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Vivovdan! The Men Who Did or Didn’t Start a World War

Posted in Uncategorized with tags on June 28, 2014 by David N. Brown

I’m back, and I know it’s been a long time! Fortunately, it’s time for the post I’ve been wanting to do since I started this blog: the 100th anniversary of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife, Duchess Sophia, by Bosnian Serb Gavrilo Princip, officially commencing the festivities of World War One.

Many people I know have wondered about the root of my interest in the Balkans. If I were to try to give an answer, or at least pin down when it started, it would be my quite early awareness of the Archduke’s assassination, back when I was about 13, which was also when the war in Bosnia was making headlines. I wouldn’t say I had an immediate fascination with the event, but it stuck in my mind enough for me to look things up intermittently over the following decades. In the process, I became more aware of the complexities of the Balkans, the World Wars, and a deeper sense of the timeless questions of fate, chance and human nature. On a certain level, the Archduke’s demise is a perfect philosophical and metaphysical dilemma: Did a virtually chance encounter between a Balkan peasant and a hapless aristocrat decide the fate of the world? Or did they merely provide a pretense for the fight everyone had been waiting for? Was there, ultimately, ever a chance to avoid a world at war?

In the course of my reading, I found out quite a few things that didn’t entirely fit the tellings I first encountered (though much of this has been coming out in the current wave of press releases about the assassination). Despite the common characterization of the assassination as a terrorist attack, it can in fact just as well be described as an act of guerilla warfare: The Archduke was a military officer of high standing in his nation’s army, which was effectively occupying Bosnia, while his murder was orchestrated by Serb military officers. Also, despite his family’s willingness to go to war on behalf of his corpse, the Archduke was actually very unpopular in the Austrian court, due to his scandalous habits of advocating reform, having children with a wife he married for love and shooting pretty much every non-human creature in sight. Likewise, while Princip became a hero to the Serb nationalists with whom we are all too familiar, he was himself a proponent of a multi-ethnic Yugoslav state, and his comrades in the band that set out to kill the Archduke included Bosniak Muhamed Mehmedbasic.

At the same time, the details of the assassination readily align with the paradox of inevitable disaster or pure randomness. We can start by noting that Princip was one of only three out of nine children in his family to live to adulthood. Moving forward, the Serbian government ordered Princip’s arrest while he was in Serbia in the final stages of preparation for the assassination, and sent the Austrians a reasonably explicit warning that the Archduke would be in danger if he visited Bosnia (which the Austrians evidently neglected to forward to the Archduke). On the day of the assassination, the band of assassins made preparations to first shoot up the Archduke’s car and then blow it up with a had grenade for good measure. When their would-be ambush ended with only a single hand grenade lobbed, resulting in injuries to two officers in a second car, the Archduke and Duchess were quickly sequestered (though various parties still found time for speeches), until the Archduke decided to go back out onto the streets to visit the injured officers. His driver then got lost, and stopped directly in front of a cafe where Princip had retreated to plan his next move, in a position where an officer riding on the left side of the car failed to shield the couple. (One detail which, based on my research, is not at all clear is whether the Archduke was between Princip and the Duchess, as consistently shown in drawings, or vice versa!) Most bizarrely, accounts have come to light of a scuffle between a plainclothes detective who tried to stop Princip and an evidently otherwise uninvolved bystander who got in his way. This final detail, especially, reveals the nearly equal merits of two opposite conclusions: Either the demise of the Archduke was the wildest fluke, or he was dead as soon as he set foot in Sarajevo.

