Sunday, July 21, 2019

Invading Idaho

Commander K. at the Idaho Military Museum
Boise Idaho

A visitor to Idaho is immediately struck by the state's deep pride in its military history.  Major highways that criss cross the state honor Medal of Honor winners from the state and Vietnam veterans.  Astonishingly nearly 300,000 US Naval personnel trained at Farragut Naval Training Station in Northern Idaho on beautiful Lake Pend Oreille during World War II.  Even President Roosevelt himself visited the state during the war.  The state has fine military attractions such as the Idaho Military Museum in Boise ( and the Warhawk Air Museum in Nampa (

Farragut Naval Training Stati
In our book America Invaded  ( we had this to say about fighting that has taken place in the state of Idaho...

"Idaho is more famous for her potatoes than for invasions, but fighting has taken place within her borders . Humans have inhabited the area we know today as Idaho for thousands and thousands of years. The Nez Perce and Coeur d’Alene tribes were established in the region long before the arrival of Europeans. Idaho’s rugged mountain terrain and lack of a coastline delayed the arrival of Europeans until the nineteenth century.

In 1803, David Thompson, a British fur trader with the Hudson’s Bay Company, arrived in what is now Idaho. Fort Boise was established in 1834 on the Snake River by the Hudson’s Bay Company.

Not long after Thompson, Lewis and Clark’s Corps of Discovery made its way through Idaho. In August 1805, Lewis described what he saw along what is today the Idaho-Montana border: “We proceeded on to the top of the dividing ridge from which I discovered immense ranges of high mountains still to the West of us with their tops partially covered with snow.” Later, Lewis and Clark camped near the present site of Lewiston. Lewis and Clark State College can be found in Lewiston today.

Fur Trader Statue
Idaho Falls, ID

Andrew Henry, an American fur trader, explored Idaho and founded Fort Henry around 1810. is was the rst fur-trading post west of the Mississippi River.

A man who would feature large in the early history of Idaho, and who would exemplify the competition for power in the region, was Donald Mackenzie. He was born in Scotland and was working for the Canadian North West Company when he arrived in the area. He eventually signed up with the American Paci c Fur Company. However, during the War of 1812, American fur-trading operations in the area were curtailed due to fear of British actions. Mackenzie rejoined the North West Company and did more exploring in their service.
And in the period after the war, Britons and Americans continued to compete in the area. In the 1820s, American fur traders and explorers William H. Ashley and Jedediah Smith arrived in Idaho.

The Battle of Pierre’s Hole in 1832 saw a group of American trappers with Native American allies clash with a party of Gros Ventre, another Native American tribe.

French Canadians may have played a role in naming Idaho’s capital city of Boise, exclaiming “Les bois, les bois” on seeing its tree-lined riverbank in the 1820s. French fur traders named the Indians they encountered Nez Perce or “Pierced Nose,” although it remains a matter of dispute whether they did actually pierce their noses. e name of the Coeur d’Alene tribe (and also an Idaho city) is French and means “Heart of an Awl,” and was given by French Canadian fur traders.

Commander K. Idaho Falls

Idaho was part of the Oregon Country that was claimed by both Britain and the United States. The Oregon Treaty of 1846 established the American claim on Idaho.

As settlers increasingly moved into the area, occasional clashes with local Native Americans erupted. For instance, in 1851, the so-called Clark Massacre saw Shoshone attack a wagon train, killing some of its members and seizing horses.

Gold was rst discovered in the Idaho territory in 1860 along Clearwater River. A gold rush was ignited, bringing more American settlers to the territory. is led directly to more encroachment onto lands that belonged to Native Americans.

The largest battle recorded in the state was the Bear River Massacre, which took place during the US Civil War on January 29, 1863, in south- eastern Idaho. Colonel Patrick Connor, a native of Ireland, led US Army forces against the Shoshone tribe in response to attacks on American miners. Twenty-one American soldiers, mostly from California, were killed, along with at least ten times as many Shoshone, including many women and
children. Bear Hunter, the Shoshone chief, was among those killed that day. A second Fort Boise was built in Boise by the Union Army in 1863 to help secure the Oregon Trail. e facility was closed in 1912. Gold from Idaho helped to nance the Union cause during the Civil War. Idaho was part of the Territory of Washington until the Idaho Territory was formed in 1863.

