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Three Moments in 1973 and National Blonde Brownie Day

So, 22 January. The depths of winter.  It’s cold in the Great Lakes, cold and snowy. Wet, icy.  If you’re up to going outside this time of year, more power to ya. Me, I’m staying where there’s central heat. Call me a wuss…see if I care.

But there was a lot of things that went on on this day. The battle of Basing, fought in Hampshire, England on this day in 871, was another in a series of indecisive encounters between the kingdom of Wessex led by Ethelred, and the invading Danes; as long as the English didn’t lose much and their burghs (fortified towns) survived, they would eventually prevail. William Kidd the pirate was born at Greenock on this day in 1645. On this day in 1863 the infamous “Mud March” of the Army of the Potomac began in Virginia, an attempt by Ambrose Burnside to redeem his failure at Fredricksburg that just racked up more casualties. In 1879 the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift both started on this day; the Zulus overwhelmed the unprotected columns on the hill of Isandlwana but were unable to come to terms with the better fortifications at the Drift. 22 January also marks Bloody Sunday in Russia; the first modern revolution started as a general strike in 1905. And, on this day in 1984, the Macintosh personal computer was introduced.  But, today, we’re going to talk about three particularly notable events that all happened on 22 January 1973: strain your brain–those of you old enough–to remember which one you recall reacting to at the time more than the others: my vote’s at the end. And about brownies without chocolate.

As the deciding litmus test for the acceptability of all politicians, public officials, celebrities, or ordinary Joes on the street in America, Roe has very narrow shoulders. 

The first was the one with a lasting, pernicious impact down to this day: the Roe vs. Wade US Supreme Court decision that, depending on who you talk to, either;

  1. Legalized abortion in the US for one and all, or
  2. Only deregulated the procedure for the first two trimesters of pregnancy, or
  3. Started the United States on the road to Perdition.

SInce the 1990s, which of these three you choose has determined how you voted in the last ten national elections, how you feel about the rights of women in general, whether you are currently fit to breathe the same air as someone who chooses another answer, or none of the above. As the deciding litmus test for the acceptability of all politicians, public officials, celebrities, or ordinary Joes on the street in America, Roe has very narrow shoulders.  Few of us can now recall exactly what they were doing when they heard about it, because few people at the time really cared enough to march in the streets in support of or against the ruling, unlike now.

At Johnston’s death, it was the first time in a third of a century that there were no living former American presidents.

Also on this day in 1973, in Johnson City, Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States, died of congestive heart failure at age 64. A consummate politician whose ascent to the seat of power consumed his entire adult life, LBJ was a controversial figure, and is regarded as the last leader of FDR’s New Deal coalition. Johnson’s legacy is, to this day, mixed. Between his assumption of JFK’s last year in office in 1963, rising with his landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, soaring with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sinking during the civil disturbances and riots across the country in 1967, sinking again during the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, and collapsing after his ignominious showing in the New Hampshire primaries that same year, his policies waxed and waned. LBJ’s star, somehow, was never quite as bright as his martyred predecessor. After Johnston’s death was the first time in a third of a century that there were no living former American presidents.

When the agreement on border definition for Vietnam was announced, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird agreed to suspend the draft in the United States as soon as the peace was signed, five months ahead of schedule.

Finally, on the same day, a bit of irony from Paris that few took note of even at the time.  On 22 January 1973, the United States, the Republic of (South) Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the Central Office for South Vietnam (the political wing representing the Viet Cong) agreed on a fixed border between the two Vietnamese republics. This was a vital, final step before the final peace agreement between the four parties could be drafted and signed on 27 January. Vietnam, considered an albatross for the Democrats and a political football for everyone else, had been the most divisive American conflict since the Civil War. When the agreement on border definition for Vietnam was announced, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird agreed to suspend the draft in the United States as soon as the peace was signed, five months ahead of schedule.

So, aging Boomers and others who remember being around in ’73: which do you remember more than the others? The death of LBJ was certainly covered more at the time, as the deaths of presidents always is (except Nixon)and I recall hearing of it, hardly the others; Roe v Wade was something of a footnote at the time (unlike today); the Vietnam border agreement was barely mentioned. But it was still an exciting time, wasn’t it?


OK, blonde brownies.  Why, you ask do these even exist: the whole point of brownies is the chocolate, no? Well, no: the point of brownies is to have a less-crumbly cake to put into a lunch bag than a conventional one. Also, for those of us who can’t eat chocolate, it’s an alternative. But, different strokes for different folks, I guess.  Here’s a recipe for blondies from Allrecipie.com. As good as any…

Anyway, they were probably invented in Sandusky. Ohio. Published recipes date from the 1940s, and likely existed even earlier. The folks at National Day Calendar can’t find who started National Blonde Brownie Day, and neither can anyone else. Ah, well…

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

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Heisei Era Begins and National Joygerm Day

So, 8 January.  We’ve survived another holiday season and we’re raring to go into another year.  Or not.

8 January has its share of notable events, though. On 871 AD, somewhere in what is now Berkshire, England, Prince Alfred of Wessex and his brother King Ethelred defeated a Danish army under King Bagsecg of Jutland…we think (the record is mostly from Asser’s hagiography of Alfred, so it is, as we say, uncorroborated). Galileo Galilei died in Italy on 8 January 1642; despite being branded a heretic twice (once posthumously) by the Church, his works and legacy has since been rehabilitated.  The battle known as New Orleans was fought at Chalmette Plantation in Louisiana on 8 January 1815; though tradition has it that New Orleans was part of the War of 1812, some scholars (including me) submit that it was an attempt to bargain central Canada’s access to the Mississippi, and was undertaken knowing that the larger conflict was ending. On 8 January 1916 the campaign known as Gallipoli came to an end, finally; most scholars believe it to have been a wasted effort, but nonetheless was the torch of Australian nationalism, and the seed of the Turkish revolt against the Ottomans. On this day in 1964, Lyndon Johnson launched his “War on Poverty;” and half a century later we can safely say that there is a war in Washington, but on poverty is questionable. Today is also National Clean Off Your Work Desk Day, observed on the first Monday in January for no clear reason. And, for unclear reasons, National Argyle Day. But today, we’re going to talk about changing emperors in Japan, and joygerms.

This “selection” of era names is probably only half-true, if that: the names are contrived from classical Chinese which is hardly ever used anymore even in China, and which few but a handful of scholars can work in.

In Japan, emperors (tenno in Japanese, or “heavenly sovereign”) are given ceremonial names which identify their eras when they ascend to the throne. The Meiji (“enlightened peace”) had his name given to him; the Taisho (“great rightness”) is said to have selected his name as one of his last rational acts; the Showa Emperor Hirohito (either “enlightened peace and harmony” or “radiant Japan” depending on who you ask) is said to have selected his name from a selection of several, as did his son, Akihito, who chose Heisei (“peace everywhere”) from a list. This “selection” of era names is probably only half-true, if that: the names are contrived from classical Chinese which is hardly ever used anymore even in China, and which few but a handful of scholars can work in.

Akihito has no role in Japan’s military forces, and has only ceremonial duties.

On 8 January 1989, the Heisei Era is said to have begun after the death of the Showa Emperor of cancer the day before. Akihito, like his father before him, had been well prepared for the event, though unlike his father Akihito was not trained to act as the head of the government. Also like his father, Akihito has a keen interest in marine biology, and has published articles on the history of science in Japan.  Unlike his father, furthermore, Akihito has no role in Japan’s military forces, and has only ceremonial duties.  Born in 1933, the current emperor apparently has plans to abdicate in 2019 at age 86.

This War's Over (WWI Edition)
American soldiers, probably Western Front somewhere, learning that WWI is over.

A ways back in 1981, Joan White of Syracuse, New York, started this…thing…called Joygerm Limited, which by 2011 had grown to encompass 117,000 banners worldwide.  On 8 January (her mother’s birthday) she started National Joygerm Day to spread the idea of spreading joy. Exactly what she had started was, well, as tangible as Robert Reich’s orgones. The idea is simple: spread joy by being joyful. “Laugh and the world laughs with you: cry, and you cry alone” is one version of the adage. While I can agree that happiness is more contagious than misery, misery can be offset by schadenfreude, or the satisfaction in  other’s unhappiness. If there is a balance in feelings, I guess joy could outweigh others in that way, if only in a minor part.  “Joy” I believe should be reserved for truly joyful events, like the birth of children or, as they guys above are showing, that they are still alive when the shooting stops.  But, a joygerm may not be that bad a thing to catch, after all, if you have to catch something.

Come see us some time at JDBCOM.COM.

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Chinese Republic Begins and National Bloody Mary Day

Well, happy 2018 to my faithful readers (all five of you), and welcome to a new year of exciting yet well-written tidbits that you need to proceed with your day…or not.