Now, let’s pull back to the wider angle. To my recollection, the junior-high textbook where I first read about the Archduke and Princip held very much with the conventional view of the assassination as essentially incidental to the real causes of the war. I very distinctly remember a quote with the iconic “powder keg” analogy. Such appraisals are, certainly, eminently justified by the evidence, especially an infamous and eerie remark by Otto Von Bismarck in 1888: “One day, the Great Euopean War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” It would seem almost inarguable that, if the circumstances of World War One could be described with such precision decades before the fact, then it is as close to inevitable as an event could get. (This has also long struck me as a fitting rejoinder to critical religious scholars who insist that any “prophetic” text must necessarily be dated after the event it predicts!) This presents a bleak and cynical picture of the leaders of the world as at best unable to stop a long-predicted crisis and at worst eagerly bringing it about, with all the further and still darker implications for human nature and free will that it entails.

Yet, there are definitely cracks in this view. The actions of Serbia, in particular, belie any eagerness for the demise of the Archduke on their part: On top of their efforts to arrest Princip and war off the Archduke, the Serbs readily made concessions in the face of increasingly vindictive Austrian demands, until even Kaiser Wilhelm, in some times and circles an even more favored scapegoat for the war than Princip, went on record as saying that Serbia had “eliminate(d) any cause for war”. If anyone pushed for war, it was the Austrian royalty, who strikingly found ways to snub the Archduke at his own funeral. Considering the disparity between the royal family’s demands and strikingly un-profound displays of grief, it is not outlandish to speculate that, on some level, the Archduke was allowed to go to Sarajevo in the hope that he wouldn’t come back. Yet, even the Austrians’ crazed diplomacy belies any grand plan, giving every appearance less of a calculated push for war than a succession of almost whimsical impositions on a party presumed too weak to put up real resistance.

Meanwhile, the Archduke himself certainly deserves more than a fair share of blame. One of the more mind-boggling detail of the assassination is that June 28th, 1914 was the Serbian Orthodox holy day of Vivovdan, and also considered the 525th anniversary of the epic last stand of the Southern Slavs against the Ottomans at the Battle of Kosovo Polje. (Due to complications in various church and secular calendars, the actual date of the battle was June 15, 1389.) This made the Archduke’s visit to Sarajevo (at the invitation of Bosnia’s governor!) as manifestly ill-advised as George W. Bush going on a scenic tour of occupied Baghdad on the last day of Ramadan! If going at all was astonishingly reckless, his decision to go back onto the streets of Sarajevo can only be considered insanity.

This brings us to an especially neglected aspect of the Archduke’s background: Within Franz Ferdinand’s family tree, there is a quite impressive list of men who found interesting and colorful ways to get themselves killed. His father, Karl Ludwig, met his end in a moderately charming fashion, by catching typhoid when he piously drank from the Jordan River on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, reportedly against the strong urgings of several traveling companions. His cousin Crown Prince Rudolf died with his mistress in an apparent murder-suicide. His own brother Otto died of syphilis, presumably contracted in pursuit of his scandalous lifestyle. Perhaps most notably, his uncle Maximilian accepted the post as French-installed Emperor of Mexico, and then refused to leave when the French withdrew the Foreign Legion. In this light, the `notorious’ Archduke appears to be, if anything, one of the more stable members of the royal family. The grim history of his line gives further testimony to the nearly certain impact of mental illness, exacerbated by a society which by all appearances considered it preferable to let its ruling class endanger themselves and the state rather than breach protocol by restraining them.

Once the full extent of the “human element” is brought in, the dilemma of the assassination becomes even more intractable. The events of a century past are inseparable from the actions of the participants, especially the deceased Archduke himself. It is pure arrogance (not to mention no small measure of “blame-shifting”!) to suppose that no course of events could have turned the world from war. Yet, at the same time, the actions of the individuals are (per a favorite theme in my own work) constrained by their underlying personalities and perhaps even more by their times and cultures. One might as well reframe the usual questions by asking, was there any way to prevent the gallantly foolhardy Archduke and the determined assassin from colliding with each other?

