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What Germans Said About American Troops Right After WWI

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Wikimedia Commons

In 1919, the United States compiled a report on German attitudes towards American troops and their behavior during the war and subsequent occupation. The document, titled “Candid Comment on The American Soldier of 1917-1918 and Kindred Topics by The Germans,” included interrogation and interview transcripts and intercepted letters from citizens that contained insight on post-war attitudes of the defeated nation. Below are some highlights and excerpts from that report, which you can read in its entirety here.

On the Character and Ability of American Soldiers in Battle

1. “I fought in campaigns against the Russian Army, the Serbian Army, the Roumanian Army, the British Army, the French Army, and the American Army. All told in this war I have participated in more than 80 battles. I have found your American Army the most honorable of all our enemies. You have also been the bravest of our enemies and in fact the only ones who have attacked us seriously in this year’s battles. I therefore honor you, and, now that the war is over, I stand ready, for my part, to accept you as a friend.”

—Chief of Staff for General v. Einem, commander of the Third German Army

2. “Americans are good fighters with nerve and recklessness.”

—Arunlf Oster, Lieut. of Reserve

3. “The prevailing opinion in Germany before our entry into war, was, that American was a money hunting nation, too engrossed in the hunt of the dollar to produce a strong military force. But since our troops have been in action the opinion has changed, and he says that though Germany is at present a defeated nation, he believes that they would be victors in a war with any nation in the world with the exemption of the United States.”

—Karl Finkl of Bolingen

4. “There were only a handful of Americans there but they fought like wildmen."

—Antone Fuhrmann of Mayschoss

5. “[I] had been told by other soldiers that the American infantryman was reckless to the point of foolishness."

—Peter Bertram, shopkeeper of Dernau

6. “The accuracy of American artillery fire…could have been considerably improved upon.”

—Karl Diehl of Selters

On Americans as Prisoners of War

7. “The Americans were what might be called bad prisoners. A group of 14 were brought in one day and when asked about their units refused to talk. They refused to work and talked back to the officers, much to the annoyance of the officers and the concealed delight of the men.”

—Paul Heinman

8. “The Americans were the chief complainers when the food was bad which was always.”

—Pietro D’Paris

On Being a Prisoner of War Under the Americans

9. “Prisoners of war under American jurisdiction continue to send home glowing reports of good treatment. It is clearly deducible that they are more satisfied with their present condition, than they would be at home”

—Postal Censorship, April 12, 1919

On the Sartorial Charms of American Troops

10. "[American] officers are not well dressed….All officers in the German army even when in active field service have one or more trunks and from time to time are allowed to leave for the purpose of obtaining uniforms.”

—Michael Hoffman of Rech

11. “The American army seems to me as fine a collection of individual physical specimens as I have ever seen. But from the standpoint of military discipline it is a mob, pure and simple. The men appear slouchy, the officers to not stand out from the men in appearance and they do in any European army.”

—Dr. Otto Schranzkmuller, former Prussian Municipal Official

On the Relationship Between American Officers and their Subordinates

12. “[American] troops lack the snap and precision of the German soldiers but…the cordial relations between the officers and men more than make up for the lack of iron discipline.”

—Anton Liersch, Postal Agent in Dernau

13. “The attitude of the American officer towards enlisted men is very different than in our army in which officers have always treated their men as cattle.”

—M. Walter of Minderlittgen

On Americans Being Good Occupiers

14. “We were informed that your men were inclined to be rough, and the impression was left with us that we had a very serious time before us…but today, after living 24 hours with them, we have no longer andy apprehension. They are wonderfully mild mannered men and a great contrast to the domineering attitude of our own soldiers. Your troops, not even one, have spoken a single disagreeable word to anyone, and when we offered them wood for cooking and heating purposes they accepted with what seemed to be a certain shyness.”