The first of January became a holiday of sorts only in recent years, so a lot of things happened before the 20th century on the first day of the year, which was first observed in 45 BC in Rome. The last gladiator exposition was in Rome on this day in 404 AD, somewhat later than some fiction writers have it.  Muhammad traditionally set out from Mecca to Medina on this day in 630. Nagahito, who would become the 111th, or Go-Sai Emperor of Japan, was born on this day in 1638. In 1660 Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) began his brief career as a diarist, the most important entry being his description of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar on this day in 1893, at least starting to join the rest of the world in timekeeping.  The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics began on this day in 1923–and broke up on the same day in 1992. The Showa Emperor Hirohito renounced his divinity on this day in 1946–a pragmatic undertaking much less momentous than most Western observers want to think. And finally, on this day in 2000, the world didn’t end: Y2K that many of us remember wasn’t the computer apocalypse that many thought would befall us. It’s also National Thank God It’s Monday Day, and National Hangover Day.  But, today, we talk about the first Chinese Republic, and about Bloody Marys.

This first war with Japan was a disaster for China, which lost control not only of its old satrap in Korea but both the Shantung and the Liaotung Peninsulas. 

The Manchu (Qing) dynasty of China was no better than any other dynasty at addressing its two perennial problems: protecting its long and remote borders, and feeding its ever-growing population that had quadrupled in four centuries. Its chronic institutional weakness made the incursion of European powers easy and profitable, establishing policies of “extraterritoriality” in their enclaves that immunized them from Chinese law.  In 1894 Japan went to war with China over Korea and the two peninsulas edging the Bohai and Yellow Seas to the east of the Korean Peninsula. This first war with Japan was a disaster for China, which lost control not only of its old satrap in Korea but both the Shantung and the Liaotung Peninsulas.

When the old emperor and empress died within hours of each other in November 1908, they left a not-quite-three-year old Puyi on the throne.

By 1899 this defeat and the abuse by Europeans gave rise to a series of anti-Western and anti-Christian riots called the Boxer Rebellion (less a “rebellion” than it was an attempt to oust the foreign powers and influences).  The insurgency against outside influence in China, supported by the Manchus, was put down by a coalition of European, American and Japanese forces in 1900, and new demands made on China as reparations. These reparations broke the back of the Manchu treasury, but worse, practically destroyed public confidence in Chinese government institutions. It was a signal for sweeping reforms, including the abolition of imperial examinations for civil service and the replacement of nearly all civil governors.  When the old emperor and empress died within hours of each other in November 1908, they left a not-quite-three-year old Puyi on the throne and his father, Prince Chun, as regent.

On 1 January 1912 the Tongmenghui announced the formation of the Republic of China, with Sun Yat-sen (his best known name) at its head.

As is always the case, might is right, and power is self-justifying. The Wuchang Uprising on 10 October 1911, which later became known as the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution (known in the West as the Gearwheel Revolution), was the first victory of the Hubei-based New Army.  On 1 January 1912, as a result of their signal victory, the Tongmenghui (variously known as the Chinese Alliance, the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, the Chinese United League, the United League, and the United Allegiance Society) announced the formation of the Republic of China, with Sun Yat-sen (his best known name) at its head. On 12 February, the boy emperor was abdicated, and the “republic” in the heart of China had only a dozen or so warlords to defeat before it became a sovereign fact.


Today is also National Bloody Mary Day, for reasons both obvious and not. The first “Bloody Mary” was Mary I of England, the first child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Raised largely by her mother’s priests and nuns, Mary was more devout than most Catholics of the time, and had hundreds of Protestants (including those sanctioned by her father) burned, beheaded or tortured to death.

Other Bloody Marys have been engendered in folklore, bearing the old name that Mary I earned. The best known involves young women invoking Bloody Mary spirits to see the face of her future husband–or a skull if she were to die a spinster. Since some of these rituals involved walking up stairs backwards in a darkened house wearing floor-length skirts with a candle in one hand and a mirror in the other…yeah, hardly surprising they should die alone, and young.

But the best known Bloody Mary to modern audiences is the concoction of vodka, tomato juice and various spices and flavorings often used to chase away evil spirits that were imbibed on The Morning After The Day Before–a hangover treatment if not cure. The earliest claimant to this invention is barkeep Fernand Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar (or the Ritz, depending on source) in Paris in 1921. Henry Zbikiewicz was charged with making one at Club 21 in New York during Prohibition. George Jessel was also said to have invented the concoction, also at 21.  Whoever and wherever the thing was first made, I prefer the Virgin Mary, which has everything but the booze. Since I don’t drink booze enough to get blasted anymore (and vodka ain’t on my list), I don’t need the spicy concoction it for its supposed therapeutic qualities (which, according to authorities, provides salt and hydration to the system, and according to legend is just the Hair of the Dog that Bit You).

Given a choice between all the options, I think the national day probably relates more to the beverage, though no one seems quite sure where or when the name originates or when the day tradition was begun (Nationaldaycalendar.com will “register and proclaim” any “national” or other day you should want).  Vodka makers are more than happy to proclaim the day, and one source states (without foundation) that the drink is named for Mary I.  Recipes abound, these from last year.

Ah, well.  Yet another of those unprovables that dot the annals of history.

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Hirohito becomes Showa, and Christmas 2017

Christmas at last…A day for feasting, resting, and whatever else.  Willam Bradford forbade game playing in the Massachusetts Bay colonies on Christmas 1621–guess that didn’t take.  Scholars tell us that the earliest possible date for any Christmas observation is 337 AD; and that 352 is the earliest date that it was known to have been celebrated–but how anyone would have figured that one is a mystery to me. A surprising number of people were born on Christmas Day, and not just the one we celebrate: Isaac Newton in 1642; Clara Barton in 1821; Conrad Hilton in 1887; Anwar Sadat in 1918; Rod Serling in 1924; and the World Wide Web in 1990. 25 December is also National Pumpkin Pie Day. But today we talk about the death of the Taisho Emperor of Japan, and about Christmas.

…it was clear that he was going to be unable to accomplish the complexities of government…

Traditionally, the rulers of Japan are the oldest continual royal line in human history. The Taisho Emperor (Taisho-tenno) Yoshihito was born on 31 August 1879, and contracted cerebral meningitis three weeks after he was born.  Consequently, he was a sickly child, unable to finish any sort of formal education. As the boy grew, even though he could be charming, and sprinkled French words into conversation with foreign diplomats, it was clear that he was going to be unable to accomplish the complexities of government. Ten of the Meiji’s children died in infancy before Yoshihito, and afterwards the Meiji produced only daughters (who could not by law ascend in their own right) from Lady Sachiko, there appears to have been little choice but to hope for the best, or for very good counselors, when he ascended.

Though the lineage had to look good on paper, there was nothing “royal” about Yoshihito’s mother, Yanagihara Naruko, and few royal houses anywhere have a completely “pure” bloodline.

In a country beset by civil war and breakneck industrialization, it seems odd that this choice was made by the painfully pragmatic Meiji, probably the one Emperor with the most influence on Japan’s history. After Yoshihito’s  birth and illness (and we may never know why the Meiji let him stay in the succession), the Meiji surely could have found another “solution” somewhere without much difficulty. Though the lineage had to look good on paper, there was nothing “royal” about Yoshihito’s mother, Yanagihara Naruko, and few royal houses anywhere have a completely “pure” bloodline. Yoshihito married in 1900 and was the father of four healthy sons before his ascension, and one of whom would succeed him, much to the relief of the palace and the government.

His 20 year old son, Hirohito, became regent in 1921.

Yoshihito became the Taisho Emperor, the 123rd emperor of Japan on 30 July 1912, when the Meiji Emperor died.  The Taisho’s enthronement in 10 November 1915 was a private matter that was celebrated with the Emperor out of the public eye: indeed, due to his neurological condition that worsened as he aged, he was rarely seen in public. After 1919 he was unable to perform any public duties. His 20 year old son, Hirohito, became regent in 1921. During this period, the “Taisho Democracy” of relative political stability and a drawdown of military budgets flourished in Japan, marred by rice riots in 1918, the Siberian Expedition that nearly ruined the economy in 1922, the Great Kanto Earthquake on 1 September 1923, and the rise of the fear of communism and other “non-Japanese” elements that would rend Japanese society into pieces in the 1930’s.

Getty Images
The Showa Emperor Hirohito in ceremonial costume

In early December 1927, when the Taisho was barely 47, he contracted pneumonia. At that time, pneumonia was far more dangerous than it is at this writing, and with a patient whose health was already lousy it turned out to be, mercifully perhaps, deadly. On Christmas Day 1927 the Taisho died, and Prince Hirohito became the Showa, the 124th Emperor of Japan. The Showa’s reign was remarkable because of its dynamic range of fortune: he inherited the ninth largest economy in the world, and the third largest navy. After less than twenty years of his reign (1945), Japan had neither an economy to speak of nor a navy, but by the end of his life (1987), the Japanese economy was once again one of the most influential on Earth.