I’ll close with another personal story. Back in February 2008, my novel Walking Dead was in print as my second and last book with an an official publisher, and I was well on my way to fleshing out the “assumed mythology” that became the “Exotroopers” series. Then, in February, news came that Kosovo had declared itself independent from Serbia. I had long concluded that an independent Kosovar state was going to happen, eventually, and worked it into my books, but it still came as more than a surprise to me. My immediate response in conversation with people who knew of my Balkans research was, verbatim, “Worst case scenario, there could be a war in a week.” Needless to say, I watched the news with great interest, waiting to see if the war I had envisioned in fiction decades in the future was going to happen in front of me. Needless to say, it didn’t… at least, not yet.

To me, this experience is as good an answer as any to the riddle of the “Archduke and the Assassin”. Sometimes, surely, expecting a disaster is what keeps it from happening, and that should be hope in that. At the same time, there can be little doubt that some expected disasters happen because nobody thinks they can stop it, and there should be a kind of hope in that, too. In the end, all we can do is plan for the worst, and try for the best. And did anyone really need a history lesson to know that?


One-Shot Week Part 9: Life As Leviathan

Posted in Mythology, one-shot, Uncategorized with tags , , , on March 17, 2013 by David N. Brown

The week may be over, but here’s one more thing I wanted to post, with a previously-written introduction:

This piece is something that old enough that I was very concerned whether I could even find my one printed copy. Fortunately, I did finally fish it out from my old papers, and apart from a handful of corrections, it appears here exactly as I found it. I wrote this back in 2001 for a college English class. For a long time, I considered it the best thing I had written, and looking at it now, I can still feel happy putting it out there.

This was supposed to be an essay, on the assigned topic of what animal one would most like to become. While I have always been interested in animals, and greatly enjoy telling a story from an animal’s perspective, I didn’t care for the premise of the assignment, and in the end, my response was substantially a revolt against it. The result was this piece, more a story than an essay, but not really a self-sufficient work, and I never did think of any good way to build on it. (The best idea I ever had was to put it together with what became the novel Anio Son of Poseidon, and that was in fact how I first thought of the “Book of Shapes” featured there.) Looking at it now, I can see an embarrassment of riches in potential themes and symbols, from environmentalism to the influence of media to an allegory of Christ. I can’t claim to recall how much of that even crossed my mind when I first wrote it, but in the end, I think it is and always best for this to stay what it is: a vivid, well-told story.


Once I was a human who walked the land. I was a peasant among frail primates who thought themselves kings of the Earth. Now I am a mighty king of the ocean. Scientists call me Physeter; poets call me Leviathan; others call me cachalot, but most follow the lead of ancient fools and call ma a sperm whale. Those on the top can call me whatever the like. Down here, we do not let mere collections of syllables define who we are. A cachalot is defined by his songs, his deeds and his strength. Our mere hellos carry the passion and detail of the poets’ greatest epics. My song is of wisdom coupled with strength.

It was a little hard getting used to being a cachalot. Fortunately, it was in my very nature to detect with song and ears as I once did with light and eyes. If I had had to learn it, I could never have survived. I still miss my arms and legs, and I sometimes wish that I could see with eyes what I have heard with song. Learning to breathe at will was tricky; there were several times when I almost suffocated because I forgot that I had to think to inhale. But the hardest part is dealing with my memories. I can still remember all the things I did on top,, but they are alien and even repulsive to my current nature. How strange it is to remember the sight of a blooming desert when one has become accustomed to hearing the deepest oceans! Hardest of all are the times when I wake from a dream of the top and find myself once again as a man in an alien universe. If I had known how that would feel, I would never have changed. After such dreams, I have often resolved to search the depths until I find a way to change back. But the dream always fades, and my cetaceous nature always reasserts itself. I cannot now change what I am even though it is not my true self.

Perhaps the greatest benefit of being a cachalot is the amount of exploring one gets to do. No breathing thing can dive deeper than a cachalot, and few cachalots have dived deeper than I. With my song which conquers all darkness, I have beheld creatures which human researchers have spent millions for mere glimpses of, and some which human minds have not even imagined. I have dragged some of the strangest creatures from their hiding places to the top, where humans will find them. I chuckle when I think of what scientists may have made of them.

