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Iwo Jima and President’s Day

And so, here we are in mid-February. doubtless cold and wet in the Great Lakes. If we had a nickel for every snowstorm in February…lots of nickels. Every February day I don’t have to haul out the snowblower’s a good day…

But this is 19 February, when we celebrate the birth of Copernicus in 1473 (remember him, the guy who said that the Earth was not the center of the universe?). And we remember the non-promotion of Benedict Arnold on 19 February 1777: he was so mad he was willing to sell out the country.  Also, on 19 February 1861, Tsar Alexander II of Russia freed the serfs: unlike slavery in the US, the practice wasn’t universal in Russia. Edison patented his phonograph on this day in 1878. And Cuban strongman FIdel Castro resigned his offices on this day in 2008. But today we talk about high spots in the ocean, and Monday holidays.

That made Iwo a problem, especially for the Army Air Force’s B-29s based in the Marianas.

The Volcano Islands, just south of the Bonins, were the first overseas acquisition for the Empire of Japan when they were annexed in 1891. No one else really wanted them, so no one minded, at the time. But by 1944 they were a bastion for the Home Islands as the Americans moved inexorably towards Japan. Iwo Jima, the flattest of the island group, had the beginnings of three airfields on it by the end of 1944. That made Iow a problem, especially for the Army Air Force’s B-29s based in the Marianas.

The Japanese rarely tried to pursue the big Superforts over the water.

But HH “Hap” Arnold, commanding the US Army Air Forces, didn’t like the idea that the Japanese could use Iwo to attack his bombers on their way to Japan. As unpleasant a prospect as it was, he couldn’t show that any of his airplanes had been shot down by Iwo-based fighters. Then Arnold got the idea that he could base fighters on Iwo to “escort” the bombers, and maybe crippled B-29s could use it as an emergency airfield. All of which was true, but “escorting” B-29s wasn’t practical. The Japanese weren’t real good at intercepting B-29s over Japan, and the way fighter “escort” worked that late in the war was more like “be at this map grid at this time when the bombers are expected to be there.” The Japanese rarely tried to pursue the big Superforts over the water.

200px-Iwo_jima_location_mapSagredo

As the map shows, Iwo is in a direct line between the Mariana Islands and Japan. Now, the airfields weren’t a problem for anyone other than the B-29s, and that a minor irritant in the long run. But the Marines had three divisions rebuilding in Hawaii that formed V Amphibious Corps, and the Army was scrambling for as many men as they could get for their Philippine campaign. On that basis, Arnold convinced the Marines that using the otherwise idle Marines to take Iwo would save them from Douglas MacArthur’s clutches.

The Marines have used Iwo Jima as a case study of their worth ever since.

Nonetheless, eventually, Arnold sold the Iwo Jima project to everyone he needed to, and the Marines stormed ashore on 19 February 1945. The savage fighting lasted until mid-March, and resulted in nearly 7,000 Marine and over 17,000 Japanese dead. The Marines have used Iwo Jima as a case study of their worth ever since. But later scholars have asked:

  • How many “escort” missions were conducted from Iwo? Answer–three (1191 sorties), and all lost more fighters than bombers due to the fighter’s lack of over-water navigational aids that they were too small to accomodate. The effort was soon abandoned.
  • How many B-29 crewmen were saved by using Iwo for emergency landings? Answer–About 5,000, give or take. At least half of the subsequent emergency landings were of convenience, not dire emergency.
  • Given those two answers, does that mean that the 7,000 Marines who died were worth less than the 5,000 or so Army air crewmen saved? And herein lies the controversy.

This dispute brewed up in the 21st century between scholars of the Pacific War, and pointed out that not all operations there were without debatable results. My book, Tug of War: The Super-Heavy Bomber and the Invention of Strategic Warfare (tentatively,  sometime in 2019) discusses the nascent theories of “strategic bombardment” and the struggle of Arnold and others to bring them into practice.