—Statement of the Mayor of Kaschenbacm

15. “Children have constantly talked of the Americans’ arrival, and pictured them as a band of wild Indians, however, when they troops arrived, we were astonished at their behavior and pleasant attitude toward our people.”

--Michael Simon of Neuerburg

16. “Bolshevism is slowly spreading all over the world. I spoke to a Frenchman a few days ago, who stated that the working men in France demand 25 francs per day. I am glad and thankful we are having American troops occupying our town, otherwise we would have the same trouble as many of the larger cities.”

—Translation of a letter from Coblenz

17. "The American troops show much more consideration for the private rights of the inhabitants of the village than did the German troops."

—Karl Schramem, Landstrumer of Zermullen

18. "The Americans can very well serve as an example for our own troops whose behavior as they passed through here was none too good."

—M. Erasmi of Kylburg

19. “The people here hate the French more than they do the British. They much prefer the Americans as troops of occupation. Since the Americans have arrived the German people have learned to like them.”

—Karl Felder of Bieder Breisig

On Americans Being Bad Occupiers

20. “The citizens of Eich who were fined for having a dirty yard and premises claim that their trial was unfair, and that the fines were too heavy. One of them says that American soldiers were partly responsible for the condition of his yard.”

—U.S. Army report, April 17, 1919, in Trier

21. “The young girls complain of the requisitioning of all public buildings by the Americans thereby making any sort of recreation impossible for them. They begrudge our monopoly of the dance."

—Weekly Resume from the 3rd U.S. Army, Feb. 3 1919

22. “Complaints, coming especially from the smaller towns, accuse the Americans of immorality and drunkedness.”

—Weekly Resume from the 3rd U.S. Army, Feb. 3 1919

23. “All male persons from 12-60 years old must give up their beds to the troops of occupation. Children under 12 years certainly never had any claim to a bed. We are supposed to sleep on the floor.”

—Letter from Ehrenbreitstein

24. “Our Americans are very good. But the officers and General are boasting scoundrels…in our house 10 men and 2 officers are quartered. They slam the doors so hard that the whole building shakes.”

—Letter from Mia Clausen

25. “Since day before yesterday there has been crisis here too, among our workers; they all want to strike. But that is only because of the terribly high food prices, for the Americans eat up our little bit and pay outrageous prices…The roads are all rundown from the army autos, and people are being killed every day by crazy chauffeurs. Electricity plants are over burdened and the inhabitants get a feeble current so that the Herr Americans may burn 3 lamps in every latrine.”

—From a letter from Hans Rohrl, Neuwied

Americans as Voracious and Rash Consumers

26. “[I run] a store in Brohl, where among other things candy and cookies are sold to American soldiers…[I can] make a profit because the American soldiers will pay the price that I must ask, while the civil population would not.”

—Herr Stenzel

27. “They have lots of money and buy foolishly. Articles that just before our occupation were sold to the people and the German soldiers for 25 to 30 marks are now bought by the Americans for from 80 to 100 marks…a great many articles are being made expressly for the American souvenir hunters and in almost all cases these are made of cheap imitation material.”

—Fritz Ulman of Cologne

28. “The American Discipline is excellent, but the thirst for souvenirs appears to be growing.”

—A daily letter from Treves, Germany

29. “[I] cannot understand the general desire if the American soldier for the “Gott mit uns” belt buckles and the German Iron Crosses…[I] alone have sold more Iron Crosses to American soldiers than the Kaiser ever awarded to his subjects.”

—Fianale Fappen, novelty shop owner in Neuenahr

American Troops' Relationship With German Women

30. “Great activity here at present. We have a large aviation field. Seven out of ten of the population are Americans. Many of the girls have fallen deeply in love with them. A new song has already been composed, as follows:

Wo steht denn das geschriben.
Du sollst nur Deutsche lieben?
Man liebt doch auch America.

Translation:—“Where does one find it written, that one most love the Germans only? One can love America also.”