I wish I could go back up top to correct the ridiculous things scientists write about how cachalots hunt. They make it sound so easy. I have concluded that catching squid is a learned art not an instinct, and though I have the vast and demanding body of a bull, I have the hunting skills of a calf. Though I can tap the learning of a whale, something in my human part seems to get in the way. In my two years as cachalot, I have caught only six squid. It did not help that they tasted like rubber bands soaked in ammonia. I have fed mainly on slow-moving, bottom-dwelling giant octopus and squid which I earn by singing for other whales.

I count all the human things I have sacrificed as no loss at all against my ability to sing. As a human, I struggled to turn my visions into words. Now, I sing songs whose “words” are as clear as human vision. The greatest human poets would envy me. Other whales swarm around me to listen. I am still not sure whether they are drawn by awe, curiosity or something else. I often wonder if they fear me, but like many humans are drawn to what they hear. As I sing the final I exult that the other whales must view me as a god, but then I remember how humans treat their gods, and become somber once again.

The seas hold nothing for an adult cachalot to fear- except humans. A handful of ships still hunt my kind, but I, with my human knowledge, can avoid their factory ships easily. I have also warned other whales, and thus reduced the whalers’ catch substantially. The diminishing returns made the hunters more persistent, and it was not long before a whaling ship found a pod of whales gathered to hear my song. I was shocked and angered when my passionate encore was interrupted by screams of pain and the booming of explosive-tipped harpoons. A dozen whaling ships gathered like sharks around my audience. The majority of us escaped, but a few ships followed, killing at least one of us whenever we surfaced for air.

Many more would have died, if I had not happened across a rusted and forgotten mine. I seized the deadly device by its anchor chain and dragged it towards one of the whalers. I left it in what I thought was a good location, and then surfaced briefly to draw the ship. I surfaced again and again, drawint the ships farther away from the pod and to closer to the mine. Finally, the lead ship struck the mine dead on and sank like a stone.

I sang a new song then: one of vengeance and hatred against our hunters. I sang of things alien to them, but all too familiar to me: cruelty, greed and thoughtless waste. Then I led the armies of the deep against all that I hated, and all that I had been. I told them how to find explosives to detonate against a ship’s hull. I told them how to knock ships off course by ramming their rudders. I told them how to paralyze a ship by tossing rocks and wreckage and even themselves into the propellers.

The other three ships sailed forward casually to pick up their colleagues, thinking that the sinking of the first ship was a mere accident. Just as we had been oblivious to their harpoons until they struck, so they were unaware of our power until it was too late. When the battle was over, two more ships lay at the bottom. One had been laid open when we sent another ship careening into it. The other had been disabled and then battered open over a day and half. The whalers who did not stay in their ships ended up in our stomachs. The last ship escaped with a dented propeller, damaged rudder, and leaking hull. We later found it beached on a remote shore. The sailors had escaped to land, and would surely tell the world of our fury.

Seven whales died in the battle, but it is in the survivors that I see the greatest cost. They are much more violent, more brutish- in short, more human. They have sunk a dozen more whaling ships. Not a one dares sail, now. But the other whales have only grown more aggressive, and now are turning against fishing boats. I fear that harmless and defenseless liners and cargo ships will be next. By now, many humans must be wishing that they had exterminated us when the still had the ships to do it. Worst of all, the whales are becoming more brutish towards each other. They are forming fixed clans and claiming stretches of sea as theirs by right. War with each other is bound to start soon. They will no longer listen to my songs, unless they are of blood and fury. Hear me, world, and weep: I made myself a whale to escape what is human, but now I have brought the worst of what is human into the whales!

