about this, but for the sake of regional security, they bite their tongues.

Sources

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Micro-est of Micronations?

If you've never heard of Sealand, rest assured, I am not making this up. Sealand is a very real principality located on a very real WWII fortress island seven miles off the coast of the United Kingdom. Not only is Sealand very, very real--they celebrated 50 years of independence last month.

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The nation of Sealand. In its entirety.
During WWII, Great Britain built several fortress islands in the middle of the North Sea. A few of these fortresses were built a little bit outside of Britain's territorial waters, which extended about 3 miles out from Britain's coast in all directions. Construction of these buildings was, technically, against international law. But given that Hitler was intent on destroying most of Europe, Great Britain building small forts wasn't really a big priority.

Luckily, WWII ended, Hitler was defeated, and the island of Great Britain was still around, if a little pockmarked. Not needing them anymore, the military abandoned the fortresses, in the early 1950s and turned their attention to more sensible things, like spying on the USSR. They made efforts to tear down some of the illegal fortresses, but their efforts were halfhearted at best, leaving several fortresses in international waters.

Fast forward to the 1960s. BBC Radio sucks, and pirate radio stations located on these off shore fortresses is the newest fad. Enter Roy Bates, former army major and radio enthusiast. He sailed out to an unused fortress called Knock John, and set up a radio station. He was very popular with the locals in Essex, but not so popular with the local law enforcement. Several years of court battles ensued until British courts declared that since Knock John was inside of their territorial waters, Bates was technically within their jurisdiction, and could no longer broadcast. Roy Bates stormed off in a huff, and abandoned Knock John.

Related image
Prince Roy, Princess Joan, and their daughter Penelope. I've
read nothing to suggest that the children of the prince and
princess were titled, so I have referred to both Penelope 
and Michael by their first names.
However, Britain had not seen the last of Roy Bates. Determined to continue his radio station, Bates set his sights on the abandoned Roughs Tower seven miles off the coast of Britain, technically in international waters. Roy took up residence on Christmas day of 1966. After some thinking and consultation with legal counsel, Roy declared Roughs Tower the independent Principality of Sealand on September 2, 1967, declaring himself and his wife, Joan, the Prince and Princess.

As grandiose as being a prince is, Sealand kinda sucks to live on. It's cold, wet, and in a constant state of disrepair. Additionally, it's difficult to do business on a concrete platform in the middle of the sea. Roy moved back to the mainland, but left his son, Michael, on Sealand to maintain sovereignty of the fortress.

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Prince Michael, reigning monarch
of Sealand since 2012
Now, here's where I have to verge into speculation. Prince Michael hasn't given a lot of interviews, and the official Sealand website is mum on the issue, but an interview from Prince Michael given in 2013 makes it sound very much like he was all alone on this platform in the middle of the sea. He spoke of being ecstatic to escape the boredom of school, but of the loneliness of the open seas, especially the lack of feminine company.

Michael took to sneaking local girls in on the weekends by fishing boat, but his father Roy put a stop to that as soon as he found out. History has proven that this was an extremely wise move, not only for avoiding teen pregnancy, but because Sealand wasn't (and still isn't) always the safest place to live.

Sealand has had a grand total of two armed conflicts, pretty impressive for a country with less than 30 permanent inhabitants. However stressful these conflicts may have been for the tiny nation, both conflicts led to the only two de facto recognitions that the island has.

The first conflict wasn't long after Sealand declared itself a nation. In an act of supreme overreaction, Great Britain declared Sealand the 'Cuba off the east coast of England'¹, and sent out their military to tear down the rest of the fortresses located in international waters. The soldiers were buzzing overhead with helicopters, blowing neighboring fortresses to pieces, filling the air with debris. Soldiers approached Sealand, shouting threats that Sealand would be next. In addition to the threats, some soldiers also shouted some unsavory things to the sixteen year old Penelope, Michael's sister.