One of the biggest problems with writing this far ahead (early October) is that it is difficult to tell what may happen in the intervening months…or if I’d even be around to see them. The biggest headlines today were a mass shooting in Las Vegas and more Trump/Republican bashing; next month may be another disaster, and the next month yet another, or the Emperor Akihito may become the Heisei Emperor (he is 83 at this writing). If my remarks here are in bad taste for present realities, my apologies.

But one of the best things about writing this blog is the research, and in my studies of Japan before 1945 I get to run into phenomenon like the featured image. This card image dates from about 1900, I’m told, so late Meiji period. Now, most people’s impression of Japan does not extend to Madonnas like this one because 1) Christianity in Japan is thought to be marginal and, 2) because…well, it’s Japan.  But the fact is that about 1% of Japan professed to Christianity (Catholic and Protestant being the largest denominations) since the “liberalization” of religious practice within the Empire under the Meiji. While Christianity was not officially encouraged before 1945. it was not suppressed as it had been earlier. Since the 1990s, more couples have opted for Christian ceremonies instead of Shinto, leading to a boom in wedding chapels in Japan.

But I want to pass to you a verse we would all do well to heed:

Once in Royal David’s City stood a lonely cattle shed,
where a mother held her baby.
You’d do well to remember the things He later said.
When you’re stuffing yourselves at the Christmas parties,
you’ll just laugh when I tell you to take a running jump.
You’re missing the point I’m sure does not need making
that Christmas spirit is not what you drink.
–Ian Anderson, “Christmas Song,” 1972

This is one of the least known Christmas songs in English, and one of the least copied Jethro Tull tunes (Anderson actually adapted it from a 19th century poem).  Since most of us want our Christmas carols and hymns to be somewhat more upbeat, its lack of popularity is hardly surprising. But, the lyrics are worth thinking about, if only briefly.

This is my last blog for the calendar year, and here’s to hoping only good things to you and yours for this holiday season. May your days be bright, you hang-overs mild, your gifts meaningful, your bills few, your snow-shoveling short, and your heart light.  See you next year.

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

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Verdun Ends and National Roast Suckling Pig Day

18 December…chestnuts roasting on an open fire…and all that.  On this day in 1261 the Yuan Dynasty began in China. And in 1603 the first Dutch East India fleet left the Scheldt. New Jersey ratified the Constitution on this day in 1787; and Amendment XIII banning slavery went into effect in 1865. And in 1800 Charles Goodyear, future tire king, was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Joseph Stalin, future bloodthirsty cannibal, was born in TIflis in what is now Georgia on this day in 1879, the same day that John Kehoe, quasi-anarchist leader of the Molly Maguires, was hanged in Pennsylvania. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., son of the first African-American general officer and the future first African-American lieutenant general, was born on this day in 1912 in Washington DC. And Woodrow Wilson married Edith Galt at the White House on this day in 1915.  But today, we’re talking about French charnel houses, and roast pork.

…committing to attrition as an offensive strategy was alien to German arms

Before 1916, no German planner ever thought attrition was a good idea for German arms: they simply weren’t set up for it. German war-making had always emphasized the quick encirclement and decisive warfare: Germany was never prepared logistically to pound an enemy to death. Germany had built splendid entrenchments starting in 1915 that could withstand attrition, but committing to attrition as an offensive strategy was alien to German arms.

In February 1916, Germany began an offensive at the traditional German invasion route of France: at the forts guarding the city of Verdun on Meuse river, the clearest route to Paris. 

But Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of Staff to the German Army, believed that France was teetering on the edge of military and political disaster. He believed that French casualties were such that the manpower pool was dry, so his plan for Verdun was two-fold: attack France at its most vulnerable point–Paris, and draw as many French reinforcements as possible into the killing ground. In February 1916, Germany began an offensive at the traditional German invasion route of France: at the forts guarding the city of Verdun on Meuse river, the clearest route to Paris.

Battle_of_Verdun_map
From WIkipedia, the cleanest available

…the metal expended by the guns of Verdun from February 1916 to December could have built the French Navy twice over.

On 21 February 1916, the German offensive kicked off with a horrific bombardment, but it was also clear that the French still had plenty of fight left in them. While the major success at Fort Douaumont took just three days, it was one of the few tactical successes the Germans saw.  The offensive continued week after week, month after month. Few of Falkenhan’s calculations proved correct.  No matter what he did he could not suppress the French artillery enough to reduce his casualties. First Phillipe Petain then Robert Nivelle, commanding the French forces in the area, managed to keep the trenches filled with men, often with fresh troops every fifth day.  Nearly every French soldier in uniform at the beginning of 1916 spent at least some time in the Verdun killing zone; four out of five French infantrymen were in the Verdun area for more than a month. Half of French and 2/3rds of German heavy (155 mm and larger) and super-heavy (208 mm and larger) artillery was in range of the Verdun battlefield at one time in 1916. Though the infantry often had a respite from attacking trenches, hills, craters and ruins for a few yards of gain, the artillery never fell completely silent for nearly a year.  One scholar estimated that the metal expended by the guns of Verdun from February 1916 to December could have built the French Navy twice over.

It saw the destruction of the old British professional army in favor of a drafted force…

But 1916 was about a great deal more than Verdun. As a break in the deadlock on land, Reinhard Scheer took his High Seas Fleet out of port at the end of May to parry with John Jellicoe’s Home Fleet, and the resulting battle in the Skagerrak (also called Jutland) cost only about ten thousand lives and a few ships and the reputation of the naval leadership and the builders of ships. But the German fleet never ventured out again. In June, the Russians under Alexei Brusilov launched an offensive in Galicia that cost as much as 2.5 million casualties for very little territorial gain. To take some pressure off of Verdun, Britain launched their infamous Somme offensive to the north of the Verdun abattoir in on 1 July, and that slaughter-fest cost another million casualties until the offensive officially ended in November. It saw the destruction of the old British professional army in favor of a drafted force, and the deadlock in the trenches went on.

No country that fought in the European theater in 1916 came out untouched by the costs of Verdun.

After ten months, the French were strong enough to counterattack and start pushing the Germans back.  Falkenhayn was compelled to resign, and the German offensive at Verdun was called off on 18 December 1916.  There were nearly a million casualties at Verdun…a million that anyone officially counted.  But there were deep political and psychological wounds for both the French and the Germans, for the British and the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians.  France had survived, but Germany was entering a period of famine called the “turnip winter” caused by a combination of the British blockade, wet autumn weather, lack of agricultural manpower and collapsing transportation networks. Of all these causes, the blockade and the lack of manpower are the most cited as being responsible. It is not difficult to trace the failure of German plans at Verdun to their resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare that led to the entry of the United States in the war. Germany survived, but the government of the French Third Republic itself came under siege. French soldiers, though relieved to have survived, felt at if their politicians didn’t care about them. Russia survived, but Austria-Hungary, always a weak link in the German armor, teetered on the precipice of economic and social collapse.  Britain survived, but Russia was cut off completely from the outside world because she could not get her agricultural product out or military goods in, despite Britain’s dominance of the seas. Worse, Russia’s armies were burning with a deep resentment that, in just a few months, would spark a revolution. Russia survived for the moment, but Britain was confronted not just with bankruptcy of funds but bankruptcy of men. No country that fought in the European theater in 1916 came out untouched by costs of Verdun.


18 December is National Roast Suckling Pig Day for some reason (apparently no one really knows why).  The featured image above is a vegetarian creation. A suckling pig is generally less than six weeks old when slaughtered, usually between 8 and 30 pounds.  Cooking it can be tricky because the cross-section is so thin, but those whose cooking skills extend beyond mine (that would be…pretty much anyone who can actually roast anything without the smoke alarm going off) assure me that it’s like roasting a turkey.  Somehow, not reassuring.

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

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Declarations of War and National Noodle Ring Day

11 December…there will be snow here in the Great Lakes soon, if it hasn’t come to your neighborhood already (or mine: this is drafted in September). But on this day, a whole lot happened that, quite frankly, we just need to mention right now. Llewellyn the Last, the last native Prince of Wales, was killed on this day at Cilmeri in 1282. James II, the last Stuart king of England and the last Roman Catholic monarch in England, was captured in Kent on this day in 1688. Louis XVI went on trial in Paris on this day in 1792, but there was very little doubt asw to what the verdict would be.  In Hartford, Connecticut on this day in 1844, nitrous oxide was used for the first time as a dental anesthetic. In 1916, while the British Army struggled to pull themselves together after the Somme offensive, David Lloyd George formed another government in London. At Windsor, Edward VIII abdicated the throne of Great Britain in favor of his brother in 1936. And, in 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was founded to provide relief for the millions of children caught up in WWII.  But today, we talk about the legal niceties of declaring war, and about noodle rings, in that order.

On 11 December 1941:

  • Germany declared war on the United States
  • The United States declared war on Germany and Italy
  • The Dutch Government in exile in London declared war on Italy

Now, these events were, by their nature, belligerent. The Kellogg-Briand pact of of 1928 pledged the signatories (all of these states) to denounce war as an instrument of national policy.  With me so far? Good.

