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Gen. Curtis LeMay, USAF

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As I write this in late March of 2020, the world is under attack from a deadly strain of coronavirus called COVID-19. Thus far, there have been around 18,000 deaths world-wide, including 550 deaths in the United States where I live. My country has come to a halt: schools and businesses are shut down and people have been warned to stay in their houses or apartments hunkered down in the face of this menacing enemy. We’re in a war, that’s how it is being described in the media. The president has said he is like a war-time president.


Speaking of war, tonight, hunkered down as I usually am in this very late stage of life—I didn’t need to be directed to hide out on this leather couch I’m sitting on at the moment—I read a biography of an American World War II-era air force general by the name of Curtis LeMay (LeMay: The Life and Times of General Curtis LeMay by Warren Kozak, Regnery, 2009). As I was reading along, it hit me that COVID-19 has a long way to go before it’s in a league with General LeMay as a killing machine. Back in 1945, in less than three hours, LeMay got way, way more killing done than COVID-19 has been able to accomplish in three months.

And it’s more than just in the sheer number of deaths that LeMay comes out on top in the comparison.

COVID-19 has been bad at snuffing out the lives of children and people who aren’t already sick with something. With LeMay, young and old, sick and well, he put them all in their graves.

And LeMay wasn’t limited to primly killing people lying quietly in hospital beds with rubber tubes running into them as COVID-19 has been. He set them on fire, deprived them of air to breathe, and heated them up like pot roasts. Imagine that action!

More, COVID-19 seems only to be proficient at x-ing out human life in cold weather; no good in the summer. LeMay demonstrated in both Europe and Asia that he was a man for all seasons, as it were—he was as effective cancelling someone’s existence in July as January.

Plus, Curtis LeMay didn’t just kill people; he also totally leveled the areas they lived in. COVID-19 has accomplished nothing in this regard.

In addition, Curtis LeMay had style and pizzazz—he had a snappy uniform and chewed on a big cigar. COVID-10, tiny and round with little spikes, no snappy uniform, no big cigar, nothing, lacks presence entirely.

Even more, Curtis LeMay was miles ahead of COVID-19 in public relations. He did his killing and came off looking good and got fawned over and invited to dinner parties, while COVID-19 does its killing and comes off looking bad and is shunned and people are brewing up poison to slip into its margarita. No contest there either.

The one area where COVID-19 comes out ahead of LeMay is in the ability to make the stock market plunge. LeMay was lacking in that area, though in fairness to him, he wasn’t dedicated to getting that accomplished—total destruction and super high death counts were his only priorities.

Assuming you don’t know about him, General Curtis LeMay conceived and ordered an incendiary bombing raid—fire bombs, they set everything aflame—on the civilian population of Tokyo, Japan, March 9th, 1945. Here’s a description of how it went down drawn from the LeMay biography I just read:

Across Tokyo, residents looked up in amazement. They had never seen the “B-sans” [B29 bomber airplanes] so low, nor had they ever seen so many at once. German Catholic priest, Father Gustav Bitter, who was there, later wrote, “The fire falling from the sky reminded me of tinsel hung on a Christmas tree. The red and yellow flames reflected from below onto the silvery undersides of the planes in the upper darkness gave them the appearance of giant dragon flies with jeweled wings. I watched as if I were in a trance.”

With sudden fury, tranquility became horror as the incendiaries hit home. They created tornadoes of fire. They sucked away oxygen; people couldn’t breathe and suffocated. Masuko Harino, a factory worker, reported, “Intense heat came from the firestorm. My eyes seemed about to pop out. People’s clothes were on fire. They were writhing in torment.” A young woman described a school that had become a three-story oven: every human being inside it was cooked to death. Strewn everywhere, some in batches, the incinerated bodies were black; they looked like logs from a distance. There was a dreadful sameness about the dead, no telling men from women or adults from children. If they could walk, survivors wandered about like ghosts, silent. Those still alive were left to die in agony; there was no medicine, food, or drinking water for them.

The raid lasted two hours and forty minutes. Sixteen square miles of Tokyo, one of the most densely populated areas in the world, was transformed into a moonscape of twisted reddish-black iron, roasted sheet metal, and rubble. Not a single man-made structure still stood. An estimated 100,000 people died in Tokyo that night. More than a million were left homeless. The grisly retrieval of bodies took weeks. At least 70,000 people were buried in mass pits. A U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey concluded, “More persons lost their lives in Tokyo that night than in any equivalent period of time in the history of mankind.”