Michael, who was only fourteen at the time, took offense to these comments, and shot at the soldiers with his sawed off shotgun. The soldiers took off. Once again verging into speculation, I'm guessing that they were unarmed, given that a whole crew of soldiers can most certainly take one fourteen year old boy. Luckily, the soldiers left Michael and Penelope alone.
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Sealand national flag
They may have escaped the British Army, but Michael didn't escape the consequences of his actions. The minute he stepped back on land, he was hauled off to jail for violating local firearms regulations. A long and complicated court battle ensued, during which the courts had to refer back to statues from the seventeenth century. Eventually, the judge ruled that Britain had no jurisdiction over Sealand, and Michael was cleared of all charges. Sealand claims this as de facto recognition from the British government.

The second incident happened in 1978. Prince Roy was in negotiations with some Dutch and German men to set up a casino on Sealand. These dudes were some pretty shady fellows, and while Prince Roy was off at a 'business meeting' in Austria, they landed on the fortress, taking Michael hostage and claiming it for themselves.

Michael was released after a few days, and he and his father started their mission to take their country back. They convinced a friend, a stunt pilot for the James Bond films, to fly them in by helicopter. There was no way for the helicopters to land on the platform, so Michael, his father, and two others slid down ropes to reach the fortress. The Dutch and Germans came out to see what was happening, and Michael's gun went off by accident, nearly taking his head off. The usurpers surrendered immediately. They were all kicked out of the country except for German lawyer Gernot Pütz, who also held a Sealand passport (yes, they issue passports). Prince Roy declared Gernot a traitor to the country and, using his power as prince, sentenced Gernot to life on the platform. Luckily for Pütz, the German embassy got a little worried after a few weeks, and went to rescue their citizen. The German ambassador to England went out to Sealand, and Prince Roy released Gernot immediately. Sealand claims this as their second de facto recognition.

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Official Sealand passport. You probably can't travel with
this, but it is an option.
In the 21st century Sealand has retired its warmongering ways. Prince Roy died in 2012, passing his title down to his son Michael. Prince Michael has a son and heir apparent, James, and though Michael and his family no longer live on Sealand, they show no intentions of giving up their tiny country. Smaller than the Vatican by quite a bit, modern Sealand makes most of its income from the sales of passports, titles, and merchandise, as well as being a server haven for VPNs.

The official motto of the country is 'E Mare Libertas', or 'From the Sea, Freedom.' This motto perfectly encapsulates the spirit of Sealand. Dissatisfied with the restrictions in England, Roy Bates left his life for freedom on the high seas, and that's what attracts people to Sealand to this day.²

Sources
Prince Roy of Sealand
Notes From a Small Island: Is Sealand an Independent Micro nation or an Illegal Fortress?
Principality of Sealand
I Rule My Own Ocean Micronation


¹Despite the fact that Sealand has zero things in common with Cuba. They had no nuclear weapons, they weren't backed by the USSR, they weren't communist. The biggest threat that Sealand posed to England was the threat of causing the English government a minor headache. Comparisons to Cuba were more than a little over dramatic.
²Not that Sealand gets any tourists. It is, as I mentioned, tiny. Only 43,060 square feet, Sealand is a little less than the size of a full acre. I've met people with bigger backyards.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Documentary Review: They Call It Myanmar

I'd heard of Myanmar before. I knew it used to be called (or is still currently called--that's still fuzzy) Burma. I knew that the US, along with several other members of the UN didn't recognize the current government (which actually turned out to be incorrect) and I knew that it was in South Asia. That was about it, so watching this documentary was an excellent learning experience for me.

Image result for they call it myanmarThis documentary was put together by a Cornell Physics professor, who also, in his spare time, writes novels, makes films, and assists the US Government in humanitarian work overseas. He was working for an NGO in Myanmar when he made the film. When making this documentary he took advantage of his connections with the locals to interview them about their opinions about the direction of Burmese politics, and to get the opinion of people living in one of the most isolated countries in the world.