And today is Presidents’ Day/Washington’s Birthday, observed in the US as an alternative to Lincoln’s and Washington’s Birthday since the late 1980s, depending on where you are and who you ask. It’s the federal holiday (my wife the banker doesn’t work and there’s no mail) in observance. But, as the image at the top implies, it’s also an excuse for businesses to hold sales, as if they need one. The lass in question is shilling for some California resort’s Presidents’ Day Weekend. Although she’s pretty, I’m not sure that old George would have approved of her use of the flag. I mean, seriously: standing on a boat crossing the Delaware with a flag that wouldn’t be invented for another two years is one thing, but she’s much too scantily clad for New Jersey in December. She’d catch her death. Drape one of those over her shoulders…

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The Last Emperor of China and Lincoln’s Birthday

OK, everyone: mid-February and the world, as of mid-December when this is written, is still turning. And both Francisco Franco and Richard Nixon are still dead. And that gag is still pretty…silly.

But 12 February has a lot going on. On this day in 1553 Lady Jane Grey, the Nine-Days’ Queen of England, was beheaded in the Tower of London, no older than 17: her crime was being named in the succession by Edward VI on his deathbed, while Mary, daughter of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon, yet lived. Also on this day, in 1862, the fighting for Fort Donelson on the Cumberland River in Tennessee began: when it was over, Ulysses S. Grant was a sensation, some 15,000 Confederates were taken prisoner, East Tennessee was open to invasion by the Union, and the stage was set for the titanic fight in the Tennessee pine barrens near a Quaker meeting house called Shiloh (which you can read all about in The Devil’s Own Day). Omar Bradley, the “GI General” of WWII fame and the last five-star flag officer in the United States, was born in Clark, Missouri on 12 February 1893. And the second Monday in February is National Clean Out your Computer Day, and 12 February is National Bread Pudding Day (for whatever reason). But today we’re talking about the rather hapless Pu Yi, the last Emperor of China, and about Old Abe…sort of.

His Confucian education taught him nothing of the outside world, of mathematics or business, science or even geography. 

Pu Yi, (or Puyi or any one of a score of different names) became the Xuantong Emperor of China on 14 November 1908, two months before his third birthday.  Only his wet nurse, Wang Wen-Chao, was allowed to accompany the toddler to the Imperial Palace in the Forbidden City. As Emperor the boy loved to have his eunuchs flogged for no other reason than they were available. His Confucian education taught him nothing of the outside world, of mathematics or business, science or even geography.

His generosity attracted the attention of the Japanese, who became interested in Pu Yi as a possible pawn in their game of power politics in East Asia.

But change was coming to China. In October 1911 the army garrison at Wuhan mutinied, beginning the Xinhai Revolution. As the unrest spread to Peking and public opinion turned decidedly against the Qing dynasty, he was handed an instrument of abdication on 12 February 1912,  three days after his sixth birthday. The boy was kept as something of a pet, still served by a household agency in the Forbidden City, but he had no temporal power beyond his imperial apartments. He was restored to the throne for twelve days by a warlord in 1917 but was removed by another. In 1923, after the Great Kanto Earthquake devastated Tokyo and other cities, he donated some of his treasures to pay for disaster relief. His generosity attracted the attention of the Japanese, who became interested in Pu Yi as a possible pawn in their game of power politics in East Asia.

From the time he was ejected from the Forbidden City in 1923 until 1945, Pu Yi was a puppet of Imperial Japan.

Even though he had no real power, Pu Yi had been treated as an Emperor Emeritus of sorts since his abdication, but in 1923 another strongman took over Peking and abolished his titles and his household, and reduced him to a private citizen. He was expelled from the Forbidden City, fled to the Japanese Embassy, and thence to the Japanese concession in Tientsin. From the time he was ejected from the Forbidden City until 1945, Pu Yi was a ward/puppet of Imperial Japan.


 

Litho of a younger Lincoln
Looks much younger here than he would later as president.

And today, on 12 February, we recognize the birth of the 16th US president, Abraham Lincoln–or at least some of us do, like Connecticut, Illinois, Ohio and New York. But on last Indigenous People’s Day (9 October), some students at UW Madison got themselves together to protest the statue of Lincoln at Bascom Hall because:

 Everyone thinks of Lincoln as the…freer of slaves, but let’s be real: He owned slaves, and…he ordered the execution of native men….