How did what Curtis LeMay pulled off that March night in 1945 go over? It went over really big. And LeMay himself went over really big. I read The New York Times every morning, and it’s been non-stop trashing COVID-19 for weeks, not one positive word, and there’s been all kinds of commiserating with the dead and dying. With LeMay, the Times jumped up and down like cheerleaders. Hurray for our hero! The paper pointed out that those people in Tokyo LeMay set on fire, asphyxiated, and baked had it coming—women, children, and infants, every last one of them–because “the people, factories, and small establishments all contributed to Japan’s war effort.” The Times celebrated LeMay’s admirable deed as the start of really good things: to wit, Japanese cities becoming “no more than holes in the ground.” Though the newspaper cautioned readers that the Japanese “have done their deadliest fighting from holes in the ground,” so we need to be diligent and thorough with the killing.

Following the bombing raid, New Yorker magazine had a glowing profile of LeMay. And he was on the cover of Time magazine and given an effusive write-up in its pages. Nothing like that for COVID-19. But then again, COVID-19 hasn’t done the bang-up job of extinguishing human life that LeMay did, and it’s not anihilating the people who most richly deserve to die like LeMay was so good at doing.

LeMay got a promotion to Chief of Staff of the United States Air Force, and in 1968, ran for vice-president on a third-party ticket, garnering a hefty 13% of the vote. COVID-19 couldn’t come by a janitor’s job or get on the ballot for dogcatcher.

LeMay got an elementary school named after him, and . . . oh, you get my point. LeMay had it all going, and my best guess is that no matter how good COVID-19 does in the future—including getting up to speed with killing little children—it’s never going to measure up to him.

• Category: History • Tags: American Media, Coronavirus, World War II 
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  1. Great clip from “Fog of War” about this firebombing that killed 100,000.

    • Replies: @Sasha
    , @bro3886
  2. Sasha says:
    @Carlton Meyer

    My God. Then North Korea, which may have exceeded even this in terms of psychopathic obliteration of life and its foundations.

  3. How very easy, now that there’s peace, at least at home, to criticize military leaders who had to make difficult decisions under great pressure. I wonder if Allied prisoners of war, or people in countries occupied by Imperial Japan, would have been all that critical of Curtis LeMay?

    Before being sent to the Pacific, LeMay commanded some American bomber groups in Europe. During this time he personally flew in combat, riding in the top turret of a B-17, to observe the tactics used by the Luftwaffe, which on occasion was shooting down a quarter of the attacking force, and the best way to counter them. When not flyng, LeMay would wait at a base for returning aircraft until the calculation had been made that all aircraft would have exhausted their fuel supply and could not possibly return. He cared that much about the crews.

    LeMay took a considerable risk in ordering the fire bombing attacks against Japanese cities. U.S. Army Air Force doctrine emphasized high altitude daylight precision attacks against specific industrial and transporation targets. Unfortunately such attacks by B-29s were failing miserably, due to strong winds at high altitudes over Japan, and the B-29, fundamentally underpowered, had a disturbing tendency for its engines to catch fire, which was particularly distressing to crews flying over miles of Pacific Ocean. LeMay therefore, had to reject his own air force’s doctrine, developed since the 1930s, and adopt the area bombing that RAF Bomber Command had used against German cities. There was no guarantee whatsover that it would work; Japanese night fighter, flak and fire-fighting capabilities were unknown and LeMay had ordered the removal of all defensive guns, save the tail gun, from the B-29s. A more effective Japanese air force might have masscred the B-29s (RAF Bomber Command casualties were very high) and Japanese fire fighting capabilities might have limited the damage. In the event, the change of tactics proved devastatingly effective and LeMay was justifiably praised at the time.

    And just what responsibility does the Japanese government have here? Any Japanese leader with any strategic sense knew that the war was lost as soon as the United States captured the Mariana islands–aircraft operating from the Marianas, operating in conjunction with U.S. submarines, could cut Japanese shipping from any point south, effectively strangling Japan. Is not a government that continues a war under such circumstances, instead of asking for an armistice and the opening of peace negotiations, a lot more responsible for further casualties than the other side’s military leaders?