Idaho would see some action during the so-called Snake War of 
1864–1868. As tensions between Native Americans and miners continued, a series of clashes erupted. At first, volunteers and then, increasingly after the end of the Civil War, US troops tried to counter occasional Native American raids.

Lewis and Clark
The Nez Perce tribe had welcomed Lewis and Clark when they passed through Idaho in 1805, providing food and materiel support for their journey. In their journals, Clark described Twisted Hair, a Nez Perce chief, as being “A Chearfull man with apparent Siencerity.” An 1855 treaty between the US government and the Nez Perce tribe seemed to guarantee the preservation of their homelands. Gold fever, however, would alter the arrangement. A revised 1863 treaty reduced the Nez Perce lands by 90 percent. Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce was a voice counseling patience and moderation. Violence, however, flared up on June 14, 1877, when Nez Perce warriors killed four settlers. American soldiers responded quickly.

The Battle of White Bird Canyon, fought on June 17, 1877, during the Nez Perce War, was a rare defeat for American forces during the Indian wars. thirty-four soldiers under Captain David Perry were killed while only three men of the Nez Perce were wounded. US forces would once again su er at the hands of the Nez Perce at the Battle of Camas Creek in southeastern Idaho on August 20, 1877. The Nez Perce were later defeated at the Battle of Big Hole, and many ed into Canada. Chief Joseph was resettled onto a reservation in Colville, Washington.

In 1890, Idaho became the forty-third state to join the Union.

Commander K. at the Warhawk Air Museum
Nampa, Idaho

The USS Idaho was a New Mexico-class battleship that served in both world wars and was nicknamed Big Spud. United States Army Air Force crews began training in Mountain Home in 1943.

A Japanese balloon bomb, or Fu-Go, landed in Boise in February 1945, along with more than half a dozen throughout the state. Little damage was done."

For much more on Fighting in the other 49 states please get your copy of America Invaded ( 

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Saturday, July 20, 2019

Did America Invade the Moon 50 years ago?

When Neil Armstrong planted his foot in the lunar soil fifty years ago today was it an "Invasion"?  The question may not be quite as ludicrous as it first appears.

The distinction between exploration and invasion has, at times, been a fine line indeed.  Many famous discoverers have also been military men.  Hernán Cortés conquered the Aztec Empire.  Captain Cook, a captain in the Royal Navy, was the first European to discover Hawaii where he was killed in 1779 by the indigenous people.  Lewis and Clark were officers in the US Army as well as explorers.

Spielberg's 2018 film First Man about Neil Armstrong almost completely ignores his military background.  But, in fact, Neil Armstrong comes from a long line of Fighting Celts stretching from William Wallace to Douglas MacArthur (101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur is coming soon!).  Armstrong was a naval aviator who served during the Korean War flying off of carriers such as the USS Essex.  He flew 78 combat missions during the conflict.  He was forced to eject from his Grumman F9F Panther after either being hit by anti-aircraft fire or striking a pole or cable (accounts differ).  Lieutenant Armstrong earned numerous decorations including three Air Medals and two Gold Stars.

Armstrong clearly planted the American flag on the lunar surface.  Some would construe this as an imperialistic gesture.

At the time of the moon landing the United States was engaged in a brutal and tragic war in Vietnam that would claim over 50,000 American lives.  Reports from Vietnam preoccupied the media of the day alongside coverage of NASA's Apollo 11 program.

The American Space program was also a major propaganda component of the Cold War duel with with the Soviet Union.  Landing the first men on the moon was a major American propaganda coup that riveted the world's attention.

In our 2014 book, America Invades, we detailed American military involvement in nearly every country in the world.  The only three countries we seem to have missed entirely are Andorra, Bhutan and the principality of Liechtenstein!

So, at the end of the day, was Neil Armstrong an American invader of the moon?

I would argue that, fundamentally, the moon landing was, despite some military aspects, NOT an American invasion.  In America Invades "we decided to define an 'American invasion' as an 'armed attack or intervention in a country by American forces.'" Well, clearly the moon is not a sovereign nation.  No fighting took place on the moon.  There are no "moonlings" whose rights might have been trampled.  The only moon dwellers to be disturbed by the arrival of Eagle One were...some rocks.

