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Twice lucky, or thrice? On dodging nuclear fireballs

Wednesday, October 12th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — two Russian secular saints — and an Australian ]

It seems we’ve been lucky twice —


Read their two stories, and weep.


27 October 1962

Thank you Vasili Arkhipov, the man who stopped nuclear war

If you were born before 27 October 1962, Vasili Alexandrovich Arkhipov saved your life. It was the most dangerous day in history. An American spy plane had been shot down over Cuba while another U2 had got lost and strayed into Soviet airspace. As these dramas ratcheted tensions beyond breaking point, an American destroyer, the USS Beale, began to drop depth charges on the B-59, a Soviet submarine armed with a nuclear weapon.

The captain of the B-59, Valentin Savitsky, had no way of knowing that the depth charges were non-lethal “practice” rounds intended as warning shots to force the B-59 to surface. The Beale was joined by other US destroyers who piled in to pummel the submerged B-59 with more explosives. The exhausted Savitsky assumed that his submarine was doomed and that world war three had broken out. He ordered the B-59’s ten kiloton nuclear torpedo to be prepared for firing. Its target was the USS Randolf, the giant aircraft carrier leading the task force.

If the B-59’s torpedo had vaporised the Randolf, the nuclear clouds would quickly have spread from sea to land. The first targets would have been Moscow, London, the airbases of East Anglia and troop concentrations in Germany. The next wave of bombs would have wiped out “economic targets”, a euphemism for civilian populations – more than half the UK population would have died. Meanwhile, the Pentagon’s SIOP, Single Integrated Operational Plan – a doomsday scenario that echoed Dr Strangelove’s orgiastic Götterdämmerung – would have hurled 5,500 nuclear weapons against a thousand targets, including ones in non-belligerent states such as Albania and China. [ .. ]

The decision not to start world war three was not taken in the Kremlin or the White House, but in the sweltering control room of a submarine. The launch of the B-59’s nuclear torpedo required the consent of all three senior officers aboard. Arkhipov was alone in refusing permission. It is certain that Arkhipov’s reputation was a key factor in the control room debate. The previous year the young officer had exposed himself to severe radiation in order to save a submarine with an overheating reactor.


September 26, 1983

The Man Who Saved the World by Doing Absolutely Nothing

It was September 26, 1983. Stanislav Petrov, a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defence Forces, was on duty at Serpukhov-15, a secret bunker outside Moscow. His job: to monitor Oko, the Soviet Union’s early-warning system for nuclear attack. And then to pass along any alerts to his superiors. It was just after midnight when the alarm bells began sounding. One of the system’s satellites had detected that the United States had launched five ballistic missiles. And they were heading toward the USSR. Electronic maps flashed; bells screamed; reports streamed in. A back-lit red screen flashed the word ‘LAUNCH.'”

That the U.S. would be lobbing missiles toward its Soviet counterpart would not, of course, have been out of the question at that particular point in human history. Three weeks earlier, Russians had shot down a South Korean airliner that had wandered into Soviet air space. NATO had responded with a show of military exercises. The Cold War, even in the early ’80s, continued apace; the threat of nuclear engagement still hovered over the stretch of land and sea that fell between Washington and Moscow.

Petrov, however, had a hunch — “a funny feeling in my gut,” he would later recall — that the alarm ringing through the bunker was a false one. It was an intuition that was based on common sense: The alarm indicated that only five missiles were headed toward the USSR. Had the U.S. actually been launching a nuclear attack, however, Petrov figured, it would be extensive — much more, certainly, than five. Soviet ground radar, meanwhile, had failed to pick up corroborative evidence of incoming missiles — even after several minutes had elapsed. The larger matter, however, was that Petrov didn’t fully trust the accuracy of the Soviet technology when it came to bomb-detection. He would later describe the alert system as “raw.”

But what would you do? You’re alone in a bunker, and alarms are screaming, and lights are flashing, and you have your training, and you have your intuition, and you have two choices: follow protocol or trust your gut. Either way, the world is counting on you to make the right call.

Petrov trusted himself. He reported the satellite’s detection to his superiors — but, crucially, as a false alarm. And then, as Wired puts it, “he hoped to hell he was right.”

He was, of course. The U.S. had not attacked the Soviets. It was a false alarm. One that, had it not been treated as such, may have prompted a retaliatory nuclear attack on the U.S. and its NATO allies. Which would have then prompted … well, you can guess what it would have prompted.


Oh, and the Australian. I came by this topic via an article about this man, Professor Des Bell:


A strategist with books — he’s the sort of chap this blog thrives on! And he, too, seems to have saved us from a fiery furnace of our own devising:

Des Ball: the man who saved the world

THAT America could launch a limited nuclear strike against Russia was a fashionable belief in US strategic theory of the 1970s. Policymakers thought that if Cold War tensions boiled over, they could hit selected Soviet targets in a way that controlled further escalation and forced Moscow to back down.