    Curtis LeMay certainly had his flaws and he was a poor choice as a vice-presidential candidate by George Wallace in 1968. But I remember reading a biography where the biographer said something along the lines that while he might not want Curtis LeMay as a friend, if he had a son in military service, he would want him to be commanded by a man like Curtis LeMay.

    • Replies: @Meimou
    , @anonymous
    , @John Regan
  4. Franz says:

    I’d like to propose a somewhat more nuanced biography:

    Iron Eagle : The Turbulent Life of General Curtis LeMay (Random House. 1987)

    LeMay had many other facets besides dropping bombs. He vetted the B-29, quite a monster at first, and his air strategy during WWII showed a discipline of mind and a level of inventiveness not usually associated with military men of his era.

    The parts about his VP run with George Wallace you can pretty well skip. He was no politician, and even when he was at high staff levels arguing policy on Cuba or Vietnam he was no match for the manipulation experts. Especially Kennedy’s so-called “best and brightest.” LeMay didn’t have a political bone in his body and couldn’t stand them. Can you blame him?

    His other skills are what made him great. LeMay was an example of the French Canadian stock that ended up in Ohio and help make the USA work back-when. We keep forgetting that from the Northern end, immigration really did enrich us.

    Iron Eagle is admittedly a fairly old book now. But it’s a good read about a great man.

  5. I wonder if Allied prisoners of war, or people in countries occupied by Imperial Japan, would have been all that critical of Curtis LeMay


    American POW Kurt Vonnegut was at Dresden and was very critical of the bombings. LeMay’s bombings killed hundreds of Allied POWs and thousands of civilians in occupied nations. In Europe and Japan the strategic bombing goal was to kill civilians and destroy cities since military targets were difficult to hit. Is someone a hero for bravely slaughtering innocent civilians?

    Is not a government that continues a war under such circumstances, instead of asking for an armistice and the opening of peace negotiations, a lot more responsible for further casualties than the other side’s military leaders?

    Japan began seeking surrender terms in February 1945 and by May 1945 Washington decided to accept a conditional surrender. Detailed planning began for the occupation of Japan known as “Operation Blacklist” three months before the atomic bombs were dropped. Billions of dollars had been spent on the atomic bomb project and the Pentagon wanted lots more, so peace was delayed until two bombs could be dropped to impress the US Congress and the Soviets.

    • Agree: Hibernian, Sasha
  6. Gunga Din says:

    I have never heard or read a bad word on Gen. LeMay. He was a courageous and skilled pilot, a brilliant strategist and he nursemaided the making of the A-bomb. We were lucky to have him.

    • Replies: @sirius
  7. Delta G says:

    Yes when Pigs eat their own and their excrement too it is quite humorous. But then again the US has an Enduring True Love for Mass Murders and even gets them Noble Peace Prizes as a bonus.

    But alas, now the World has been turned to the inverse negative of what is Reality. Covid 19 is slow but methodical and has only just begun his necessary work. Maybe Covid can set nature back on its correct course.

  8. Antiwar7 says:

    I hope there’s an afterlife so he can suffer eternally.

    • Agree: Meimou, nokangaroos
  9. Mulegino1 says:

    The same people who cheer for Lemay are the ones who swallow the Hollywood legends about the German “atrocities” on the eastern front which are nothing- either in a quantitative or qualitative sense- compared to the incendiary and atomic bombings of Germany and Japan.

    We now know that there were no homicidal mass gas chambers in the concentration camps, and that most of the executions carried out by the Axis forces on the eastern front were targeted reprisal executions for partisan activity. Nothing- not even the Soviet atrocities or the siege of Nanking- can compare with this mass slaughter. No wonder America will go down in ignominy.

    • Replies: @Hibernian
  10. lloyd says: • Website

    I was surprised to read a National Geographic magazine that Lemay was their patron. Perhaps I remember wrongly. That was decades ago. The National Geographic was about the only American mainstream publication during the Cold War that treated populations and issues in Communist countries as objectively “normal”. But that seemed the character of Lemay. A decent fellow in peace time but an Old Testament avenging monster in war time. In Japan, he is celebrated for his admiration for their culture. The Japanese are an amazing forgiving people. Zen I suppose.