So Myanmar, like so much of Southern Asia, was absorbed into a colonial empire, in their case the British Empire. Around 1940 the Burmese government reached out to the Japanese for help liberating them from the English. The Japanese obliged, but they also made things a whole hell of a lot worse, so the Burmese had to call on the English again for help. With the help of the allied powers, the Burmese were able to kick the Japanese out of Burma, and establish their own independent government. All was going well until 1962 when the military took over the running of the government.

After taking power, the Burmese military quickly cut all ties with the outside world. They isolated themselves as a group, making it difficult for normal people to have their voice heard in government. Due to their isolation and some poor economic decisions, Myanmar is now one of the poorest countries in Asia.

Image result for myanmar mapThis film explores the day-to-day life of the Burmese, and what they have to do to survive. Blankets and bedding are pawned in the morning to pay for bus fare, children rarely go to school past the first or second grade, and most laborers make less than $1 USD a day.

But in addition to the extreme poverty, this documentary also explores the strong spiritual life of Myanmar. Myanmar is, essentially, a Buddhist state, and the Burmese are a very religious people. According to the film, many Burmese attribute their poverty to mistakes made in past lives, and try to live better lives by weekly worship.

This is a very interesting documentary, and a good introduction to modern Myanmar. I have to admit, I didn't 100% understand everything that was shown, simply because I didn't know much of the history of post WWII South Asia. There was also a lot of political information in the film, that I didn't summarize here, simply because I wasn't quite sure how to. Which is why if you have a couple hours, and are interested, I would highly recommend watching it. 

Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Operation Nifty Package

We've talked quite a bit about war, especially ludicrous and unnecessary wars, but today we're going to talk about one of my all time favorite ridiculous military operations, Operation Nifty Package.

It's late 1989, and the US Navy Seals are chasing after Panamanian dictator and all around bad dude Manuel Noriega. They've destroyed his private plane, and now Noriega is on the lamb. US military is chasing after him, and his best option for leaving the country undetected has been destroyed, so like so many men before him, Noriega claims sanctuary from a church.

Well, kinda.

Manuel Noriega
Noriega actually claimed sanctuary in the Apostolic Nunciature of the Holy See, which is basically the Vatican Embassy (kinda a church, right?). He threatened Nuncio Laboa that he'd initiate guerrilla warfare if he wasn't allowed to take refuge. The Nuncio (basically a Vatican ambassador), reluctantly agreed. Noriega was given a stark, un-air conditioned room, and whiled his days away reading the bible.

Meanwhile, US military forces are assembled around the Nunciature scratching their heads. International law prevents them from attacking the embassy and dragging Noriega out by force. They could have broken international law, after all, the Vatican isn't exactly a powerful military force. But Catholics have long since proved that they are not a group to be pissed off (see the Crusades), so breaking international law wouldn't be worth it, even to capture Noriega.

So, denied the option of using bodily force, the Navy Seals resorted to psychological warfare, and in a supremely dick move, used enormous loud speakers to blast the Nunciature with heavy rock almost constantly.

Noriega was known for being a man of highbrow tastes, and rock was Not His Thing. Additionally, a helicopter pad was set up in a nearby field, surrounding the Nunciature with a deafening cacophony of noise at almost all times. Requests were taken from nearby military forces, and included such topical melodies as 'Dead or Alive', 'Give It Up', and 'I Fought the Law and the Law Won'.

Eventually, someone inside the Nunciature cracked, and Noriega emerged from sanctuary after ten days of hiding, delivering himself into the custody of delighted US military forces.

He was extradited to the United States where he served 30 years as a prisoner of war for his crimes, and was later extradited to France to serve prison time for his crimes there as well. He was sentenced to seven years imprisonment there, but after one year was successfully extradited back to Panama, where he is still in jail.

What music would you use to flush out Noriega? Make my day, and leave your suggestions in the comments below. :)

Sources
CNN
Post Combat Reports
Catholic take on the whole affair (they are not very forgiving of the Nuncio)
Special Operations Website (includes the entire playlist)