At the end of the day, Armstrong was not really a conqueror like Cortés or even Captain Cook.  The 1969 Moon landing was perhaps no more of an invasion than Juan de Bermúdez' 1505 arrival in the uninhabited island of Bermuda.

Armstrong's step onto the moon was, as he described it, "a giant leap for all mankind."

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Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Gordon Highlander Museum

Duchess Gordon helps recruit the Highlanders

Ask an American about the name "Gordon" and they are likely to be reminded of Gotham's Police Commissioner Gordon of Batman fame.  Or perhaps they are familiar with General George "Chinese" Gordon who died fighting the Mahdi in the Sudan in 1885 and was played by Charlton Heston in the 1966 film Khartoum...?

But to the British, and particularly the Scots, the name "Gordon" primarily describes one of the greatest military units in history.

Gordon Highlander Museum
Aberdeen, Scotland

The Gordon Highlanders were a storied unit in the British Army that was founded (first as the 100th regiment of foot, soon becoming known as the 92nd Highlanders) in 1794.  They were created in order to combat the French who were making bloody noises with their Revolution across the channel at the time.  The Duke of Gordon was the regiment's first patron.  His wife, the beautiful young Duchess of Gordon (see painting above), is said to have offered kisses as an inducement for recruitment to the regiment! 

Scottish Piper

Today in the town of Aberdeen, Scotland a visitor will find the Gordon Highlander Museum (  This museum was founded in 1997 to commemorate their illustrious and valiant history.  Here you will discover how the Gordon Highlanders fought in the Iberian Peninsula during the Napoleonic Wars.  The 92nd Highland regiment distinguished themselves at the during the 1815 Waterloo campaign.  They received a drubbing and took many casualties defending the crossroads of Quatre Bras two days before the Battle of Waterloo.  On June 18 they launched a bayonet charge into the ranks of D'Erlon's French infantry.  In this crucial attack they were accompanied by their mounted countrymen -- the Scots Greys.

Gordon Highlander
A long period of peace followed the Allied victory at the Battle of Waterloo.  But the 92nd Regiment of Foot continued to serve in imperial outposts around the world.  During the Victorian era they were deployed to the Crimean War and the siege of Sevastopol.  They fought in two Afghan wars.  They fought in Africa.  In 1881 the 92nd was amalgamated into the Gordon Highlanders.

Highlander storm the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944

The Gordon Highlanders served in two World Wars in the 20th century.  During the Second World War elements of the Gordon Highlanders were evacuated from Dunkirk during the dark days of 1940, landed on the Normandy beaches in June 1944 and fought against the Japanese in Burma.

During the Cold War Gordon Highlanders distinguished themselves during the counterinsurgency campaign in Malaya where they fought to win hearts and minds.  The Gordons served in Northern Ireland during the Troubles in Northern Ireland and on garrison duty in West Germany.

The highest medal for gallantry in the British Army is the fabled Victoria Cross.  Over the course of their history nineteen Gordon Highlanders have won the VC and eleven of these are on display at the Gordon Highlanders museum.

Royal Patronage of the Gordon Highlander's Museum

Prince Charles has been and continues to be a patron of the Gordon Highlander's Museum.

Gordon Highlander's Museum Dining Room

The Gordon Highlanders Museum even has an ornate dining hall that can rented out for events.

Gordon Highlander's Battle Flag

After two centuries and many battles in far away lands, the pipes of the Gordons fell silent.  Sadly, this legendary regiment was, in 1994,  amalgamated into different units of the British Army and has not, therefore, existed as an independent unit since that time.  Scots continue, of course, to serve in the British army just no longer as Gordons.

Though they now belong to history and will muster no more, it is important to remember the Gordon Highlanders for their galant defense of liberty over two centuries.  They were Celtic Fighters par excellence.

101 Fighting Celts: From Boudicca to MacArthur (from the co-authors of America Invades and America Invaded) is coming soon!

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Monday, June 10, 2019

Florence's Stibbert Museum

"Choose Wisely" and visit
The Stibbert Museum!