I’m going to guess this one’s a “studies” scholar of some sort or another and not a history major. But, in 2017 at Madison, it’s hard to tell. The organization which led the protest, called Wunk Sheek, which says they “[serve] students of indigenous identity” on campus, covered the offending Lincoln bust with a black tarp briefly, made their speeches, doubtless did their drum-circle thing for the cameras, and left.

No evidence has ever actually surfaced of Lincoln’s ownership of slaves, though it must be conceded that his wife’s family were slaveholders.

As we all know now, because Lincoln didn’t issue his emancipation at his first inaugural, he absolutely, positively had to have owned slaves because…well, he just did. Case closed.  Arguments to the contrary will not be heard. The “Lincoln owned slaves” fantasy has been around for so long that it has become some sort of received wisdom. It likely has to do with Lincoln’s lawyerly care in eliminating the practice of slavery in the United States because he knew that, legally, whatever he did had to survive him. An outright emancipation was legally impossible, and nearly everyone at the time knew it. Only generations later did critics conclude that Lincoln simply had to have owned slaves because he moved so slowly in the emancipation. No evidence has ever actually surfaced of Lincoln’s ownership of slaves, though it must be conceded that his wife’s family were slaveholders.

When told that more hangings would have earned him more votes in the next election, Lincoln replied “I could not afford to hang men for votes.” Yup, pretty heartless.

Lincoln also heartlessly ordered the execution of 32 Dakotas in Mankato, Minnesota on 26 December 1862, for their roles in a peaceful eastern Sioux/Dakota demonstration that left some 800 Euro-Caucasian invaders of their ancient land…well, un-alive…in an event that the white-privileged history establishment calls the Sioux War of 1862. Well…no to the “ordered the execution,” trope, too. There were originally 303 of the Sioux leaders of the 1861-62 Sioux Uprising who were condemned to death by courts-martial and tribunals (it was in the middle of a civil war), but Lincoln commuted 264 of the sentences, and one was reprieved for other reasons. The remaining 32 were executed, but not on Lincoln’s express order.  When told that more hangings would have earned him more votes in the next election, Lincoln replied: “I could not afford to hang men for votes.” Yup, pretty heartless.

Now, officially, President’s Day will be next Monday, the Monday between Lincoln’s and Washington’s birthday. See you then. Stop by JDBCOM.COM some time.

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Manila 1945 and National Shower with a Friend Day

OK, so, here we go: 5 February and winter’s half-done in the Great Lakes. Still, we’ll get more snow, more ice, more bone-chilling cold. But I’m hoping by now we’ll have our new furnace (writing this in December, and the contract is to have it done in some “slack period” in January or February). But, other than that…

Our calendar for 5 January is pretty full, starting with the birth of the Sanjo Emperor of Japan in 976 AD; the Sanjo had five wives and seven children before his death in 1017, a most prolific fellow. On 5 February 1663 came the Charlevoix earthquake in modern Quebec: a 7.3-7.9 (calculated Richter) shock that knocked down chimneys as far away as Roxbury, Massachusetts, and leveled a waterfall on the St. Maurice River. And on this day in 1784, the mother of a future president, Nancy Hanks Lincoln, was born is what is now Mineral County, West Virginia. And on 5 February 1869, two miners in Australia found a two-hundred-plus pound gold nugget called “Welcome Stranger:” as of this morning, it would have been worth $3.8 million. The last of the American Punitive Expedition left Mexico on this day in 1917, barely a month before America would go to war with Germany. And speaking of leaving, the last Soviets left Afghanistan on this day in 1989, after a decade of indecisive and costly fighting, they left behind a state on the brink of collapse. Also, today is National Weatherperson’s Day, the day of John Jeffries’s birth in Boston on 5 February 1745, celebrated as the first meteorologist. But today we’re talking about Manila in 1945, and about saving water and time with friends.

This was another case where dedicated samurai warriors were defying orders for reasons they could justify in the name of gekokujo, and thousands would die for it.