  11. Anonymous[153] • Disclaimer says:

    I am really curious to know what religion/denomination Curtis LeMay was? Does anyone know? I haven’t found anything concrete on the internet.

  12. Meimou says:
    @Diversity Heretic

    How very easy, now that there’s peace, at least at home, to criticize military leaders who had to make difficult decisions under great pressure.

    What was gained from firebombing civilians?

    And just what responsibility does the Japanese government have here? Any Japanese leader with any strategic sense knew that the war was lost as soon as the United States captured the Mariana islands–aircraft operating from the Marianas, operating in conjunction with U.S. submarines, could cut Japanese shipping from any point south, effectively strangling Japan

    You Go Merica! types assume that that the wars ZUS fights are in our interest. The rest of us don’t so it makes sense that we would be more critical of actions like these.

  13. How does he get his hair to do that?

  14. LeMay’s success at mass firebombing murder in Tokyo, was then repeated under a false narrative to create the biggest hoax of the last century – the terrorising, war-profiteering hoax of ‘nuclear weapons’

    Hiroshima and Nagasaki being in fact Tokyo-style firebombings –

    Mushroom clouds are chemical, and the huge Hiroshima firebombing fleet was actually logged in ‘smoking gun’ documentation … and one by one, for profit and power, 10 nations have joined in this hoax … People at Hiroshima saw the 66-plane firebombing fleet, but both Japanese and Americans were threatened with execution if they contradicted the hoax

    LeMay is sometimes said to have been the model for George C Scott’s character in ‘Dr Strangelove’

    George Wallace – Curtis LeMay 1968 campaign button

    • Replies: @sirius
  15. Hibernian says:

    “…and that most of the executions carried out by the Axis forces on the eastern front were targeted reprisal executions for partisan activity.”

    How targeted were they?

    • Replies: @Mulegino1
  16. anonymous[221] • Disclaimer says:
    @Diversity Heretic

    The elephant in the room… The Final Secret of Pearl Harbor
    by John T. Flynn
    October 1945

    Also the very same excuses were made in every single war the US entered, started and never finished. Apparently LeMay-be properlyaganidized or (like the fellow who dropped the big ones) didn’t have the morality or better judgement on what those bombs do?

    Laos? [“From 1964 to 1973, as part of the Secret War operation conducted during the Vietnam War, the US military dropped 260 million cluster bombs – about 2.5 million tons of munitions – on Laos over the course of 580,000 bombing missions”]

    Vietnam? [“The final figures of bombs dropped on Vietnam compared to WW2. In WW2 there were about 2 million tons of bombs dropped. In Vietnam there were about 7 million tons dropped.”]

    Cambodia? [“The United States dropped upwards of 2.7 million tons of bombs on Cambodia, exceeding the amount it had dropped on Japan during WWII (including Hiroshima and Nagasaki) by almost a million tons. During this time, about 30 per cent of the country’s population was internally displaced.”]

    North Korea? [“The U.S. dropped a total of 635,000 tons of bombs, including 32,557 tons of napalm, on Korea. By comparison, the U.S. dropped 1.6 million tons in the European theater and 500,000 tons in the Pacific theater during all of World War II (including 160,000 on Japan).”]

    Dresden? [“As early as 1942, 45,732 tons of bombs were dropped on Germany by the RAF, and even at that early stage, only 4% of them were aimed at industrial targets or ports! The rest were squarely aimed at city centers and civilians, not because their weapons were “inaccurate” or “unsophisticated” but because it was planned. Allied bombing would be killing thousands of German civilians a day by the later stages of the war because of this homicidal, morally corrupt and largely unsuccessful policy.

    U.S. Allied commanders were at first opposed to the RAF bombing policy, and when they began bombing runs over Germany in 1943, it was mutually agreed that the U.S.A.A.F would carry out daytime raids on military and industrial targets, and the RAF would conduct the nighttime ‘area’ bombing of civilian population centers. Nonetheless, the USA joined the British and Canadians to bomb Hamburg in “Operation Gomorrah” and in several later civilian bombings.