Florence is known for its splendid treasuries of Renaissance art.  In contemporary Florence, as in Eliot's time, "the women come and go talking of Michelangelo".  But one must step away from the hordes swarming around the statue of David at the Academia or the glories of the Uffizzi in order to take in a curious gem in hidden Florence that most tourists miss.  One can visit the Stibbert Museum (

Frederick Stibbert
1838 - 1906
Frederick Stibbert was an eccentric collector who had a lifelong passion for knights in shining armor.  His father, Thomas Stibbert, was a Colonel in the Coldstream Guards.  This unit, founded in 1650, is the oldest regiment in the British Army that has been in continuous service.  Stibbert's grandfather amassed a fortune as the Governor of Bengal and commander in chief of the East India Company.   His mother, Giulia Stibbert née Cafaggi, was Italian and Frederick was born in Florence.  It was Giulia who, as the Colonel's young widow, purchased the original home in 1849.  Stibbert was himself an accomplished artist as well as being a determined collector.

Stibbert, like Winston Churchill, must have developed a lifelong love for toy soldiers as a boy.  His family fortune allowed him and opportunity to indulge his passion for soldiering and collecting militaria over many years.

Halberds, etc.
Stibbert's armory could equip a Wizard of Oz sequel with enough halberds for all the flying monkeys in the Wicked Witches army!

Islamic Warrior

Stibbert had catholic tastes, assembling an important collection of Japanese knights as well as western and Islamic soldiers.

Hall of the Cavalcade

The enormous Hall of the Cavalcade lies at the heart of the Stibbert Museum.  It features twelve mounted knights in double file with a mix of European and Islamic styles.   St. George, the patron saint of England, looks down on the armored equestrians.

St. George
Stibbert Museum
Stibbert's collection extended far beyond warfare including paintings and exquisite furniture.  The collection contains, for example, a Madonna and Child painted by Sandro Botticelli

Stibbert never married.  His family wealth allowed him to assemble a magnificent collection of armor, weapons and art. Stibbert died in 1906 and left his home / museum to the city of Florence which manages it to this day.

If you have a chance to visit Florence, break away from the ordinary and check out the astonishing Stibbert Museum (

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Sunday, May 19, 2019

Killing Alexander

Alexander Litvinenko

Londoners and particularly the London press love a good murder.  Hence the popularity of Killing Eve and so many other fictional programs focussed on murder.  One of the juiciest murders in recent history took place in London about a year after I moved here.  In the fall of 2006 Alexander Litvinenko was assassinated on orders from Putin's Kremlin.

Litvinenko was a former Russian spy who had worked for the Russian Security Service (FSB) and specialized in organized crime.  In 2000 he defected and sought asylum in the UK.  He was married (twice) and had three children.  He worked as a bodyguard and provided security services for Boris Berezovsky, a Russian oligarch who was also living in the UK.  Berezovsky was a former mathematician who made a fortune in Russia in the automobile business during the Yeltsin years.  He fled Russia after having crossed swords with Putin who viewed him as a potential rival.

Litvinenko was an outspoken and fearless critic of Putin.  In 2002 he co-authored a book (Blowing Up Russia: Terror from documenting the coup that brought Putin to power in Russia.  This book was published, appropriately enough, by S.P.I. books.  Apartment buildings in Moscow were blown up and civilians were killed to spread terror that led to calls for the imposition of a strong man who could restore order.

On November 1, 2006 Litvinenko began suffering from what he took to be severe food poisoning.  He had, in fact been poisoned that day by Polonium 210.  Polonium is is an extremely rare and radioactive chemical element that was first discovered by Madame Curie in 1898.  Trace amounts of it are used in the manufacture of smoke detectors.  The only two factories in the world that produce Polonium are in Russia.  The cost of the Polonium that killed Litvinenko has been estimated to have been around 20,000 pounds.  A very expensive poison indeed!

Alexander Litvinenko

Over the course of three weeks Litvinenko's health went into rapid decline.  He lost all his hair.  His body was, in effect, being microwaved from the inside out.  He died on November 23, 2006.  He was buried in a lead lined coffin in Highgate cemetery -- not far from the final resting place of Karl Marx.