It took the iconoclastic Australian security scholar Des Ball to point out that the theory was bunkum. In his influential essays of the early 1980s, Ball argued that reasoned strategic theory was likely to go out the window once the missiles started flying.

Among the first targets would be the other side’s command and control centres – its eyes and ears. Once blinded, a superpower – consisting of real people responding with human instincts – would not distinguish a ”controlled” strike from a full-scale attack and would retaliate with everything it had.

Thrice lucky? I prefer to call it grace.

A Tale of Two Places – Dabiq and Rumiyah

Sunday, September 11th, 2016

[ by Charles Cameron — Rumiyah is a city for sure, Dabiq not so much ]

The Islamic State has a new magazine out, and it’s titled Rumiyah, not Dabiq. Here’s the first inside page of the first issue of Dabiq, together with the cover of the first issue of Rumiyah:


And here’s the back cover of each magazine:


What’s significant here is that the names of both magazines, like bookends, refer to a significant location in IS eschatology — but not the same place, two different places. And thereby hangs my Tale.


The front cover of Rumiyah, the new magazine, opens with a quote from Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, who was Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi‘s immediate successor as emir of Al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI), the precursor to the Islamic State:

O muwahhidin, rejoice, for by Allah, we will not rest from our jihad expect beneath the olive trees of Rumiyah (Rome)

Moreover, the back page of Rumiyah, the new magazine, features a hadith about Rome:

Allah’s Messenger (saw) was asked, “Which of the two cities will be conquered first? Constantinople or Rumiyah? He (saw) replied, “The city of Heraclius will be conquered first,” meaning Constantinople (Reported by Ahmad and d-Darimi from ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Amr).


By way of contrast, the first issue of Dabiq opens with a quote from Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi, the founder of AQI and thus “grandfather” to the Islamic State:

The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify – by Allah’s permission – until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq.

The back page then offers this hadith concerning Dabiq:

Abu Hurayrah reported that Allah’s Messenger (sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said,

“The Hour will not be established until the Romans land at al-A’maq or Dabiq (two places near each other in the northern countryside of Halab).

Then an army from al-Madinah of the best people on the earth at that time will leave for them. When they line up in ranks, the Romans will say, ‘Leave us and those who were taken as prisoners from amongst us so we can fight them.’

The Muslims will say, ‘Nay, by Allah, we will not abandon our brothers to you.’ So they will fight them.

Then one third of them will flee; Allah will never forgive them. One third will be killed; they will be the best martyrs with Allah. And one third will conquer them; they will never be afflicted with fitnah.

Then they will conquer Constantinople. While they are dividing the war booty, having hung their swords on olive trees, Shaytan will shout, ‘The [false] Messiah has followed after your families [who were left behind.]’ So they will leave [for their families], but Shaytan’s claim is false. When they arrive to Sham he comes out.

Then while they are preparing for battle and filing their ranks, the prayer is called. So ‘Isa Ibn Maryam (‘alayhis-Salam) will descend and lead them.

When the enemy of Allah sees him, he will melt as salt melts in water. If he were to leave him, he would melt until he perished, but he kills him with his own hand, and then shows them his blood upon his spear.”

[Sahih Muslim]


It looks to me that Rodger Shanahan has the difference nailed in his Lowy Interpreter piece, Australia stars in first edition of new ISIS magazine:

First is the name change; no longer is ‘Dabiq’ the title (unless this masthead continues to put out editions separately); ‘Rumiya’ [sic] (formal Arabic for Rome) has replaced ‘Dabiq’. As most marketers will tell you, when a company’s brand is on the skids then it’s time for a refresh.; the same applies to jihadists. Jabhat al-Nusra has (to date) unsuccessfully tried to re-brand itself as a non-Al Qaeda jihadist group by changing its name to Jabhat Fatah al-Sham, as its old name long ago became a dead weight on its leadership aspirations.

With its hold on territory becoming more precarious by the day, ISIS has possibly decided that naming your social media magazine after a town that will likely soon fall out of your control would not be a good look ‘going forward’. Re-naming your publication after the centre of Christendom is a way to show what you aspire to, rather than what you have lost. It’s also in line with the late Muhammad al-Adnani’s recent claims that IS did not fight for territory as a way of extolling the virtues of continuous jihadi resistance.