After Walter Krueger’s Sixth US Army landed at Lingayen Gulf on 9 January 1945, the American forces met fairly light resistance from Yamashita Tomoyuki’s defenders. But, when Joseph Swing’s 11th Airborne Division reached Manila on 3 February, Iwabuchi Sanji’s 31st Naval Special Base Force 12,500 men were digging in to make a fight of it, augmented by 4,500 soldiers under Katsuzo Noguchi, despite Yamashita’s orders to evacuate the city. This was another case where dedicated samurai warriors were defying orders for reasons they could justify in the name of gekokujo, and thousands would die for it.

In the way that the Japanese armed forces were so severely divided between Army and Navy, Iwabuchi’s sailors and SNLF troops weren’t Yamashita’s to command. So was born the ghastly fight for Manila.

To be clear, the Japanese high command by early 1945 was committed not to stopping the Allied advances in the Pacific and in Burma–they knew they lacked the power for that. What they were hoping for was to make their remaining holdings look too costly to seize by creating as many Allied casualties as they could. Yamashita, concerned about feeding the million or so Philippine civilians trapped in Manila over a siege, was trying to conserve his resources for battles in the interior. But, arguably, in the way that the Japanese armed forces were so severely divided between Army and Navy, Iwabuchi’s sailors and SNLF troops weren’t Yamashita’s to command. So was born the ghastly fight for Manila.

There’s a certain sense of tragedy about the battle of Manila: tragedy because it was all quite pointless, and primarily to stroke Douglas MacArthur’s ego.

The gunfight actually started on 3 February and lasted until 5 March. On 5 February, Douglas MacArthur entered the city behind a spearhead of the 37th Infantry Division, declaring Manila to be “liberated,” when in fact the battle had only just begun.  There would be over 16,000 Japanese casualties before it was done, in addition to as many as a quarter million Filipinos and some 6,000 Americans. There’s a certain sense of tragedy about the battle of Manila: tragedy because it was all quite pointless, and primarily to stroke Douglas MacArthur’s ego. Bypassing Manila was not out of the (military) question, as Krueger argued later, but MacArthur simply had to have his victory parade.


Now, National Shower with a Friend Day was registered in 2014 by New Wave Enviro, a Colorado-based manufacturer of durable water bottles and food storage products. This much is known, but I can recall showering with…well, associates, anyway, like this:

Ad for Bradley Group Showers
Showers with Freinds, ca 1960. Don’t tell me you never did something like it…

In the school gym, in the barracks, in a public pool.  Sure, I did something like this a lot in my younger, school and Army days. Now, there’s a different kind that you filthy-minded voyeurs were thinking of…

Shower with a different kind of freind
There’s the different kind of “shower with a friend” that you know you have fantasized about more than have actually done…

But even the more adventurous among us haven’t found too many showering facilities big enough to accommodate two consenting adults, despite what the movies show. Still, did it maybe twice, with consenting persons of the opposite sex. It wasn’t like the movies, as I recall (these events were during the Carter or first Reagan administrations and we were both far more limber), but crowded, and harder for her to wash her hair properly with another body in the way. Still, our backs did get cleaner than usual, as I recall.

But the point of National Shower With a Friend Day isn’t to provide titillation or romance (which it really wasn’t), but to conserve water. Ultimately, I’m not sure how it could do that, simply because you end up running the water longer for two people, or more, like the lead picture shows, which is I believe more for cooling off than for washing up…but it got you down this far, didn’t it?  It does save a little time, though.

Meanwhile, as you read this there shall be one more update on Why the Samurai Lost. Yes, it moves right along, but we’re going to publish entirely ourselves, my co-author Lee Rochwerger and I. JDB Communications, LLC will be the publisher. Follow us at JDBCOM.COM for further developments.

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Rennell Island and National Puzzle Day

Ah, another January comes to an end, and the snow piles up outside…maybe here, maybe where you are. But that minor inconvenience shall not forestall us until it collapses the roof.