Now, here’s the rub: all of these states were more or less at war with the declared enemies for at least a year before war was officially declared…or, at least, were in a war-like status.  See, just issuing a declaration of war does two things:

  1. Announces that a state of war exists between sovereign states;
  2. Provides a bully pulpit for the various blowhards to harangue their respective populations.

Simply declaring war doesn’t really do anything other than let everyone know what’s going on. 

Note that declaring war has no real effect on the conflict itself, other than to galvanize a population.  But it does have an effect on neutrals (which by 1941 mostly meant Latin America).  They become constrained in supporting one belligerent or another; witness the naval action outside Montevideo in 1939 that led to the scuttling of Graf Spee. Simply declaring war doesn’t really do anything other than let everyone know what’s going on.

Arguably the US and Germany were already at war.

In the case of Germany declaring war on the United States, there has been some confusion about it, and many scholars have questioned whether it was either required by the Tripartite agreement (it really wasn’t) or if it was a good idea. Even if it wasn’t required, the US Navy had been escorting British convoys as far as mid-ocean since early 1941–how would that not be a war-like act?  The Americans and British had met to confer on war planning and measures for nearly two years–again, America already looked like a belligerent anyway. Finally, the Lend-Lease Agreement traded use of British bases in the Caribbean for warships–thin even to American observers. Arguably the US and Germany were already at war. The mutual declarations were merely icing on the cake, as it were.

Unlike in Germany where one person could do it, it was the US Congress who made these declarations in America…

The Americans declaring war on Germany and Italy didn’t provide for 2. above because Roosevelt had already made his war speech three days earlier, calling on Congress to declare a that a state of war existed between the US and Japan on 8 December. Unlike in Germany where one person could do it, it was the US Congress who made these declarations in America, and when Congress voted on 11 December 1941, it was by direct vote in response to the German declaration just hours before, without a presidential call being necessary. Now, the Dutch declaring war on the Italians may not have done much on the outside of it, but it allowed the United States to harbor refugee Dutch warships (both of them) in the West Indies and use them and their bases against the much-feared Italian submarines roaming the Atlantic.  Okay, there were only two of them, but it was two more that had to be dealt with, and they had the range to reach Brazil.

The last declaration of war was in 2005 in Chad’s civil war.

All of that aside, there have been far more “undeclared” wars between states than there have been “declared” conflicts.  Declaring war was something that certain treaties and agreements of the 19th century required to clarify the status of neutrals, belligerents, noncombatants and other legal niceties that were important when there were neutrals and noncombatants.  The last declaration of war was in 2005 in Chad’s civil war. It is important to note, however, that Rome and Carthage were technically at war from 264 BC to 1985, called an “administrative error” in WIkipedia.  By such errors whole empires can be lost.


Now, this is serious…just look at my face.  Today, 11 December, is National Noodle Ring Day.  But I know what you’re thinking: who would want to observe a day for Spaghettios…

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios
Remember these? Sure you do. But Ring Noodles in Tomato Soup are not Noodle Rings.

No, Noodle Rings are something completely different.  Noodle Rings are pasta dishes baked in a ring mold or bundt pan. The ingredients include noodles, flour, breadcrumbs, cheese, eggs and a host of other add-ins, from tuna and broccoli to ham, beef, sausage and even spam. They were more popular in the 1950s than they are today, apparently, but some recipes may go back as far as 4th millennium BC China.

If I didn’t like doing this blog I wouldn’t do it, but the research on this one was interesting.  I’m no epicure, but one of the scores of recipes I ran into digging into this  may just get made in my kitchen.

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Shell Shock Described and National Sock Day

December already…jeesh, just last week it was November…where does the time go…?  But 4 December is an auspicious day indeed, for it marks the death of Persian poet Omar Khayyam in 1123 (yes, there really was a guy by that name); the end of the Council of Trent (after sixteen years) in 1563; Pere Marquette building the first dwelling in what is now Chicago in 1673 (wonder if he had a permit for it); George Washington’s farewell to his officers a Fraunces Tavern in New York in 1783 (so he wouldn’t have to pay that bar tab); the Electoral College declared James Monroe President of the United States in 1816; merchant brigantine Marie Celeste was found off the Azores in 1876, abandoned by passengers and crew (a mystery that persists to this day); Woodrow Wilson became the first sitting president to leave the county on this day in 1918 when he boarded SS George Washington for France; and Gemini VII was launched from Cape Canaveral in 1965.  But today we talk about one of the worst horrors of war, and socks.

Rivers and other practitioners had treated men who, in the eyes of the military establishment, were simply cowards. 

On 4 December 1917, Dr. WIlliam H. Rivers committed heresy.  For his crime, he was terminated from his post because, well, the Army can’t have heretics treating fighting men. River’s heresy was embodied in a report he submitted to the Royal School of Medicine entitled The Repression of War Experience, which was based on his work at the Craiglockhart War Hospital for Neurasthenic Officers in Scotland. There, Rivers and other practitioners had treated men who, in the eyes of many in the military establishment, were simply cowards.

…the “slackers” started to exhibit behaviors other than just being unable or unwilling to go to the front: panic, fearfulness, wakefulness, babbling, diarrhea, starting at loud noises, dizziness, amnesia.

Since the beginning of organized warfare, military organizations had treated those who, for whatever reason, refused to fight after the battles had begun and they had participated, as simply slackers. In the mid-to-late 19th century, as explosive artillery became more commonplace, range increased and soldiers were in contact longer, the “slackers” started to exhibit behaviors other than just being unable or unwilling to go to the front: panic, fearfulness, wakefulness, babbling, diarrhea, starting at loud noises, dizziness, amnesia. As medical science began to get itself organized, there were some clinicians in the Second Boer War (1899-1902) who looked at medical records and notes from older conflicts, including the Crimean War (1853-1856), and the American Civil War (1861-1865) to see a pattern of sorts: these symptoms appeared after the sufferers had been exposed to high noise level explosions, such as artillery bombardments of some duration. While the medical profession in general either ignored these findings or discredited them, they did not go away.  Indeed, after 1914 they became more prevalent.

As the numbers of these “malingers” increased in the British Army the leadership became alarmed, and actively suppressed any findings related to the phenomenon. 

By the end of 1914, as much as 10% of British officers and 4% of the enlisted men were complaining of one or another of the signs of what was labeled “shell shock” (which in this essay it shall be called regardless of current fashion) in a 1915 article in The Lancet. There were other symptoms by then, including neurasthenia, mutism and fuge. At the time these were regarded as related to head trauma, but many of the patients showed no head injury. As the numbers of these “malingers” increased in the British Army the leadership became alarmed, and actively suppressed any findings related to the phenomenon.  But scientists resisted such manipulations, and began comparing notes by proxy with German, Austro-Hungarian, and even Ottoman clinicians through neutrals, including Scandinavia and the United States, and found that all of them were reporting similar cases.

Rivers and several other neuropsychiatrists came and went, with no supervisor lasting more than a few months before they were sacked because they simply kept their patients too long. 

Grudgingly, British military leaders had decided that a simple rest cure should be sufficient for an officer to recover his wits and spine: perhaps two or three weeks should do.  In 1916, a disused hydrotherapy hospital at Craiglockhart in Scotland was opened to study the phenomenon in British officers, and give them a good long rest. When Siegfried Sassoon and Reginald Owen were sent there in 1917, it was quickly dubbed “Dottyville.” Rivers and several other neuropsychiatrists came and went, with no supervisor lasting more than a few months before they were sacked because they simply kept their patients too long.

Humans can only take so much exposure to these things, and everyone has a different limit.

After the end of WWI, clinicians from all over the world began to talk about the phenomenon called shell-shock, and found that no nation, no culture, no rank or society was immune. The Americans looked at cases as far back as Mexico; the Russians found indications not just in the Crimea but before, as early as 1812, especially among artillerymen. Even Japanese doctors could find an occasional mystery-coward (executed in their case) who simply could neither speak nor stand after fighting in Korea in 1892.  It was called “bullet wind,” “soldier’s heart,” “irritable heart,” and “operational exhaustion” to name but a few of many score titles observers have given it through the ages. But the military was slow to recognize the phenomenon–officially–and had to wait until the 1930s, when the profession of psychoanalysis became socially acceptable. But failure to recognize the side effects of prolonged exposure to high-intensity noise, extreme sound and air pressure, fear, horror, long hours of wakeful alertness and uncertainty on human beings at all levels lingered as late as George Patton’s famous “slapping incidents.” Humans can only take so much exposure to these things, and everyone has a different limit.

The moniker “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD has been adopted since the 1970s to describe the phenomenon, but it too has been abused to the point where it has become meaningless.