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

One-Shot Week, Part 3: Misanthrope’s Rules of the Road

Posted in Cars, one-shot, Uncategorized with tags , , on March 13, 2013 by David N. Brown

Now, here’s a truly prehistoric entry in the exotroopers franchise.  Back around 2003, after creating Zaratustra just to kill him off ignominiously, I was already thinking about ways to give him some further adventures.  This led to his inclusion with some new friends in Walking Dead.  But my first idea was for something even more ambitious: I would write a book of social commentary and satire, as Zaratustra would write it. (In hindsight, the premise came pretty close to The Screwtape Letters.) My working title was The Misanthropic Principles.  Even way back then, once I had the premise in mind, all I had left to do was turn Zaratustra loose. Unfortunately (or else, not improbably, fortunately indeed), when I showed the material to others, responses have been more mixed than usual where Zaratustra is concerned. I tried putting some excerpts out there, and they mostly seemed either offend people or, more often, go over people’s heads. That was warning enough not even try with the really dark material. But there was one thing to come out of the project that was well-received, and I have given it a fair amount of circulation over the years. So, for whatever it is worth, here are Zaratustra’s theories on driving… which, incidentally, I don’t.

These are the words of Zaratustra, das ubermensch:

The automobile is the crowning achievement of modern civilization. Until the last century, the great scourges of healthy adults were plague, famine and warfare. The advance of science has long since banished these perils from day-to-day existence. In their place, science provided the automobile, which has killed more than all the traditional threats put together. The car has furthermore perfected the balance of the increasing concentrations of people with the increasing isolation of individual persons from each other. For, traditionally, travel and commerce were the two pursuits in which human contact was inevitable. But by moving around in cars, hordes of people can go past each other every day without even having to look at each other. All the better for hating each other in the state of perfect abstraction.

Local traffic laws vary greatly, but the truly universal ones are those no government would dare to write down. Based on years of observation, these are the most ubiquitous and important:

  1. Red lights are only suggestions to stop.
  2. In matters of right of way, mass is 99.9% of the law.
  3. No savings in time is too small to endanger life, limb and property, especially someone else’s.
  4. Do not be concerned about your car’s safety features; make the other drivers concerned about theirs.
  5. Accelerate on a yellow light; brake on a green arrow.
  6. The principle purpose of turn signals is to misdirect your adversaries.
  7. Always stay in front of as many people as possible.
  8. Corollary to the 7th law: If you cannot maintain a lead by going faster, then force those behind to go slower.
  9. Any division of the road that can be driven over is optional.
  10. The greatest benefit of the automobile is that it allows travel with anonymity. Maximize this benefit: Tint your windows; roll them up; turn up the radio; and do NOT use bumper stickers.

Thus spake Zaratustra!

David N. Brown

Mesa Arizona


Christmas with EXOTROOPERS!

Posted in Balkans pop, films, Mythology, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , on December 24, 2012 by David N. Brown


Hello everyone!  Welcome to the Christmas edition of Exotroopers!  I’ll be covering some odds and ends from my Exotroopers Christmas story.  The first exhibit, above, is what happens when a ridiculously high-resolution scanner meets a low-resolution concept sketch.  Still, I think it turned out okay.  If it’s not clear (and believe me you do NOT want to try viewing this thing at “original” size), that’s an angel, based on a description from Isaiah 6:1-3 and a marine creature called a sea butterfly.  I first thought of and sketched this concept way back in high school, worked it into “Christmas With Exotroopers” as part of Zed’s visionary experience, and finally did a new sketch this morning.  I scanned it at maximum resolution (after all the things I have seen go wrong scanning pencil drawings, I’m inclined not to take chances), cropped it and did a black-white reverse which is “standard” for me.

Here’s some of the other things that found their way into my very surreal Christmas story:

Ded Moroz, the evil Slavic Santa.

A news story on protests over the cancellation of Bosnian Christmas celebrations, which I used as a basis for a more dramatic scenario.

The “Christmas tank” photo used for the ebook cover image.  I located several images of decorated tanks.  This was the only one featuring a modern-looking tank (a modified M60 is my best guess), and the decidedly somber background settled it for me.  Here’s another image of a tank that looks even better for the presumed late-Cold War junkyard environment of the exotroopers.

