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George Kenny, Hiroshima, and National Root Beer Float Day

So, August already. Still “dog days” as we march through summer–half-gone now, alas. But there’s still at least two months of good weather in the Great Lakes for whatever outdoor activities float your boat–or float, as the young lady above shows us. Is there enough pool behind her for that big thing?

So, 6 August is notable for a lot of things–more than we’re going to talk about, but first, on this day in 1181 a supernova was observed in China and Japan; this is now known as SN 1181, one of only six visible to the naked eye, and one of those notable events that let us date other events that happened around the same time: history markers, some call them. Also on this day in 1819 Norwich University was founded in Vermont as the first private military school in the US; the school still exists and offered one of only two online military history MA programs around in 2008 (I almost went there).  On 6 August 1862, the Confederate ironclad ram Arkansas was blown up to prevent its capture after an operational life of just under four months; on 15 July she had steamed through the Union fleet above Vicksburg but damaged her engines near Baton Rouge. Also on this day in 1997, it is said, the World Wide Web began when Tim Berners-Lee released his description of it; hypertext markup language (HTML) followed in 1993, making it easier on everyone to create stuff like this doggerel that you see here every week (thanks to those of you who do). Today is also National Fresh Breath Day, and National Wiggle Your Toes day–exactly how those two coordinate is up to you, dear reader. But today I’m talking about the boss of all things in Army aviation in the Pacific in WWII, about the perpetual mythology that is Hiroshima, and soft drinks with ice cream. I swear.

Kenney won both a Silver Star and a Distinguished Service Cross for his service with the AEF, and his aerial gunners were credited with shooting down two German planes.

George Churchill Kenny was born in Nova Scotia on 6 August 1889 while his parents were vacationing there from Boston. Trained as a civil engineer, Kenny joined the US Army as an aviation cadet two months before his 28th birthday–long in the tooth for a first-time military flyer at any time, but in 1917 it was extraordinary. Kenny was commissioned as a 1st Lieutenant in the Army Reserves in November and was sent to France, where he flew reconnaissance ships for the rest of the war. Because he crashed on his first operational flight, he was dubbed “Bust ’em Up George,” a nickname that stuck for the rest of his career. Nonetheless, Kenney won both a Silver Star and a Distinguished Service Cross for his service with the AEF, and his aerial gunners were credited with shooting down two German planes.

In January 1941 Kenny got his first star; in March 1942, his second, and the command of the Fifth Air Force, then in Australia, in July 1942. 

After he returned from France, Kenney applied for and got a Regular Army commission as a captain in 1920. His first wife died of complications of childbirth in 1922, but Army aviators are nothing if not flexible: he married the neighbor he hired as a nurse for his son in 1923. Kenny, meantime, proceeded through the ranks and schools of the 1920s Army Air Service, attending the Air Corps Tactical School in Virginia, the Command and General Staff School in Missouri, and the War College in Washington D.C., where he worked on War Plan Orange–the contingency plans for war with Japan. In 1939, as air attache to the Paris embassy, Kenny wrote reports that got the standard weapon calibers for aircraft machine guns to 0.50 and wrote scathing (if accurate) comparative reviews of Luftwaffe operations to those of the US air services in the early stages of the war that got him sent home. In January 1941 Kenny got his first star; in March 1942, his second, and the command of the Fifth Air Force, then in Australia, in July 1942.

The destruction of a Japanese convoy resupplying New Guinea in March 1943 known as the battle of the Bismarck Sea was largely at Kenny’s direction.

Working for Douglas MacArthur, however, was a delicate dance between actually working for the glory of the Boss or to defeat the Japanese. As the commander of everything with Army wings (US, Australian, some New Zealand and British), Kenny could affect air operations only with tact and, frankly, a certain genius for operating an air force on a shoestring. He personally instructed flyers in taking off out of muddy ruts called airstrips, sent scores of ineffective and inefficient officers home, disagreed with MacArthur on many occasions and sparred with his staff much more. Still, the destruction of a Japanese convoy resupplying New Guinea in March 1943 known as the battle of the Bismarck Sea was largely at Kenny’s direction.

Kenny is not as well remembered as those around him, but he was one of many examples of the worker bees who made air power possible, even if their efforts were often eclipsed by others.