For some peculiar reason, the victims of shell shock or any other name given to those whose minds have been affected to one extent or another by warfare, puts medical professionals on edge, and on their guard. Since the 1930s, the collective phenomenon of shell shock has been shuttled around by the medical profession and the insurance industry like a live grenade. Sufferers are often medicated, talked to, given “strategies” that sometimes work and sometimes don’t, and generally treated like a fungus that won’t go away. The moniker “post-traumatic stress disorder” or PTSD has been in use since the 1970s to describe the phenomenon, but it too has been abused to the point where it has become meaningless. The short, technical-sounding catchall term “PTSD” does, however, make it much easier to write up in clinical notes, and easier to pass of to the next poor schlemiel to try to put the sufferer back together and at least be able to function.

The medical profession does not trouble itself, however, to explain how an abused spouse, a bullied school kid, and a combat veteran can all fall under the same label.

To be clear, I personally know no one who suffers–clinically defined–from this horrid affliction, and I don’t–clinically defined–suffer from it, but there are degrees of such trauma.  I have been under fire, and I saw people torn apart by gunfire. I sometimes have nightmares about it, and I sometimes can’t sleep because of it.  It was more than four decades ago, but still…I’m convinced that the condition is difficult for anyone who has never been shot at or exposed to such horrors as war can make to understand. The insistence of many overtrained and underqualified ignorami who want to put all of these conditions and more under the general heading of PTSD is beyond any and all understanding to those who have to deal not just with symptoms and with the patients, but with the record. The medical profession does not trouble itself, however, to explain how an abused spouse, a bullied school kid, and a combat veteran can all fall under the same label.


Today is also National Sock Day, an observance that, according to the founders of National Sock Day, Pair of Thieves, is on 4 December because of two events.  On 4 December 1954 the final curtain fell on “On Your Toes,” a unique Rodgers and Hammerstein ballet/musical that had run since 1936. The second was in 1991, when the Judds “that kept toes two-stepping” performed their final concert together in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.  Okay, whatever…

The folks over at National Day Calendar also tell us that it’s a day that “recognizes the rarest of all lasting unities, the marriage of matched socks.”  Now, not to be a killjoy (OK, I will), I never have trouble with matched socks because, well, I buy all the same socks.  And yes, I do my own laundry.

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Mine Run Begins, National Craft Jerky Day and Cyber Monday

27 November…Thanksgiving is over and we can now coast to Christmas…sort of.  In the American business world of which I am still occasionally a part, this is the time of year that very little really gets done…and you can tell I was never in retail.  But, too, 27 November marks the death of Clovis I, king of the Franks in Paris in 511; in 1495 James IV of Scotland received Perkin Warbeck, who pretended to be Richard of Shrewsbury and the rightful king of England; Nakagawa Hidemasa, son-in-law to one of Japan’s unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, was killed in Korea on this day in 1592; the University of Pennsylvania was founded in Philadelphia on this day in 1779; the American Statistical Association, the second oldest professional society in the US, was organized in Boston in 1839; the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the world’s largest repeating parade, was held in New York in 1924; Lester Gillis, better known as Baby-Face Nelson, was killed in a shootout with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois on this day in 1934; the first missile to intercept an aircraft, a Bell Labs Nike-Ajax, was demonstrated at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico on this day in 1951; and Gerald Ford was confirmed as Vice-President in 1973, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew.  But today, we’re talking about Virginia, about salted meat, and about the ultimate in procrastination.

After the inconclusive Bristoe campaign that just ended, Meade saw an opportunity in the Confederate movement that he was well-placed to exploit.

Mine Run was one of those odd, whoever-heard-of-that 1863 post-Gettysburg, before-the-WIlderness campaigns in the American Civil War that everyone knows of but that no one cares about.  Yet, it had an importance beyond the battlefield that helped to seal the fate of the Southern Confederacy.  It all started when George G. Meade, commanding the 81,000 men of the Union’s Army of the Potomac, got wind of a split in Robert E. Lee’s 45,000 man Army of Northern Virginia, where Clark Mountain stood in between two halves.  After the inconclusive Bristoe campaign that just ended, Meade saw an opportunity in the Confederate movement that he was well-placed to exploit. On 26 November 1863 (the first national Thanksgiving), Meade got his men moving around Lee’s right flank, to fall on Richard Ewell’s Confederate II Corps anchored on Mine Run (a run in geography is a flowing body of water unsuitable for navigation).

…in the morning, Meade was smart enough to recognize the potential for another Fredricksburg when he saw it.

The movement started well, but WIlliam French’s III Union Corps got bogged down while fording the Rapidan, losing a day.  The delay and confusion alerted Lee, who placed Jubal Early in command of Ewell’s corps.  Early then marched to Payne’s Farm, meeting French’s vanguard divisions there on 27 November, but failed to stop the Federal movement. Lee dug in behind Mine Run after pulling back away.  But in the morning, Meade was smart enough to recognize the potential for another Fredricksburg when he saw it. While he bombarded Lee’s position on 28 November, he sent Gouverneur K. Warren’s II Corps and John Sedgwick’s VI Corps around the flanks, looking for weakness. There wasn’t any, but Meade felt obliged to look.  Lee, meanwhile, gathered reinforcements and planned for another Chancellorsville flank march on 2 December. But Meade decided that the position was too strong, and backed away from the confrontation.  Lee, frustrated by Meade’s caution, went into winter quarters.  So did Meade, returning to Brandy Station.  For less than 1,500 Federal casualties and about 600 Confederate, neither side had a great deal to show for it.

That Meade didn’t hazard his force in another abattoir was good, but still seemed indecisive. 

The true tragedy regarding Mine Run is that it decided nothing geographic, and therefore history has neglected it.  But, I feel we should look at it in a rather different light.  President Lincoln was always anxious for “his army” to be doing something, and that soon after his reelection he was looking for military success in the Eastern Theater. William Sherman left Atlanta for Savannah on 15 November; John B. Hood, who had invaded Tennessee with and army in September, was already as far north as Colombia on the march for Nashville, where George H. Thomas seemed to be slow to react. That Meade didn’t hazard his force in another abattoir was good, but still seemed indecisive.  It was in early December that Lincoln started seriously considering putting Ulysses S Grant in overall command of the armies, if only he could be certain that Grant had no political ambitions. That would be along directly.

Ideally, the jerky known on the American prairies was hard enough to sharpen and use as a weapon.

Now, jerky (the word originated in the Andes mountains) is a borrowing from the Andes that the Spanish discovered.  It is but one of many different varieties of salted meat that 19th century armies thrived on, but was much different than the tender snacks that many of us may see in stores these days. Originally, one “jerked” whatever meat was on hand by salting and dehydrating whatever meat was at hand; beef, pork, lamb, deer, kangaroo, opossum, alligator, even fish and earthworms–anything with a fat content.  Ideally, the jerky known on the American prairies was hard enough to sharpen and use as a weapon. Modern consumers would shy away from eating anything that tough, but the toughness preserved the meat, and the consumption made the eater salivate–important in the high desert mountains. Today’s featured image is likely bacon or material made to look like it (but it made you look this far) but in its original form jerky could have been used to make jewelry–and maybe it was, once or twice.

…an observance started by the Long Beach Jerky Company in 2016 to recognize the small-batch makers of real jerky, as distinct from the (overpriced) jerky-like commercial food that many consumers enjoy…

But 27 November is National Craft Jerky Day, an observance started by the Long Beach Jerky Company (you were expecting maybe IBM?) in 2016 to recognize the small-batch makers of real jerky, as distinct from the (overpriced) jerky-like commercial food that many consumers enjoy (but maybe not after they read this). The modern large-batch product is made from a fondant (a slurry or paste) of the desired base meat that is shaped, colored and flavored (by the time process-manufactured products get shaped, they may as well be sawdust), before it’s packaged. No open fires, sun racks or salting tubs here.

Jerky.com (no, really) advertises over a hundred different varieties of jerky from a simple “original” beef to a teriyaki venison, a maple wild boar, and an ahi tuna. 

Not so with the craft products (no, I don’t know anyone in the trade and I don’t eat it unless I’m desperate). The small-batch is done in a more traditional, if industrial and sanitary and higher-cost-per-unit, manner. Craft jerky is available in a blizzard of meats, rubs, spice selections and package choices; even low-salt. There’s one outfit called Jerky.com (no, really) that advertises over a hundred different varieties of jerky from a simple “original” beef to a teriyaki venison, a maple wild boar, and an ahi tuna.  Eh, different strokes for different folks.

…the term “Cyber Monday,” coined in 2005 by Ellen Davis of the National Retail Foundation, caught on quickly enough in the developed world and has spread.

Today, the Monday after Thanksgiving in the US, is Cyber Monday in, let’s see, Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Romania, South Korea, Portugal, Uganda, Germany, the UAE, Egypt, the Netherlands, Finland, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Japan and Argentina.  Do they all celebrate American Thanksgiving?  No, but the term “Cyber Monday,” coined in 2005 by Ellen Davis of the National Retail Foundation, caught on quickly enough in the developed world and has spread. It is said to be the biggest online shopping day of the year, just as Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is the biggest in-store retail day. While that trend may be changing, there’s no real need to wait until Cyber Monday to put the extra load on the delivery guys for your one delivery day: as you find it, buy it.  But that’s me.