An upload of the Czeckoslavakian film “Alice”, a very strong contender for creepiest film ever supposedly based on a supposed children’s book.   The stop-motion White Rabbit was used as a model for the rats in Zed’s ultra-twisted envisioning of “Nutcracker”.  I saw bits of the film, including the permanently traumatizing opening, ten years ago on a college “channel”, and tracked it down later.  I seriously considered covering this film in an installment of “Revenant Review”.  After all, how is a taxidermied rabbit that climbs out of its display case NOT “undead”?

A British visual history of nutcrackers, some of which get more than moderately weird.  Then there’s a positively disturbing specimen featured here from an American collection, which just might tie into the mythos of the “Nutcracker”.  Also, here’s a painting I used as a model for Zed’s nutcrackers.  In learning about the background of the original story of the Nutcracker, I concluded that an “authentic” Nutcracker would look like a German soldier from the mid- to late 1700s.  On researching uniforms from the period, I found documentation of a variety of uniforms, including types which would be reasonably familiar to Americans from Revolutionary War counterparts.  The soldiers in “pope hats”, however, were too good to pass up!

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

The Albanian “Easter Egg” Hunt

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on September 11, 2012 by David N. Brown

“It looks like we’ve found that lost consignment of Easter eggs. Yes, sir, pretty sure… Well, sir, it would be good news, except that the eggs have hatched.”

Return of the Living Dead (Courtesy IMDB)

While Yugoslavia self-destructed violently with front-page coverage, the People’s Socialist Republic of Albania went through first the fall of communism in 1991 and then an even more dramatic implosion in 1997, when a proliferation of pyramid schemes destroyed Albania’s economy and any semblance of government and social order followed suit, with minimal attention from the wider world. This may be owed, in large part, to the preceding government of Enver Hoxha (pronounced “Ho-Ja”). Where Yugoslavia’s Marshal Tito was a virtual cosmopolitan, opening his country wide open even to the capitalist west, Enver Hoxha’s radicalism and paranoia made Albania increasingly isolated even from other communist states. Thus, it is fair to say that, by the 1990s, the wider world was used to ignoring Albania. It is also noteworthy that contemporary coverage took a very different tone than for the Yugoslav wars: Where Bosnia and Kosovo were covered as the humanitarian crises they certainly were, Albania’s collapse was treated almost light-heartedly, as in humorist P.J. O’rourke’s account of his visit in Eat the Rich. Even more tellingly, the coverage from “serious” venues gave a disproportionate amount of attention to just one aspect of the collapse: the massive looting of guns from Albania’s large military stockpiles.

The gist of the story is this: Depending on estimates, somewhere between 600,000 and 1 million weapons were looted from Albania’s military arsenals during the 1997 collapse. Street prices for AK47s reportedly dropped as low as twenty American dollars (which, under the circumstances, was probably a fortune to the Albanians). As of September 2000, CNN reported that half a million were believed to remain in civilian hands. The horror!

A number of considerations have rarely been mentioned. First, the by all accounts, looting occurred on a massive scale throughout Albania. P.J. O’Rourke at least went to the trouble noting more examples, up to and including the theft of a railroad: That is, not a robbery or hijacking of a train, but the wholesale plundering of the very components of the tracks. Second, personal ownership of weapons is greatly valued in Albanian culture, including the profoundly influential traditions known as the Kanun of Lek Dukaigjin. In Kosovo: A Short History, Noel Malcolm goes so far as to note that “the history of Kosovo and North Albania are punctuated by a series of revolts caused by ill-starred official attempts to disarm the population.”