    The destruction of Hamburg came on the night of July 27, 1943 and followed a smaller bombing three days earlier. In this second attack, a mix of munitions was used which had a higher proportion of incendiaries, including deadly phosphorus. It was here, not Dresden, that term ‘Feuersturm,’ or firestorm, was first used, and at least 45,000 to 55,000 civilians were intentionally murdered in an agonizing manner in a well-crafted firestorm that corralled the population, leaving them no escape.

    The heinous ten day long firebombing not only murdered thousands, it left a million people homeless and the historic ancient city wholly obliterated. An astounding 30,000 of those killed in Hamburg were women and children. 1.2 million refugees fled the city in the immediate aftermath, many of them with mental and physical baggage (and some with other baggage: one distraught mother was found to be carrying her dead infant in her suitcase). The choreographed inferno circled the city and spread inward, creating a swirling column of super-heated air which generated ferocious 150 mile per hour tornado-like winds capable of snatching up small children and plucking babies from their mother’s arms. People were fried to the melting pavement or slowly choked by poison gases in cellars. At the same time the US military denied to the American public that any terror-bombing was taking place, they were supplying the British with the napalm-like phosphorous to burn German civilians alive. The chemical cannot be extinguished once ablaze, and these bombs sprayed their contents on people in such a way that a horrible death was the inevitable outcome.”]

    Iraq? Yemen? Syria? Palestine/Gaza? Libya? Afghanistan?
    20 Countries The US Has Bombed Since WWII

    • Replies: @sirius
  17. Sean says:

    I would note that there were two nuclear weapons dropped on Japan and the second was a bit hasty as the Japs hadn’t even digested the first yet. The firebombing was unnecessary because after Japan had inquired about terms. The raid was a month after the firebombing of Dresden. Air Forces had been fascinated with firstorms since Hamburg, and I suppose they wanted to claim a knockout blow for the bombers. I cannot go along with the idea that LeMay was regarded as a hero, he was always seen as brutish, and a bit of a loose cannon. Much more so as time went on. As for the Japanese, well they would not quit

    In contrast, the Japanese attitude was one of deep shame to have been captured, a shame which British and American intelligence exploited.

    Professor Neitzel described the interrogators’ technique: “They would say: ‘If you don’t tell me military secrets, I will tell your family you are here in this camp’. They would respond: ‘I’ll tell you everything, but don’t tell my family’.”

    Those masks the Japs have always worn are not for stopping them catching something, but rather to stop them giving something to others. It is a shame culture, and that was a problem for those trying to get them to end the war unconditionally.

    The US was fooled into thinking it had a successful model by WW2, two clear failures i Korea and Nam ( Asian land war) have not disabused them. Japan has shown the way that a modern state can flourish. Virtually nothing on defence (courtesy of US taxpayers) massive medical infrastructure, and supplying capital goods to China. Ditto Germany. The life expectancy in Japan is several years greater than in the US now. This has been accomplished through Japanese health care, which is excellent, so is their productive capacity. No shortage of masks or ventilators there. This is the so called basket case with an aging population (ditto Germany). All accomplished while they were freeloading on the US for defence. Japan duped the US, while tipping scales in China’s favour. Under fifty dead. Deep down inside the Japanese are laughing at America and the rest of the West. It hardly need be said that the future masters of the world (China) are also pleased. China said on 7 Jan that the virus could not be transmitted between people.

    Examination of SARS-CoV-2’s structure indicates it is a bat virus recombined with one from a virus from a pangolin. Pangolin scales are a ‘masculinity enhancer’, or so the Chinese seem to think. In SARS-CoV-2, the Angiotensin Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptor binding domain is from a pangolin, and that component of the chimerical virus is the key to how it enters human cells to infect them vastly more effectively than the original SARS of almost two decades . There is a particularly large amount of ACE-2 in the testis, nasal tissue is also rich in ACE-2. First symptom of COVID-19 is loss of smell, that shows the virus is infecting neurons. Coronavirus will not change the balls and brains of Westerners for the better. Meanwhile

    China reported no new locally transmitted cases for the second day in a row. Mainland China did however report an increase in new confirmed cases, to 67, all of which involved travellers arriving from abroad.

    There will be no more cases in China they have banned foreigners going there. Japan is getting off incredibly lightly from coronavirus so far. They have a better model than the West now.