Speaking of “Buy It”…my books make excellent gifts for the discerning reader.  There’s surely one for everyone on your list who can read.

 

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Tarawa Begins, National Absurdity Day, and Thanksgiving in America

And this is 20 November, four days before our Thanksgiving break.  Many of you will be out deer hunting, or stocking up for the in-laws and outlaws who will descend upon you in just three days.  But some of us will be recalling that Edward I “Longshanks,” fabled of song and story as the Hammer of the Scots, was proclaimed king on this day in 1272.  Also, in 1820, whaler Essex was sunk by a whale off Peru on this day; the forerunning theological seminary to Howard University was founded in Washington DC on 20 November 1866; Tom Horn, the guide that stalked Geronimo, was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming on 20 November 1903; in 1920, Woodrow Wilson became the second president to win a Nobel Peace Prize; and in 1947, Princess Elizabeth Windsor (later Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip Mountbatten (later Prince Consort and Duke of Windsor).  But today, we’re going to talk about undaunted courage, and absurdity.

After the fall of Guadalcanal in 1943, American planners had to consider which of many targets they were interested in securing. There were two strategic imperatives at that point:

  1. Returning to the Philippines because Douglas MacArthur said so;
  2. Establishing bases in the Marianas so that a blockade of the Japanese Home Islands could be implemented,

The two were geographically exclusive.  A third, tactical imperative to both, the isolation of Truk in the Carolines, could address both, and that meant the Gilbert islands.  Planners chose the small island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll as a target.

Using their mastery of camouflage and ingenuity at field fortification, the Japanese built a maze of bunkers with interlocking fields of fire using concrete, steel plate, green coconut logs and coral fill that were impervious to all but direct hits from naval gunfire.

Beito is literally a high spot in the ocean, two miles long, eight hundred yards wide, and less than fifteen feet above flood tide. Its principle redeeming feature in military terms is that it is the largest island in the Tarawa Atoll that forms a lagoon of a little less than 200 square miles–large enough for a small fleet to shelter.  The Japanese had been in the area since the spring of 1942, and had moved a Special Naval Landing Force unit (about a battalion in size) there, in addition to engineers and two thousand or so Japanese, Korean and Chinese laborers. A Special Base Defense Force unit of about 1,100 men rounded off the Japanese garrison.  There were also fourteen Japanese tanks and about fifty artillery pieces defending the island under Shibazaki Kenji, a Navy amphibious expert who boasted that “it would take a million men a hundred years” to conquer Tarawa.  While the total numbers of Japanese on Beito was modest (less than 10,000 total), their defences were not. Using their mastery of camouflage and ingenuity at field fortification, the Japanese built a maze of bunkers with interlocking fields of fire using concrete, steel plate, green coconut logs and coral fill that were impervious to all but direct hits from naval gunfire.  Short on fuel, the Japanese used their tanks as bunkers, burying several at the water’s edge.

V Amphibious Corps was slated for Operation GALVANIC, commencing landings on Betio on 20 November 1943, five days before Thanksgiving.

The 2nd Marine Division had been formed in February 1941, and two of its regiments had fought on Guadalcanal with the 1st Marine Division.  Elements of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division was assigned, with the 2nd Marine Division (commanded by Julian C. Smith) to form V Amphibious Corps under Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith.  V Amphibious Corps was slated for Operation GALVANIC, commencing landings on Betio on 20 November 1943, five days before Thanksgiving. Raymond Spruance commanded the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet at the time of the landings;  and Harry Hill commanded the amphibious task group.

One by one, Marines cobbled together ad hoc task groups to perform this mission or that one, clearing this much of one end of the island, knocking down a bunker complex, or just fighting for enough space to land supplies or evacuate wounded.

The Marine invasion was the first contested beach that both the Marine attackers and the Japanese defenders had faced, and as the Higgins boats grounded on the coral reef five hundred yards off the beach, the killing began.  Though the initial bombardment had destroyed some of the heavier guns, those that remained were enough to slaughter much of the first and second waves. One by one, Marines cobbled together ad hoc task groups to perform this mission or that one, clearing this much of one end of the island, knocking down a bunker complex, or just fighting for enough space to land supplies or evacuate wounded. Though the Japanese didn’t mount a major counterattack the first night, they managed to keep the Marines awake and bleeding strength.

23 November was a day of consolidation as the Marines developed a technique they would use time and again on Japanese bunker complexes called “corkscrew and blowtorch.”

More Marines managed to get ashore on 21 November, and yard by bloody yard they secured the western end of the island by nightfall.  23 November was a day of consolidation as the Marines developed a technique they would use time and again on Japanese bunker complexes called “corkscrew and blowtorch.”

  • An automatic weapons team, light howitzer or a tank would occupy the defenders, keeping their heads out of their vision slits.
  • A flamethrower team would get as close as they could to one bunker, dousing the defenders suddenly and completely.
  • Finally, engineers would rush the structure and plant explosives to blow in either an entrance or a vision slit, followed up by the flamethrower and more explosives.
  • If all of that didn’t work, bulldozers would bury the structure, defenders and all.

The Japanese managed to put together a final charge on the Marines on the night of the 23rd with perhaps 300 men; all are thought to have been killed. Fortunately for future American attackers, the Japanese had a tendency to die to the last man on their isolated island outposts, leaving no legacy of intelligence information for future samurai defenders.  By the time Beito was declared secure on 24 November, the day before Thanksgiving, there were fewer than 150 Japanese survivors, and more than a thousand Marines were dead.  The legacies of Tarawa are many: numerous legendary acts of courage and willing sacrifice; the discovery of a ‘minimum neap tide’ that oceanographers had never seen before that kept the tide over the reef low (that a New Zealander familiar with the area had warned the Marines of but was ignored); the realization that the Japanese were going to fight it out regardless of the odds–and so were the Marines.

OK, guys, let’s start our chat on National Absurdity Day with a definition or two:

Absurd, adjective 1. utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false: an absurd explanation.

Absurd, noun 2. the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.

Now, for most of us, these definitions are fairly simple, reasonable, and concise.  Regrettably, here lately, “absurd” has come to mean “that which I disagree with,” as in “Hillary Clinton belongs in jail,” or “Donald Trump openly colluded with the Russians to steal the 2016 election,” or “we should spend an outrageous volume of our wealth to keep global temperature means from rising 0.6 degrees by 2100,” or “either play the entertaining filler between beer commercials that you are paid an obscene amount of money to play, or protest with the rest of the whiners outside: just leave the fans and their advertisers out of it.” National Absurdity Day, November 20th every year, will no doubt share many of these and like sentiments around the Thanksgiving TV on Thursday.  And let’s not forget the ultimate absurdity as represented in today’s featured image: A fairly typical 26-year old American infantryman in 1943 (probably somewhere in Italy by his outfit), and a supposedly typical 26-year old American student in 2013, talking about health care (an infantilized child-man with cocoa and onesies promoting…what, again?).

Absurd?
I’ve got another word for it…

Yup, that’s absurd all right.

But it’s Thanksgiving on Thursday, a day set aside to celebrate the bounty that the hard work and sacrifice of so many has provided for us. Let’s all take a moment and think about what an extra day or two off means to those of us who get that much, and what working that day in whatever capacity also means.  Working or not, be thankful you live in a society that allows professional athletes to protest, or not, and also hope that our first-responders not get called to some emergency, somewhere, for one day, at least.

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Naval Battle of Guadalcanal begins and World Kindness Day

13 November…fall…winter right around the corner…Thanksgiving…Christmas…egad, where did the year go?  Well, mid-November is right around the corner, and every year on 13 November we recall the death of Malcolm III at Alinwick in 1093 (said to have been the model for Shakespeare’s Macbeth, who nonetheless was thought to have been real); the trial for treason of teenage Lady Jane Grey on 13 November 1553 (she had been queen of England for nine days that July); Benjamin Franklin writing “nothing…certain but death and taxes” in a letter penned on this day in 1789 (he was writing about the Constitution); Louis Brandeis was born on this day in 1856 in Louisville, Kentucky (the first adherent to the Jewish faith to be appointed to the Supreme Court); the first modern elastic brassier was patented on this day in 1913 (hardly the first, but said to be the biggest influence on the modern garment); the Holland Tunnel was opened on this day in 1927 (the first underwater double-tube road traffic tunnel in the world); and in 1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington DC (colloquially known as “the gash in the ground”).  But today, we’re going to talk about the beginning of a four-day running gunfight in the southwest Pacific, and kindness.

Daniel Callaghan had never fought a night battle before, whereas the next senior officer in the area, Norman Scott, had. But Callaghan was senior by three days, so command fell to him.