—Letter from H. Moeren Sinzig

31. “Many German girls go around with the Americans, I simply can’t understand it. If any American talks to me I am prepared to give him an answer.”

—Letter from Lani Schuster, Coblenz-Leutzel

32. “The girls are to blame, but one must not forget that the gentlemanly enemy are a decidedly forward people. Fresh beyond bounds.”

—Letter from Gertrude Bisseldt

33. “Many of our young girls have gone wrong since the A----- are [unclear] is almost hard to believe of some of them. Martha Strodter is engaged to an A-----. Isn’t she crazy?”

—Letter from P. Stanier of Grenzhausen

34. “They are like children and find their joy only in playing and eating which they do the whole livelong day…of course there are exceptions as in anything else, but some of these men are so far beneath, that their origin from the ape can be plainly seen upon their faces. How the censors will rave when they read this letter, but I am only writing the truth. They are the wildest when they are after the girls. But thank God that they can at once recognize the difference between a 'decent' and a 'common girl.'"

—Translation of a letter from Hote Koetter, Neuwied. In the report, this is under the headline: “BAITING THE CENSOR”

35. “Katchen Schroder was thrown into jail from Monday to Tuesday because she told a soldier to ---------. Another girl was unceremoniously spanked in broad daylight, and she is 23 years old too. And what can one do? However, it serves them right. Why don’t they leave the soldiers alone?”

—Letter from Frau Lemka of Wollstein

On American Motivation For Entering the War

36. “[I] like the American soldier individually but do not like the nation as a whole…America entered the war for what money she could get out of it.”

—Frau Frieda Fischer of Lohndorf

37. “A German officer said that the Americans came over here only to see the world and for the sake of adventure.”

—Mrs. Anton Bursch, shopkeeper in Echternach

38. “You Americans are not real the heart and soul in the war, are you? The French hate us because we took Alsace and Lerraine, but you only entered the war to make sure that England and France would be able to pay you the money you had lent them. For that reason we are glad that the country is being occupied by Americans instead of French or English. Row-boats were often used to deceive German U-boats, and when the letter came to render assistance concealed guns opened fire on the U-boats.”

—A German 12-year-old schoolboy

On American Politicians

39. “Schoreder has also written to me, did he not send you a clipping of Hoover’s speech in the Chicago Tribune? If not I will send you a copy. Hoover does not speak well of us.”

—Letter from Berlin to Trier

40. “[I will never] like the Americans because President Wilson had said that he would furnish food for Germany and has not done so.”

—Young teacher in Neuwied

On American Character and the Possibility of Moving to America

41. “I would like to go to America for a half year or so because it is certain that these people possess a secret method which raises the most common fellows into an individual who stands up boldly and moves about freely and unconcerned.”

—Letter from Frau Lisbette Schafer of Vallender to William Straube

42. “What are your Americans doing? Do you get as much chocolate as I do! I am tired of the stuff and also of the entire pack, although I have had many very pleasant hours with them. The Americans cannot grasp that we have so much work to do. Those lazy people. Things are better for them in America than for us here. I may yet go with them. Then you would indeed make eyes.”

—Translation of letter from Niederbreisig to Gondorf

All images courtesy Wikipedia Commons

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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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8 Common Dog Behaviors, Decoded
May 25, 2017
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Dogs are a lot more complicated than we give them credit for. As a result, sometimes things get lost in translation. We’ve yet to invent a dog-to-English translator, but there are certain behaviors you can learn to read in order to better understand what your dog is trying to tell you. The more tuned-in you are to your dog’s emotions, the better you’ll be able to respond—whether that means giving her some space or welcoming a wet, slobbery kiss. 

1. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with his legs and body relaxed and tail low. His ears are up, but not pointed forward. His mouth is slightly open, he’s panting lightly, and his tongue is loose. His eyes? Soft or maybe slightly squinty from getting his smile on.