And so…29 January, known for the birth of Tom Paine, author of Common Sense, in England in 1737,  and for the birth of “Light Horse” Harry Lee, the father of Robert E Lee and Revolutionary War cavalryman, in Virginia in 1756.  King George III of England, poor mad soul, finally gave up the ghost on this day in 1820. Seth Thomas, pioneer of the mass production of clocks in the United States, died on this day in Connecticut in 1859. The battle of Spion Kop began on this day in 1900 in the Natal region of southern Africa, pitting the Boers against the British that ended in British disaster. In the US, the Seeing Eye Dog organization was formed on 29 January 1929. And on 29 January 1991 the battle of Khafji in Saudi Arabia began, a two-day gunfight that was the culmination of the air war against Iraq, and a demonstration of the capabilities of the Saudis in the coalition. Too, today is Library Shelfie Day (you’re supposed to take pictures of your library shelves…umm…), and National Corn Chip Day (I usually don’t indulge, so you go ahead), and Bubble Wrap Appreciation Day (pop it, wear it, eat it, or use it for packing material, whatever).  But today we’re back to Guadalcanal, and puzzles.

Halsey misinterpreted the preliminary Japanese move as an attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal, and sent Task Force 16 to bolster TF 18. Fortunately for later events, the carriers of TF-16 were left behind.

By January 1943, it was pretty clear to even the most die-hard Japanese that holding onto Guadalcanal was not only impractical but becoming impossible. Growing American naval and air strength would soon destroy the Japanese forces in the area. To facilitate evacuating their land forces from the southern side of Guadalcanal, Yamamoto Isoroku and Jinichi Kusaka implemented Operation Ke, to brush back Task Force 18, the heavy American surface forces operating in the triangle formed by Guadalcanal, Rennell Island and San Cristobal island under Robert C. Giffen. William Halsey, commanding all the American forces in the area, misinterpreted the preliminary Japanese move as an attempt to reinforce Guadalcanal, and sent Task Force 16, with USS Enterprise (CV-6) and three other flattops, to bolster TF 18. Fortunately for later events, the carriers were left behind.

Battle of Rennell Island
From Warfare History Network

For a military organization that had no doctrine for withdrawals of any kind, the Japanese plan for the Guadalcanal pullout was pretty good.

The Japanese may have been somewhat myopic about the Americans in the Solomons in the late summer of 1942, but by January 1943 they had the right idea,  They reasoned that the Americans couldn’t be strong everywhere all the time, so they planned to overwhelm TF 18 with air attacks around Rennell Island, compelling at least a temporary withdrawal from Guadalcanal so that a fast destroyer convoy could get in and out. For a military organization that had no doctrine for withdrawals of any kind, the Japanese plan for the Guadalcanal pullout was pretty good.

Chicago came to a dead stop but Wichita managed to keep moving. Louisville  took Chicago under tow, escorted by the rest of TF 18.

As the sun set on 29 January, TF 18 radars picked up a number of unidentified aircraft inbound from the north–30-odd torpedo bombers of the Japanese 701st and 705th Air Groups out of Rabaul and Bougainville. Circling around to the east so as to attack out of the gathering night gloom, the first group launched its torpedoes at 19:19 hours but all missed, losing one airplane to antiaircraft fire. A second attack at 19:38 was more successful, putting two torpedoes into USS Chicago (CA-29), a recently-returned-to-the-fleet survivor of the earlier battles around Savo Island six months before, and two into USS Wichita (CA-45), the TF flagship, but only one exploded while losing two more aircraft. Chicago came to a dead stop, but Wichita managed to keep moving. USS Louisville (CA-28) took Chicago under tow, escorted by the rest of TF 18. The last Japanese attacker left the area just before midnight. The next day the Japanese, determined to sink crippled Chicago, attacked again and again, finally putting four more torpedoes into her, and she was abandoned: she sank some 20 minutes later. The Japanese also heavily damaged USS La Vallette (DD-448), which had shot down at least six Japanese aircraft during the two-day fight–all the more remarkable because it was the first time La Vallette had fired her guns in anger.

Later, Japan would have neither the aircraft nor the air crews that could have attacked at night, and the Americans would have had enough ships to have replaced TF 18 more swiftly.