The “naval battle of Guadalcanal” has always had trouble with definition.  It started, by some lights, on 12 November 1942 and ran through 15 November.  Some American scholars have called it the third and fourth battle of Savo Island, while the Japanese have called it the third and fourth battle of the Solomon Sea. Regardless of what it was called, at about 01:25 on 13 November, a Japanese task force of two battleships, a light cruiser and eleven destroyers entered the sound south of Savo Island, intending to sweep away any American warships, destroy the newly-arrived transports off the beach and shell the American positions around Henderson Field. Thy were detected about 01:24 by American radar, but Daniel Callaghan, the task force commander in first contact, wasn’t informed because of communications difficulties.  Callaghan’s force of two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers and eight destroyers had no battle plan, and the ships with batter radar were not deployed in such a way that would take advantage of them.  Callaghan had never fought a night battle before, whereas the next senior officer in the area, Norman Scott, had. But Callaghan was senior by three days, so command fell to him.

Action 13 November
From Warfare Magazine

The two forces sighted each other a few moments apart sometime around 01:40, but Scott and his force were unprepared and uncoordinated for what followed. Japanese battleship Hiei and destroyer Akatsuki switched on searchlights, the shooting started, and the chaos ensued: one officer characterized it as “a barroom brawl after the lights had been shot out.”  At least six of the American vessels opened fire on on Akatsuki, which blew up and sank in a few minutes. Hiei also received close-range fire from destroyers too close for her to shoot back at.  The Japanese task force commander, Abe Hiroaki, was wounded and unable to command act decisively. Four Japanese ships, including both battleships, opened fire at Callaghan’s flagship, cruiser San Francisco, killing Callaghan and crippling American command and control for the rest of the night. San Francisco got free, but Hiei was also crippled by return fire.

Unable to improvise despite superior training and experience (not to mention Type 93 torpedoes), the samurai pulled out once again to find out how the plan failed.

In the confusion that followed, three more American destroyers, Laffey, Barton and Cushing, were sunk by gunfire and torpedoes.  Cruiser Atlanta was crippled by destroyers Nagara, Inazuma, Ikazuchi and Akatsuki, a torpedo hit setting Atlanta adriftSoon San Francisco fired on Atlanta, killing Scott and making the first naval battle for Guadalcanal the deadliest battle for US Navy flag officers, with one flagship killing another. Destroyer Amatsukaze was trying to finish off Atlanta and got clobbered by cruiser Helena.  Destroyers Aaron Ward and Sterett caught destroyer Yuudachi unawares and caused fatal damage.  Minutes later destroyer Sterett was caught by destroyer Teruzuki and damaged badly enough to have to pull out of the fight.  While this was going on, Aaron Ward got into a one-on-one tete-a-tete with battleship Kirishima which the American destroyer lost, but survived. Cruiser Portland, after helping sink Akatsuki, was hit by a torpedo from either Inazuma or Ikazuchi, knocking her out of the fighting, but not before she fired into Hiei.  Yuudachi and Amatsukaze hit cruiser Juneau with a torpedo while Juneau was exchanging fire with Yudachi.  Juneau stopped dead in the water and was out of the fight.  Destroyer Monssen was noticed by destroyers Asagumo, Murasame, and Samidare, which smothered Monssen with gunfire and causing fatal damage. Amatsukaze tried to finish off San Francisco and did not notice cruiser Helena, which fired into Amatsukaze, knocking her out of the action. Amatsukaze escaped while Helena was distracted by an attack by Asagumo, Murasame, and Samidare. This brutal fighting took about forty minutes, after which the Japanese could have proceeded on their way.  But the confusion and injuries took the fight out of Abe, who could not have known that the Americans had only one light cruiser and one destroyer left against one battleship, a light cruiser and eight functional destroyers.   Once again, not knowing how well they did and the enemy failing to act as they were supposed to, Abe and his fleet withdrew.  Unable to improvise despite superior training and experience (not to mention Type 93 torpedoes), the samurai pulled out once again to find out how the plan failed.  The American lodgement on Guadalcanal was reprieved.

…this phase of the fighting for the eastern Solomons was a strategic victory for the Americans, but a strategic catastrophe for the Japanese.

This spate of fighting went on for another three days and nights.  After daybreak on 13 November, Hiei was taken under tow by Kirishima, but Hiei sank north of Savo Island that night.  Yuudachi was dispatched by the crippled Portland.  The rest of the damaged survivors managed to get away. Over the next three days and nights the Japanese managed to bombard the beaches with a large cruiser force and fight their way into the transport area again, but ultimately the Japanese lost two battleships, a heavy cruiser, three destroyers and eleven transports to two American light cruisers and seven destroyers in five days. In real terms, this phase of the fighting for the eastern Solomons was a strategic victory for the Americans, but a strategic catastrophe for the Japanese. The Americans could repair their ships and replace their losses in a matter of months: the Japanese could never replace theirs, and repairs took resources that Japan simply didn’t have to spare.  While superior Japanese tactics, training and torpedoes won many battles, attrition, American numbers and innovation would eventually make the Japanese advantages of 1942 less important.

The World Kindness Movement called 13 November World Kindness Day in 1998. It’s officially observed in Canada, Japan, Australia , Nigeria, the United Arab Emirates, Singapore, Italy, India and the UK. Schools all across the Western Hemisphere mark the day with readings and random acts of kindness.  Many writers, humanists and others have written and spoken much about kindness in general, but Kurt Vonnegut, in his otherwise dismissable God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, quoted the title character as saying:

“God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.”  

This, for my money, is the definitive declaration by someone in a position to know something about cruelty: be kind, now.  Vonnegut’s first literary success was Slaughterhouse Five, a semi-autobiographical science fiction novel about WWII, time travel, and the nature of a reality that I believe Vonnegut wanted desperately to both alter forever and leave. He lived through the destruction of Dresden in WWII, and in one interview complained that he could still smell the burned bodies. As Vonnegut was digging bodies out of the wreckage of Dresden, an anonymous US Navy corpsman was preparing himself for the fighting on Okinawa, where he would be caught by Life Magazine photographer W. Eugene Smith rescuing a newborn from an abattoir, the lead photo for this essay. Kindness amid the horror.

Hopefully, by now, most of you will have at least visited JDBCOM.COM, and by now most of you have signed up for alerts for the updates, bought all the books advertises thereon, and have studiously studied every word I’ve written.  If not…what are you waiting for?

 

 

 

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Shenandoah Surrenders and National Saxophone Day

Remember, remember the Sixth of November…no, that rhyme is the fifth of November…Guy Fawkes Day was yesterday…sorry.

But the first week in November is when US elections are held every two years (four years for the chief executive).  Lincoln was elected the first time on 6 November in 1860; Jefferson Davis was also elected, ironically, a year later in 1861. The Japanese Emperor Tsuchimikado died in exile in Japan in 1231, the second emperor to abdicate in a row (it was a troubled time in Japan). Gustavus Adolphus was killed at Lutzen on this day in 1632, even as his Swedes won their last battle in the first phase of the Thirty Years’ War.  William McKinley won reelection as president in 1900; the Bolshevik phase of the Russian Revolution started in Petrograd in 1917; in 1950, the Chinese First Phase Offensive stopped at the Chongchon River in Korea; and in a final irony, on 6 November 1992, Boris Yeltsin outlawed the Communist Party in Russia.  But today, we’re going to talk about the last combat unit to surrender in the American Civil War, and about saxophones.

She should have had 109 officers and men, but left the Azores with barely half that.

Sea King was a British 1,018 ton iron-framed, teak-planked, full-rigged merchant sailing ship with auxiliary steam power launched in August 1863. After a year plying the Glasgow to Auckland route, she was sold to the Confederate States Navy in October 1864, renamed Shenandoah en route to Madeira, and was commissioned a 1,160 ton cruiser of eight guns on 19 October 1864 under the command of James Waddell, who had never had an independent command before.  She should have had 109 officers and men, but left the Azores with barely half that.

…at least three of the whalers that Waddell would destroy had been out since before Gettysburg, and were not going to be ready to return until after Appomattox: their economic value in war terms was zero.

Shenandoah’s mission was to attack Union shipping in waters that had yet to have been exploited, which to Waddell meant the Pacific.  On the way to the other side of the world, she took six ships in the Atlantic, burning six and bonding the last into Bahia with captives.  Well aware of the Confederacy’s diminishing fortunes, Waddell’s mission reflected Confederate strategy in 1864: to make the Union believe that continuing the war would not be worth the cost. But even if he were following that policy, he also had to be aware that it was not working, making his wanton destruction of the New England whaling fleet militarily pointless.  More than that, since the discovery of petroleum in Pennsylvania, it was also economically useless: the whalers wouldn’t have made much more for New England after their current voyage.  At least three of the whalers that Waddell would destroy had been out since before Gettysburg, and were not going to be ready to return until after Appomattox: their economic value in war terms was zero.  Finally, after Lincoln’s reelection in November 1864, Confederate leaders began to wonder if the war could be won on their terms: they had put much store in the potential of negotiating a European (territory-neutral) peace with McClellan.