I remember walking along the popular Piccadilly Road not long after the murder.  A popular sushi chain restaurant ( along Piccadilly was shuttered and blocked from public access with a wooden construction.  Rumors swirled about poisoned sushi having done him in.  These rumors were compounded by the revelation that an Italian lawyer with the surname of a Bond villain -- Scaramella -- had met Litvinenko at this Itsu location on November 1st.  Investigators found traces of Polonium at the restaurant.  This all proved to be a bit of red herring.

Jodie Comer of Killing Eve
She didn't do him in 
The Russian assassins of Litvinenko looked nothing like Killing Eve's Jodie Comer.  Instead they look like this...

Andrey Lugovoy

And this...

Dmitri Kovtun

Lugovoy had been staying at the Sheraton hotel on Piccadilly prior to the assassination.  Both Luguovoy and Kovtun were Russian intelligence operatives who met Litvinenko at the bar of the Millennium hotel on Grosvenor Square in London (  The hotel stood just yards away from what was then the American embassy in London.  The D-Day invasion was, in fact, planned in this very neighborhood during World War II (  Over the course of a brief twenty minute meeting Litvinenko sipped from a pot of green tea that was served in the Mayfair watering hole.  This was how he ingested the deadly polonium.  Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers or Phoebe Waller-Bridge could not have dreamt up a more bizarre plot.

One drop of Polonium or two...?

Even after learning of his rare diagnosis Litvinenko did not initially suspect Lugouvoy who had been his friend and colleague in the FSB.

Lugouvoy, however, had left behind a tell tale trail of polonium in three hotel suites, restaurants and even his seat in a soccer stadium.

Both Lugouvoy and Kovtun predictably returned to Russia and denied any responsibility.  Neither has set foot in the UK since the assassination.  A 2016 commission led by Sir Robert Owen concluded that Putin must have had foreknowledge of the attack on Litvinenko.  See the full inquiry

Villanelle in Killing Eve seems to be continually and literally getting away with murder.  Alas, Lugouvoy and Kovtun seem to have gotten away with murder as well.  Putin too, I fear.

It seems clear that the Kremlin sought to silence a harsh critic who, in their eyes, had become a traitor.  But why did they go to all the trouble of using Polonium?  Why did they kill Alexander in such a ghastly manner?

Under questioning Kovtun admitted that the assassination was "meant to set an
example".  Clearly the message was directed to the millions of Russians who live abroad.  Around 66,000 are estimated to be living currently in the UK alone.  The message was that the Western rule of law will not protect anyone who crosses Vladimir Putin.

In 2013 Boris Berezovsky died in suspicious circumstances in his mansion in Berkshire in the UK.  He had been found hanging by his bodyguard.  He died at age 67. 

Millenium Hotel
Mayfair, London
Surprisingly, the Itsu on Piccadilly and the Millennium Hotel in Mayfair have both bounced back!  You can purchase a California roll at Itsu on Piccadilly today.  Tourists to London can order tea or a martini at the stylish bar of the Millennium hotel.

I must leave the final words to Litvinenko himself who, sensing his approaching death, said, "You may succeed in silencing one man but the howl of protest from around the world, Mr. Putin, will reverberate in your ears for the rest of your life."

(Note: I am indebted for this article to Dr Barry of County Mayo and London Walks who guided me on a tour of London exploring the tragic fate of Alexander Litvinenko.  Here is their link...

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Wednesday, May 15, 2019

China in WW2

China's WW2

Today's headlines scream a warning about the current trade war between China and the USA.  A mutual misunderstanding seems to have placed two economic giants on a collision course while the world holds it breath and trembles.  It is, therefore, all the more important to remember a time when China and the US fought together during the Second World War.

In order to understand the USA one must understand a bit about World War II history.  That is why all American high school students are taught about World War II.  The same is true for China as well.  In order to understand China today one must understand a bit about her experience in the Second World War.

China had a particularly long and brutal experience in World War II which can be explored in books, in films and even in computer games.