What it means: “Hey there, friend!” Your pup is in a calm, relaxed state. He’s open to mingling, which means you can feel comfortable letting friends say hi.

2. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing with her body leaning forward. Her ears are erect and angled forward—or have at least perked up if they’re floppy—and her mouth is closed. Her tail might be sticking out horizontally or sticking straight up and wagging slightly.

What it means: “Hark! Who goes there?!” Something caught your pup’s attention and now she’s on high alert, trying to discern whether or not the person, animal, or situation is a threat. She’ll likely stay on guard until she feels safe or becomes distracted.

3. What you’ll see: Your dog is standing, leaning slightly forward. His body and legs are tense, and his hackles—those hairs along his back and neck—are raised. His tail is stiff and twitching, not swooping playfully. His mouth is open, teeth are exposed, and he may be snarling, snapping, or barking excessively.

What it means: “Don’t mess with me!” This dog is asserting his social dominance and letting others know that he might attack if they don’t defer accordingly. A dog in this stance could be either offensively aggressive or defensively aggressive. If you encounter a dog in this state, play it safe and back away slowly without making eye contact.

4. What you’ll see: As another dog approaches, your dog lies down on his back with his tail tucked in between his legs. His paws are tucked in too, his ears are flat, and he isn’t making direct eye contact with the other dog standing over him.

What it means: “I come in peace!” Your pooch is displaying signs of submission to a more dominant dog, conveying total surrender to avoid physical confrontation. Other, less obvious, signs of submission include ears that are flattened back against the head, an avoidance of eye contact, a tongue flick, and bared teeth. Yup—a dog might bare his teeth while still being submissive, but they’ll likely be clenched together, the lips opened horizontally rather than curled up to show the front canines. A submissive dog will also slink backward or inward rather than forward, which would indicate more aggressive behavior.

5. What you’ll see: Your dog is crouching with her back hunched, tail tucked, and the corner of her mouth pulled back with lips slightly curled. Her shoulders, or hackles, are raised and her ears are flattened. She’s avoiding eye contact.

What it means: “I’m scared, but will fight you if I have to.” This dog’s fight or flight instincts have been activated. It’s best to keep your distance from a dog in this emotional state because she could attack if she feels cornered.

6. What you’ll see: You’re staring at your dog, holding eye contact. Your dog looks away from you, tentatively looks back, then looks away again. After some time, he licks his chops and yawns.

What it means: “I don’t know what’s going on and it’s weirding me out.” Your dog doesn’t know what to make of the situation, but rather than nipping or barking, he’ll stick to behaviors he knows are OK, like yawning, licking his chops, or shaking as if he’s wet. You’ll want to intervene by removing whatever it is causing him discomfort—such as an overly grabby child—and giving him some space to relax.

7. What you’ll see: Your dog has her front paws bent and lowered onto the ground with her rear in the air. Her body is relaxed, loose, and wiggly, and her tail is up and wagging from side to side. She might also let out a high-pitched or impatient bark.

What it means: “What’s the hold up? Let’s play!” This classic stance, known to dog trainers and behaviorists as “the play bow,” is a sign she’s ready to let the good times roll. Get ready for a round of fetch or tug of war, or for a good long outing at the dog park.

8. What you’ll see: You’ve just gotten home from work and your dog rushes over. He can’t stop wiggling his backside, and he may even lower himself into a giant stretch, like he’s doing yoga.

What it means: “OhmygoshImsohappytoseeyou I love you so much you’re my best friend foreverandeverandever!!!!” This one’s easy: Your pup is overjoyed his BFF is back. That big stretch is something dogs don’t pull out for just anyone; they save that for the people they truly love. Show him you feel the same way with a good belly rub and a handful of his favorite treats.

The best way to say “I love you” in dog? A monthly subscription to BarkBox. Your favorite pup will get a package filled with treats, toys, and other good stuff (and in return, you’ll probably get lots of sloppy kisses). Visit BarkBox to learn more.

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