Losses were relatively light. Despite the loss of Chicago the Americans lost only 85 men, while the Japanese lost 12 aircraft and about 80 fliers. While the results of the fight were less than remarkable from a win/loss standpoint, the loss of Chicago and effective loss of Wichita and La Vallette compelled TF 18 to pull out of the area, allowing the Japanese to complete their evacuation of Guadalcanal. As naval battles go RUssell Island wasn’t much of one, but it is an excellent example of how, given the resources and the compelling need, the Japanese could still pull off an operation in the face of American opposition at this stage in the war. Later, however, Japan would have neither the aircraft nor the air crews that could have attacked at night at that range, and the Americans would have had enough ships to have replaced TF 18 more swiftly.


Today, 29 January, is National Puzzle Day, founded by Jodi Jill in 2002, a professional travel writer and puzzle and quiz creator who, according to sources, was raised in a storage container in Colorado. But, regardless, this day is supposed to celebrate the challenges of puzzles, word games, acrostics, magic squares, Sudoku and the thousands of other man-made brain-teasers that amuse, annoy, entertain and frustrate many millions every day. Personally I don’t care for those intentional puzzles that are intended to be solved: I prefer the unintentional puzzles of human behavior and natural phenomenon that are not.

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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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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Hap Arnold and National Hat Day

Mid-January already. Where does the time go?  Next thing you know it will be Easter, then Christmas, then…um…what’s the next greeting card holiday?

There’s a little time dysmorphia here, since this is drafted in mid-November Thanksgiving is next week for me, for you, the next holiday is…well, today in the US, Martin Luther King Day (which this year is also his birthday).  But other 15 January events include the birth of Joan of Arc in 1412, about whom surprisingly much-and little–is known for certain. And on 15 January 1535, Henry VIII declared himself the head of the Church of England; I suppose when you create the thing you can take charge of it. His daughter, Elizabeth I was crowned queen on this day in 1559. Frigate USS President was captured by four British ships outside New York Harbor on 15 January 1815, one of the last naval actions of the War of 1812. The dismembered and brutalized body of Elizabeth Short, the Black Dahlia, was found in Leimert Park in Los Angeles on this day in 1947, a case that remains unsolved at this writing. And on this day, the Miracle on the Hudson, when Sully Sullenberger landed US Airways flight in the Hudson River off Manhattan, saving all passengers on board, inspiring one of the better films of 2016, Clint Eastwood’s Sully. But today we’re talking about aviation pioneers, and hats.

Arnold became one of the first qualified pilots in the Army, with a flying license signed by Orville Wright. 

Henry Harley Arnold was born in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania on 25 June 1886, scion of the prominent Arnold family whose members included governors, churchwardens, generals, historians, and at least one notorious traitor, Benedict. After the primary grades Henry intended to become a Baptist minister, but family pressure sent him to West Point.  He graduated in the middle of his class and was commissioned a lieutenant in the infantry in 1907. Under protest, he was sent to the Philippines and helped to map Luzon. In 1909 Arnold saw his first airplane in Paris, flown by Louis Bleriot. After his transfer to the Signal Corps in 1911, Arnold became one of the first qualified pilots in the Army, with a flying license signed by Orville Wright.

Arnold spent most of WWI building schools and bases in the US, but arrived in France on 11 November 1918, just in time for the victory parades.

With the Aeronautical Division in Maryland, Arnold set and broke altitude records one after another, was the first man to fly over the US Capitol, and the first to carry a US Congressman in an airplane. This was also when he gained his best known nickname, “Hap” or “Happy,” for reasons unclear to this day. Nonetheless, flying in pre-WWI crates was excessively dangerous, and when the third of his pilot-friends in two years was killed in a crash, Arnold went off flying status. After five years away from flying, and after befriending George C. Marshall in the Philippines,  Arnold was invited back into the Signal Corps by none other than Billy Mitchell.  Arnold spent most of WWI building schools and bases in the US, but arrived in France on 11 November 1918, just in time for the victory parades.

When Malin Craig summoned Arnold to Washington DC in 1933, it wasn’t to punish him, it was  to make Arnold the Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. When the chief was killed in 1938, Arnold was appointed to replace him.