Third, the stolen weapons were not, by any appraisal, particularly good weapons: Typical specimens, if not the actual majority, were Chinese copies of the AK47, an iconic weapon best known for phenomenal durability and marginal accuracy, most likely manufactured in the 1970s if not earlier. Factor in the variables of storage and maintenance, and it seems likely that quite a few had approached or exceeded even the AK47’s legendary tolerances for neglect and abuse. While fears were aired early on (as in a 1997 Chicago Tribune piece) that stolen Albanian weapons would be spread to other conflict zones, in 20/20 hindsight, the Albanians’ arsenal would offer little that the war zones of the rest of the world did not already have in abundance. Indeed, even far more formidable hardware from Hoxha’s arsenals proved hard to market: According to a 2002 BBC report, when the Albanian army tried to sell its tanks as legitimate “surplus”, they met with complete failure. According to a cited Albanian representative, “No one has shown interest in the tanks and at least 500 of them will end up as scrap.”

Curiously, the same report mentions that the military was considering selling assault rifles to their own populace as “hunting” weapons. This begs an interesting question: If the military saw any possibility of interest, than what had happened to all the weapons stolen in 1997? Quite possibly, many of the thieves had followed the presumable example of the looters who plundered the raw materials of the railroad, and simply had “their” weapons melted down for scrap!

That brings us to the likely end of the saga of Albania’s stolen guns. But then, in the new century, a whole new situation emerged. Here are relevant excerpts of the story as told in 2005 by The Washington Post:


Near the end of his 40 years in power, Enver Hoxha prepared his tiny country for an invasion he warned was sure to come. The Marxist dictator built 750,000 concrete bunkers in the 1970s and 1980s and imported large quantities of weapons to repel an expected attack… But his most prized weapons acquisition was a state secret known only to the Albanian leader and his closest advisers — a secret that only now is coming fully to light.

In the mid-1970s, U.S. and Albanian officials now believe, Hoxha arranged the purchase of several hundred canisters of lethal military chemicals to be used in weapons against invading armies… This deadly stockpile was hidden in one of Hoxha’s bunkers, then forgotten after Hoxha died in 1985… The current Albanian government’s surprise discovery of the canisters, acknowledged to U.S. and U.N. officials several months ago… Albanian officials recently allowed a reporter from The Washington Post to view the stockpile…

Inside the building are row after row of containers and bottles of various colors and sizes. Most are red cylinders roughly the size of a propane tank. Numerals and, in some cases, Chinese characters are clearly visible on the outer casing. The Chinese writing identifies the contents of each container but not the origin. Altogether, the bunkers hold nearly 600 vessels containing about 16 tons of what is known in military jargon as “bulk agent.”…

Albanian defense officials, who now are preparing to destroy the (chemical weapons) with help from U.S. and U.N. agencies, say they are confident that all of Hoxha’s canisters are safely locked away.

“We have searched everywhere, and I can declare to you that Albania has no more such weapons,” said Albanian Lt. Col. Muharrim Alba, a senior arms control specialist with the Albanian Defense Ministry.

But Alba also acknowledged that Albania had been unable to find a shred of documentation describing the original purchase by Hoxha three decades ago. The investigation has turned up no letters, receipts or inventories, or even a single officer of the former government who is willing or able to recall how the chemicals were obtained.


Reading between the lines, the “arsenal” is far from a high-tech terror threat. The main chemical mentioned, sulfur mustard or yperite, is the same substance used as “mustard gas” in World War 1. Thus, if vintage is used as a measure, Enver Hoxha’s WMDs make his arsenal of rusty Kalashnikovs look state-of-the-art. But then, like the “mediocre” AK47 that can sling lead just as indifferently after being run over by a truck, what mustard gas lacks in sophistication can be made up for in shelf life. Where “advanced” sarin gas has a shelf life of no more than a few months, recently recovered mustard gas shells from World War 2 have been reckoned still dangerous.

“Easter eggs”, indeed…

David N. Brown

Mesa, Arizona

Hello world!

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , on February 20, 2012 by David N. Brown

In 2003, David N. Brown created the band of characters known as the EXOTROOPERS!  Then he started killing them off.  A decade later, the finbacks still won’t let being officially deceased get in their way.  This blog will follw their ongoing adventures, plus other developments in exoskeleton technology, military hardware, Balkans ethnology and weird European cars.