Madame Chiang
Song Meiling

Rana Mitter's Forgotten Ally (published in 2014 by Mariner Books) is an excellent work on China's war (  The war cost around 14 million Chinese lives, caused a massive refugee flight and led directly to Mao's Communist Party victory in 1949.  His book points out that there were three principal sides during the war.  First, there was the notoriously corrupt Nationalist government led by Chiang Kai-shek (who became known as "Cash my check").  Chiang was supported by his American educated wife Song Meiling (Madame Chiang) who spoke English with a Georgia accent.  Then there was the young Communist revolutionary Mao Zedong who led his forces in the mountainous region near Yan'an.  In 1941 Chiang declared that "Communism is a disease of the heart, the Japanese are but a disease of the skin."  Finally, there was a significant third Chinese group that did not really object to  a mild skin condition.   This group favored collaboration with the Japanese invaders and was led by Wang Jingwei who formed a collaborationist or Vichy style government based in Nanjing from 1938.

World War II in China started early following the Marco Polo Bridge incident of 1937.  The Imperial Japanese army killed and raped its way through Nanjing in 1937 about two years prior to Hitler's September 1939 invasion of Poland.  In order to slow the Japanese advance through Chinese territory Chiang ordered the destruction of dams along the Yellow River.  The flooding caused by these demolitions (blamed falsely on Japanese bombers) seems to have claimed the lives of around half a million Chinese most of whom were civilians.

American sympathy for the suffering of the Chinese led to the imposition of economic sanctions on Japan.  This, in turn, led to the Japanese gamble of the Pearl Harbor attack.  The entry of America into the war brought men such as "Vinegar" Joe Stillwell and Claire Chenault (Flying Tigers) to China.  FDR, whose family had participated and enriched themselves in the China trade (including opium), insisted that China be represented at the Allied conference in Cairo in 1943. Roosevelt, more than Churchill, envisioned a major international role for China in the postwar world.

In April 1942 FDR authorized the bold Doolittle Raid that bombed Tokyo.  Following the attack, most of the B-25 crews that participated in the raid flew on towards bases in China with most of them crash-landing in eastern China (a few wound up in the Soviet Union).  The brutal Japanese hunt for the Doolittle Raiders and those Chinese that supported them cost the lives of over ten thousand Chinese civilians.  A romance between an American B-25 pilot and a Chinese war widow forms the basis of the 2017 film The Chinese Widow (aka In Harms  The luminously beautiful Crystal Liu plays the role of the Chinese widow (her husband was killed while fighting in the Nationalist army) who befriends the American captain played by Emile Hirsch.  While this film is a bit sentimental, it is mostly accurate and it does shine a light on Sino-American cooperation in World War II.  The Japanese forces even employed poison gas on the Chinese forces -- a barbarity unequalled by the Wehrmacht in the course of the war.

Arthur Chin
First American Ace of WW2

American Lend Lease supplied vast amounts of money, equipment and planes such as the P-40 to Chinese forces in the war.  Americans also sent pilots to fight in China.  In the China chapter of America Invades we noted the unusual tale of...

"Arthur Chin, a Chinese-American (Chinese father, Peruvian mother) from Portland, Oregon, volunteered for service in the Nationalist Air Force and became the first American fighter ace (five confirmed Japanese planes shot down) of World War II."

Paradox Interactive, a Swedish computer gaming company has created Hearts of Iron IV -- an amazing strategic simulation of WW2 in which players can control the destinies of every country (from the smallest to the largest) in the war (  Players research technologies in order to build armies, fleets and air wings that will bring victory to their side.  A 2018 expansion, Waking the Tiger, deepened the games' coverage of the Sino-Japanese conflict in WW2.

Playing Hearts of Iron IV as Nationalist China helps one to understand the tremendous historic challenges face by Chiang Kai-shek.  The Chinese have no navy to speak of while the Imperial Japanese Navy, with its aircraft carriers and super heavy battleships, was one of the most formidable in the world at the time.  The Chinese player must guard his extensive coastlines from a Japanese attack from the sea in addition to worrying about Japanese strongholds in Korea and Manchuria.  The Chinese player has vast manpower but, in order to win, requires the technology and economic assistance that US Lend Lease can provide.  Players can even hire Madame Chiang as a political adviser to help lobby the Americans . -- the Wellesley College graduate really did address a joint session of the US Congress in January 1943.  The only detail missing from Hearts of Iron IV is a Chinese option to blow the dams of the Yellow River!

Books, films and even computer games can help us to remember the vast sacrifices made by China and US when they were allied in a war that led to the creation of our modern world.

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