  18. Mulegino1 says:

    I don’t know. But they certainly were not in the tens or hundreds of thousands. That would have required logistical capacity beyond the capability of the einsatzgrupppen. Probably in the high hundreds. Unfortunate and brutal? Yes. Criminal and or comparable to the Allied atrocities? No.

  19. sirius says:
    @Gunga Din

    Proving you’ve really drunk the Koolaid and not absorbed a single point of the argument.

  20. sirius says:

    excellent Dr. Strangelove reference

  21. sirius says:

    good list. If only it could be included in school curricula.

  22. bro3886 says:
    @Carlton Meyer

    McNamara gave us proportionality in Vietnam, how’d that turn out? Khmer Rouge anybody? He’s simply trying to justify his utter failure.

  23. @Diversity Heretic

    How very easy, now that there’s peace, at least at home, to criticize military leaders who had to make difficult decisions under great pressure.

    I don’t think LeMay was a monster or a sociopath. Most likely, he thought of himself as a man with a war to win, and went about it. My country, right or wrong, and if we have to kill a few million Gooks or Japs to save our precious American liberty and freedom, then so be it.

    Many Americans of good character, even a man like Charles Lindbergh, rallied to the flag in 1941. Most of them knew that Franklin Roosevelt and his cabal of New York advisors were the real culprits behind the war, but in the spirit of the times, patriotism seemed to demand of them that they join the effort. A narrow-minded military technocrat can’t be expected to see through the patriotic illusions when much greater and more independent men could not bear to take that painful step.

    My issue with cases like this one is more the double standards in how we judge the harsh realities of the war. People who will make every excuse for someone like LeMay will in nine cases out of ten treat someone like General Yamashita as a perfect monster who deserved nothing but death. Even though his moral failings, even if judged in the harshest possible light, were infinitely smaller and led to deaths of orders of magnitude fewer human beings. And soldiers, at that, not women and children.

    Most probably, neither was a monster, although both loyally served governments that caused the deaths of millions of people. If we lived in a comic book and America had somehow lost the war and been occupied (perhaps by a Japan with 20x the military resources it had in real life), LeMay would have been the one tried for war crimes and executed, as he himself once mused in an interview. But since the victor writes the histories, it is Yamashita who will be remembered as a war criminal, and LeMay as a hero.

    And just what responsibility does the Japanese government have here? Any Japanese leader with any strategic sense knew that the war was lost as soon as the United States captured the Mariana islands–aircraft operating from the Marianas, operating in conjunction with U.S. submarines, could cut Japanese shipping from any point south, effectively strangling Japan. Is not a government that continues a war under such circumstances, instead of asking for an armistice and the opening of peace negotiations, a lot more responsible for further casualties than the other side’s military leaders?

    Since FDR was very public about the “Unconditional Surrender” policy, it’s absolutely impossible to blame the Japanese for not surrendering. As our host Ron Unz reminds us in his American Pravda series, they were fighting a war against an enemy that was not just murdering women and children in historically unique numbers, but also one that was not taking any prisoners, regularly defiled their servicemen’s corpses, and literally sent home Japanese skulls and bones as engagement gifts to their sweethearts.

    I’m not saying every American serviceman was a monster or something nonsensical like that, of course. Most of them were probably simply scared young men caught up in a toxic culture of fake superpatriotism and race hatred. However, if we try to see things from the Japanese POV, they were being asked to put their people’s lives and national destiny in the hands of a crew who demonstrably behaved like ISIS, only on a much bigger scale, and trust only their good will that they wouldn’t impose wholesale slavery and genocide on them. That’s not quite how things turned out in real life, of course, since FDR died and the Cold War ultimately put a damper on the Truman administration’s lingering anti-Japanese revenge fantasies, but the Japanese still had very good reasons to fight to the bitter end.

    Ultimately, World War II was a disaster for literally everyone, except the usual suspects. If the poor blinkered patriot LeMay had been able to see the future he was really fighting for during that war, the future that is our present, I am one hundred percent sure he would have resigned his commission and gone to Japan (or more probably, Germany) to offer his services to whoever would have him there. And probably apologized very contritely for ever doubting the justice of their cause.

  24. Not being God, I can’t imagine the fate in Hell that awaits.

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