The inter-war years was a tumultuous time for everyone, but Arnold managed to survive reprimands, exiles, and both the Command and General Staff School and the War College with high marks, though his irascible temper got him into hot water from time to time.  He built bases and CCC camps, commanded earthquake relief missions, and directed the Army Air Mail fiasco in the Rocky Mountain region without scandal himself. When Malin Craig, the Army Chief of Staff, summoned Arnold to Washington DC in 1933, it wasn’t to punish him, it was to make Arnold the Assistant Chief of the Air Corps. When the chief was killed in 1938, Arnold was appointed to replace him.

By Pearl Harbor, the US had the second-largest heavy bombardment force in the world, second only to the RAF, and were the only ones using the Norden bomb sight. 

As head of the Army Air Corps, then the Army Air Force, then the Army Air Forces, then the US Air Force, Arnold was a passionate advocate for air power, particularly for long-range bombardment. At the same time, he recognized that Claire Chennault’s pursuit aviation, and the US Navy’s passion for air supremacy over the fleet, also required fleets of single-engine planes, as well.  But Arnold was an excellent politician, and recognized that bombers were more popular with Congress than fighters, and thus perhaps put more of his pre-1941 energies into B-17s than into P-40s. By Pearl Harbor, the US had the second-largest heavy bombardment force in the world, second only to the RAF, and were the only ones using the Norden bomb sight.

Arnold, alone among senior officers, insisted that the Allied ground invasion of France was unnecessary, that Germany would have been defeated by aerial bombardment alone…eventually.

Arnold’s pursuit of long-range aviation met its peak with the development of the Boeing B-29 Superfortress. Arnold and the other air power advocates insisted that strategic bombardment of enemy infrastructures (as opposed to the “tactical” bombardment of torpedo factories and ball bearing plants) were the key to victory: Arnold, alone among senior officers, insisted that the Allied ground invasion of France was unnecessary, that Germany would have been defeated by aerial bombardment alone…eventually.

Arnold and the postwar US Air Force could easily claim that it was by the destruction of Japanese warfighting ability by war power alone that the war was ended, saving millions of lives that would have been the result  of a bloody and costly invasion.

In the Pacific, where the B-29’s were Arnold’s and his alone to command, the huge distances required the services of the longest-range aircraft of the day, with the largest bomb loads. Led by Curtis E. LeMay, the B-29s devastated Japan, and were the only aircraft in the world capable of dropping the atomic bombs. As the war against Japan came to a sudden halt after their deployment, Arnold and the postwar US Air Force could easily claim that it was by the destruction of Japanese warfighting ability by war power alone that the war was ended, saving millions of lives that would have been the result  of a bloody and costly invasion.

The lasting and most damaging legacy of his life and career had been Arnold’s claim that air power alone defeated Japan, and it is my and my co-author’s aim to refute that claim in our book, How the Samurai Lost, expected for publication at the end of 2018.  

But Arnold was not a well man when the war ended, having suffered four heart attacks in two years between 1943 and 1945. He left the active list in 1946, retired to a ranch in Sonoma, California in 1947, and died on 15 January, 1950. Arnold’s legacy in the air forces is both broad and deep, with numerous awards for excellence and scholarship named for him. The lasting and most damaging legacy of his life and career had been Arnold’s claim that air power alone defeated Japan, and it is my and my co-author’s aim to refute that claim in our book, How the Samurai Lost, expected for publication at the end of 2018.


Today is also National Hat Day, for reasons unknown to our friends at the National Day Calendar. It is claimed by some that John Hetherington, a London haberdasher, first wore a top hat in London on 15 January 1797, causing a sensation. This claim has been discredited, however, and most sources credit the topper/stovepipe/high/silk/beaver hat’s invention to the French at the end of the 18th century, as an evolution of the sugarloaf hat (see above).

Overall, the notion of a National Hat Day is…a little disturbing.  Why? But, here in the Great Lakes, mid-January should have everyone wearing a hat.  That said, it isn’t this cold in the whole country (think Hawaii and Puerto Rico), so…why National Hat Day. Eh, but who am I to argue with tradition, silly or not?

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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.

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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.