Recent posts featuring the idea that we may be near the end of ISIS, at least as a proto-state:

  • Kyle Orton, The End of the Islamic State by Christmas?
  • Kyle Orton, Is This the Beginning of the End for the Islamic State?
  • Anthony Cordesman, Syria and Iraq: What Comes After Mosul and Raqqa?
  • Washington Post, Flow of foreign fighters plummets as Islamic State loses its edge
  • Human Sacrifice and State-Building

    Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

    [by Mark Safranski / “zen“]

    A while back I had a longish post that argued that the mass executions practiced by ISIS drew from the long pagan tradition of ritualistic human sacrifice. Today in the news, some social scientists see evidence of human sacrifice as the catalyst for establishing and maintaining stratified, hierarchical and (usually) oppressive societies:

    Human sacrifice may seem brutal and bloody by modern social standards, but it was a common in ancient societies.

    Now, researchers believe the ritualised killing of individuals to placate a god played a role in building and sustaining stable communities with social hierarchies.In particular, a study of 93 cultures across Asia, Oceana and Africa, has found the practices helped establish authority and set up class-based systems.

    Human sacrifice was once widespread throughout these Austronesian cultures, which used it as the ultimate punishment, for funerals and to consecrate new boats.Sacrificial victims were typically of low social status, such as slaves, while instigators were of high social status, such as priests and chiefs, installing a sense of fear in the lower classes.

    ….Analysis revealed evidence of human sacrifice in 43 per cent of cultures sampled.

    Ritualistic killing of humans was practiced in 25 per cent of egalitarian societies studied, 37 per cent of moderately stratified societies and 67 per cent of highly stratified societies.The researchers constructed models to test the co-evolution of human sacrifice and social hierarchy and found that human sacrifice stabilises social hierarchy once the system has arisen. They said it also promotes a shift to strictly inherited class systems, so that people of a high social class will continue to stay important over time, because of ritualistic killing.

    ‘In Austronesian cultures human sacrifice was used to punish taboo violations, demoralise underclasses, mark class boundaries, and instill fear of social elites  – proving a wide range of potential mechanisms for maintaining and building social control,’ they wrote. ‘While there are many factors that help build and sustain social stratification, human sacrifice may be a particularly effective means of maintaining and building social control because it minimises the potential of retaliation by eliminating the victim, and shifts the agent believed to be ultimately responsible to the realm of the supernatural.’

    Supernatural forces….like for example, because Allah wills it.

    This Austronesian study conclusions sounds remarkably similar to the role of (allegedly) Sharia sanctioned horrific punishments meted out by ISIS and fetishistically recorded and widely disseminated in video propaganda. A religiously ritualistic rein of terror as a mechanism to reengineer Sunni Arab society in areas under the group’s control and cement the state-building efforts of ISIS.

    For details of ISIS use of extremely ghoulish violence for propaganda and state-building, I heartily recommend ISIS: the State of Terror by Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.

    Sunday surprise: sinkholes

    Sunday, October 4th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — and including a 1936 German illustration of the hollow earth ]

    Bryan Alexander on his Infocult blog notes a fascinating symmetry as More sinkholes open up under countries on opposite ends of the Earth — one in England and the other in Australia. The implication that our devouring planet may at last be preparing a Journey to the Centre of the Earth he leaves to his reader’s imagination..

    SPEC DQ sinkhole

    BTW, “opposite ends of the Earth” is a delightful phrase, reminiscent of John Donne‘s “the round earth’s imagin’d corners” — kudos, Bryan!


    And while we’re on the topic of the centre or center of the earth, one of my favorite “finds” as a book-crawler was this gem from Frankfurt, 1936:

    Johannes Lang Die Hohlwelttheorie

    Highly compatible with Nazi occultism, nicht wahr?

    And this more recent piece, showing the location of the hidden Buddhist city of “Shambala”, completes the picture:


    Maybe our Journey to the Center of the Earth will provide us with some occult Infocult material, eh, Bryan?

    A very brief brief on black banners

    Thursday, January 8th, 2015

    [ by Charles Cameron — wherein black flag patches run riot ]

    Just a quick something I gleaned via Leah Farrall‘s recent blog post:

    Abu Bakr on IS and JaN flags

    That’s the gist of an excerpt I transcribed from an Aussie Insight video last year, which featured host Jenny Brockie and the gentleman depicted, one Abu Bakr. Bakr was arrested just before Christmas and charged with “possession of documents designed to facilitate a terrorist attack”. The exchange went like this:

    Jenny Brockie: I see you’re wearing the ISIS flag on your shirt

    Abu Bakr: It doesn’t really come down to what sort of flag because this flag, here, people might say you’re a supporter of Jabhat al-Nusra, and this flag here, people might say you’re a supporter of ISIS, but these flags are all one, they’re all the same flag, one Muslim nation and that’s it.


    It’s great to see you back and blogging, Leah —

    Arabs at War

    — and we’re keenly awaiting the arrival of your book!

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