Shenandoah took sixteen whalers before June, when Waddell learned that Lee had surrendered in April.

In January 1865 Shenandoah reached Melbourne in Australia in January 1865, where she had her bottom scraped, her larder filled with provisions, and signed on forty more men, while nineteen deserted. Proceeding north, Shenandoah took sixteen whalers before June, when Waddell learned that Lee had surrendered in April.  Undeterred, Shenandoah kept burning whalers until August, when a British ship showed Waddell newspapers announcing that both Joe Johnston and Edmund Smith had surrendered, and that Davis and his whole cabinet had been captured.

From the western coast of Mexico ten thousand miles to the river Mersey, Waddell and Shenandoah flew no flags, all the while being pursued by Union warships.

Waddell had something of a problem, in that much of his crew wasn’t even American-born.  After the death of Lincoln, he felt that any court in the United States would hang him and his men as pirates; his calculations about the minimal military value of his cruise was also probably on his mind.  Consequently, he decided to transform his vessel into an innocuous merchantman, store his guns belowdecks, and surrender to a third party. From the western coast of Mexico ten thousand miles to the river Mersey, Waddell and Shenandoah flew no flags, all the while being pursued by Union warships.  On 6 November 1865, Waddell surrendered his command to a British warship. Somewhat to Waddell’s surprise, he, his officers and crew were unconditionally paroled.  Shenandoah was eventually sold to the Sultan of Zanzibar, and she was wrecked in a storm in April 1872.

A decade later Sax patented what he is now best known for: the saxophone.

Today, 6 November, we also celebrate the birth of Adolphe Sax in Belgium in 1814 to a family of musical instrument makers. The younger Sax began experimenting with wind instrument designs at an early age, parenting a style of bass clarinet known as the saxhorn in 1836.  A decade later Sax patented what he is now best known for: the saxophone. While this signature instrument was a tremendous success it was also, like most instruments, a derivative of others. Sax spent the rest of his life defending his patents, and was eventually driven into penury, dying penniless in Paris in 1894.  On 6 November we honor Sax and his signature instruments, perhaps with a little Steely Dan:

Learn to work the saxophone
I play just what I feel
Drink Scotch whiskey all night long
And die behind the wheel
They got a name for the winners in the world
I want a name when I lose
They call Alabama the Crimson Tide
Call me Deacon Blues–Walter Becker, Donald Fagen  

 

 

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Martians Invade Earth and National Publicist Day

Sorry, LinkedIn readers. Another posting hiccup.

Yes, friends, it’s another 30 October, and yet another reminder that the year is winding to a close…ever so quickly…yet at the same rate as it always does.  Tomorrow’s Halloween already…where did the year go?

But, enough of that.  30 October marked the beginning of at least two king’s reign, for better or worse.  Henry VII of England was crowned on 30 October 1485; Gustav II Adolf (better known as Gustavus Adolphus) was named king of Sweden in 1611.  Also, John Adams was born in Massachusetts in 1735, and in 1775 the US Navy marked its beginning as a separate service–sort of: it was a congressional committee. PT Barnum’s circus began in New York City in 1873; the first practical ballpoint pen was patented in 1888; Clarence Birdseye sold his first frozen peas in 1952; and the Soviets launched Laika into orbit in 1957.  But today I’m talking about that first Martian invasion back in ’38, and about press flacks.

Next to newspapers, radio was the primary source of news and entertainment for millions around the world.

Back in the early days of mass commercial media, before news became entertainment, commercial radio was one of the favored media around, indeed, one of the most heavily used.  Next to newspapers (which often had more than one edition every day before the early 1960s), radio was the primary source of news and entertainment for millions around the world.  Orson Welles was a talented actor and producer of radio plays and dramas for the Mercury Theater on the Air, a CBS property that used Welles’ own Mercury Theater performers to create dramatizations of well-known literary works.  The 30 October 1938 broadcast was an adaptation of HG Wells’s 1898 War of the Worlds. In keeping with his earlier programs, Welles’ latter-day version localized the scene, moving it from Victorian England to an unassuming unincorporated village in New Jersey called Grover’s Mill.  The entire hour-long program was played out as if it were late-breaking news, in the same way as The March of Time and several other programs had been doing for years.

A few listeners far removed from New York and New Jersey got the idea that the tripods really were emerging from a crater in Mercer County, New Jersey.

Mercury Theater was not the most popular program in the radio; in that time slot the Edgar Bergen and Charlie McCarthy program was more popular in the US.  But some people did listen to it–or at least parts of it.  A few listeners far removed from New York and New Jersey got the idea that the tripods really were emerging from a crater in Mercer County, New Jersey. A 19-year old waitress and her customers in Jacksonville, Illinois heard a large enough piece of the program to panic, if only briefly. Others around the US and Canada also heard just enough to miss the numerous cues that it was a radio play.

…some heard the program as far away as Scotland, and thought perhaps it was Germany attacking America.  Others in the US briefly felt the same thing: Germany or Japan was attacking with new and exotic weapons.

No other radio station was carrying this “news,” and that was the biggest brake on any widespread panic in the US.  But some heard the program as far away as Scotland, and thought perhaps it was Germany attacking America.  Others in the US briefly thought the same thing: Germany or Japan was attacking with new and exotic weapons. It may be useful to recall that the late 1930s was a time of increased international tensions: Germany had just annexed not only Austria but Czechoslovakia, and Japan was in a brutal war with China. Many people simply expected another world war to break out at any moment, and in less than a year Europe would be at war once again.  But the number of people who believed that this broadcast had any touch with reality in 1938 was very small: the CBS share of the audience for that time and date was likely less than  two million people, and the number who might have casually stopped on a CBS station at exactly the right moments to hear only the action and not one of the four disclaimers interspersed in the program was probably negligible.

WOTW-NYT-headline
New York Times Front Page, 31 October 1938.

After the program there was a general outcry about this early instance of “fake news” that enraged and (briefly) frightened some people in authority enough to start investigations of the “thousands” of casualties caused by accidents, suicides, murders, and other reported events, including a supposed panic in Jersey City that trampled the mayor.  Even though the New York Times reported “RADIO LISTENERS IN PANIC,” real evidence for these calamities is thin approaching non-existent.  Ultimately, the biggest casualty of the non-hoax–it was an entertainment after all–was the New York Police officers who mobbed the CBS studio that night, responding to alleged “reports” of calamity all over.  The main beneficiary of all the hubbub was 21-year old Orson Welles who, it could be said, came to believe that no publicity is bad publicity.

The PR racket has very little instant gratification, and at times no gratification at all.

National Publicist Day–30 October–is a day for publicists to come out from behind the scenes where they are always working (even behind their eyelids) and be appreciated for all they do to improve business communications with the public. The PR racket has very little instant gratification, and at times no gratification at all.  Public relations has a love/hate relationship with users, practitioners and the occasional communications professional compelled by circumstances to collaborate in creating their products. Having had small parts in PR product production in the past, I can sympathize…a little.  But the real abusers of the PR flack’s role are such adept obfuscators that it is difficult to sympathize with them when they grouse about the little gratitude they get.

When asked how this tragic news was to be handled, Ivy Lee simply told them that they should tell the truth, and in so doing they could control the narrative–“spin” in the modern vernacular–before anyone else could muddy the waters.

As we know it today, public relations had an abrupt and gory beginning. On 28 October 1906, fifty-three people were killed when a West Jersey and Seashore Railroad train fell off a swing bridge in Atlantic City, New Jersey and plunged into Thoroughfare Creek separating Atlantic City and the rest of New Jersey.  The West Jersey and Seashore Railroad was owned by the Pennsylvania Railroad, which employed the third public relations firm in the US, Parker and Lee.  When asked how this tragic news was to be handled, Ivy Lee simply told them that they should tell the truth, and in so doing they could control the narrative–“spin” in the modern vernacular–before anyone else could muddy the waters.  Lee wrote the very first press release that afternoon.  He also convinced the Penn to provide a special train to take reporters to the scene.  On 30 October 1906, the New York Times was so impressed with this innovative approach to corporate communications that it printed Lee’s press release verbatim, as a “Statement from the Road.” Lee has been called the Father of Modern PR ever since.  PR firm Apartment Seven suggested National Publicist Day in 2015.

For some reason, that early PR guy’s name has been lost to history.

You know, of course, that Moses had a PR man.  Yes, indeed.  When Moses came to the Red Sea he summoned his press flack, asking what he should do.  The scribe didn’t falter. “Well, boss,” he said with a grin, “tell ya what. Raise your staff like this, then spread your arms out like this.  And the sea should part and we’ll just go over there.  And if it works, I’ll get you at least three pages in the Old Testament.” For some reason, that early PR guy’s name has been lost to history.

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