When the B-29 Superfortresses started to become available, Kenny lobbied hard to get them based in Australia so they could bomb the oil fields of Indonesia. Kenny was one reason why his old friend HH Arnold, then the boss of the entire Army Air Force, kept control of the long-range bombers to himself. Strategic bombardment did not fare well in the Pacific with the Liberators and Flying Fortresses that Kenny had on hand because of the distances involved, and because of the tremendous logistical load that those aircraft needed to operate. While Kenny struggled with using the heavy bombers in his command effectively, he turned everything he could into ground support or shipping attack planes, with deadly effect. After the war, Kenny was the boss of SAC for a time, then as commandant of the Air University until his retirement in 1951. George Kenny died three days after his 88th birthday in 1977. Kenny is not as well remembered as those around him, but he was one of many examples of the worker bees who made air power possible, even if their efforts were often eclipsed by others.


Other than the shock and horror of a city going up in flames in an instant, the official Japanese reaction to the first atomic bombing amounted to…nothing.

Now, of course, every blogger who writes about military history on 6 August will be expected to write about Hiroshima. Well, this one is writing around it. Yes, we all can recite the facts of the first atomic bombings, and we can all argue ad infinitum as to whether it was “justified” based on the state of the war and all that. But today I’m going to write about the official Japanese response to it…not something anyone likes to talk about a great deal. That’s because, other than the shock and horror of a city going up in flames in an instant, the official Japanese reaction to the first atomic bombing amounted to…nothing.

http://www.wikiwand.com/en/Bushido
Musashi Miyamoto slaying a dragon. In 1945, this is still how the samurai saw themselves.

By August 1945, two months after the fall of Okinawa was acknowledged by Japan’s military government–the bakufu–the cloud of fatalism that had always been hovering overhead covered Japanese policy completely. Even as they prepared for the final battles for the empire, the prevailing attitudes about these new terrible weapons were the same as they were about everything else in the Allied panoply–Japan’s fate was in the hands of the gods; the logical consequence for Japan’s failure to become resource-independent was its annihilation. The bombings, for them, were just faster and more painful ways to die. They had not figured out that the state that they ran was predominantly not made of warriors who shared their ethos–but they didn’t care. Their view of a modern state hadn’t evolved since the Tokugawas.

Japan would continue to fight, but the samurai had no hope whatsoever of defeating the coming invasions, making the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings not only tragic but little more than ghastly punctuations.

While there had been an undercurrent in Japan’s planning of making the war seem too costly for the American in blood and treasure s up through 1944, after Pelielu that policy/attitude collapsed. There were vestiges of it as late as the Ten-Go death ride of the IJN in April 1945, and in the early stages of the Tokko offensive off Okinawa, but by June fatalism had sunk in. Japan would continue to fight, but the samurai had no hope whatsoever of defeating the coming invasions, making the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings not only tragic but as little more than ghastly punctuations.

All this, of course, is detailed in our upcoming book Why the Samurai Lost Japan that we expect to publish at the end of this year. Follow our blog at HTTPS://jdbcom.com.


And today is National Root Beer Float Day for reasons surpassing understanding. The root beer float was invented, it is said, as a Black Cow in Cripple Creek, Colorado.  Frank J. Wisner is credited with its invention, originally named and inspired for snow-capped Cow Mountain one moonlit night in August of 1893. Wisner’s Cripple Creek Cow Mountain Gold Mining Company was producing a line of soda waters for local consumption but hit upon a scoop of vanilla ice cream in the local root beer,  Myers Avenue Red Root Beer. Wisner named it “Black Cow Mountain” but the locals shortened it to “Black Cow.” And for the next century and more, folks have been adding ice cream to other beverages, from colas and ginger ales to beer, vodka (really) and even bourbon (urp!). There have been adeptes of the confection dolloping ice creams into wine, champagne, saki and even coffee from time to time. When the National Day started is lost in the annals of time.

Traditionally, a “float” is ice cream in anything cold, but since iced coffee is now not just weird but, at some locations, expensive, it has increased in popularity. Since the flavor of anything can be chemically created without a scintilla of the original ingredients even being in the same zip code, truly obsessed fans of root beer floats can sometimes find Oreo cookies with that flavor. No, really. 

But as far as I’m concerned, the “root beer float” the lovely young lady is modeling up on top is as close as I ever need to come. Ice cream doesn’t do it for me much, and my rare root beer I prefer to be unadulterated.

Yeah, I’m weird. So what?

 

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