In late January 1943, the Americans and Australians declared the Papua peninsula (the far eastern end) of the island of New Guinea “secure.” For over a year they had been struggling to eject the Japanese from a battlefield like no other in the world.
The Japanese, who had arrived on the lush yet desolate island at the end of 1941, had thought to conquer the island in a week. Port Moresby, the largest city, was still holding out six months later, and the Japanese had simply run out of rations, healthy men, and working heavy equipment. When the first Americans arrived, the Wisconsin National Guardsmen were fresh out of training camp and thrown into the impenetrable jungle. Though Douglas MacArthur, the controversial commander and mastermind of the New Guinea campaign, has been credited with its successful clearing, it nonetheless took nearly three years.
William Manchester, in his magisterial biography of MacArthur, called New Guinea “green hell,” and by most accounts it certainly was. It rained in most parts more than tree hundred inches a year; the growth rate of some of the more notorious vines and branching trees was measured at more than a foot a week. All metals were rusty, always; electrical equipment often had to have blowers to keep from shorting out during operation. Ammunition notoriously misfired, especially artillery. Motor vehicles were too large for most of Papua’s roads. The soldier’s war in New Guinea was an odd mix of 20th century hardware with 19th century reliability and 18th century tactics pressed into the demands of a 20th century global strategy.
What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War by John D Beatty and Lee Rochwerger examines New Guinea in a context of examining Japanese planning, operations and execution amid material shortages and over-extended supply lines. Called one of the best books of its kind, it’s available at fine booksellers everywhere.
JDB Communications, LLC is pleased to announce that John D. Beatty’s Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII is a finalist in the Bookbzz 2015 Prize Writer Competition. Starting on 1 February, readers will be able to vote on their favorites. Go to http://bookbzz.com/crop-duster-novel-world-war-ii-john-beatty/ starting 1 February for both professional and fan reviews and to vote on your favorites.
John D. Beatty, sole proprietor of JDB Communications, LLC, is a professional writer of more than forty years experience in military science and in industry. He retired from the US Army Reserve after 27 years of service. He is the author of Crop Duster: A Novel of World War II; The Devil’s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War; and What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at Warm 1941-1945, and other pieces of military history. He lives and works in Wisconsin.
As it happens, 21 January is simultaneously the anniversary of the birth of the (organized) National Guard (in 1903), and of Carter’s draft amnesty (1977). Coincidence, surely.
The Dick Act, as the enabling legislation is popularly known, recast the many state-formed National Guard units into a national image, creating a means to join the Guards into the Regular Army in the event of an emergency. For decades Army reformers had tried different formulas to get the state’s units to look less like social clubs (which they were) and more like adjuncts to the Regulars (which they were supposed to be). The war with Spain in 1898 was the last time the state-organized units (the militias which were not part of the Guard “movement”) were called up, and the halting disasters that followed could be directly attributed to the state’s lack of funding and organization for their militias.
The earliest “National Guard” units were formed more or less spontaneously in the early 19th century. They were separate from the militias (if you really want a glimpse of insanity, take up American militia organization) and at least a third of them were not funded by their states, but by the members themselves or by private benefactors. Many were units only in name, possessing no equipment nor even standardized uniforms. The one thing they had in common was that the units that bore the title “National Guard” were pledged to national service wherever Congress might send them. This is also what distinguished them from many state militias.
By WWI, the Guards had be thoroughly reorganized. The experience on the Mexican frontier had shown the weaknesses of the Guards, and how completely they had to be remade. By the Armistice, the Guards were what we see today: Federally organized and funded units lent to the states in between wars.
The Carter amnesty was the fulfillment of a campaign promise, and is seen by some as “healing a wound” left over from the Vietnam conflict. There was an unknown number of draft evaders (thought by some to be about 200,000) and a much smaller number of deserters (about 70,000) that were covered under the amnesty, but even fewer of these took advantage of the amnesty to return to…something other than what they had been doing for over a decade.
Though well-intentioned (like many things Carter did in office), it was nearly four years after the draft ended, and long after law enforcement and the military had been enforcing the draft and actively pursuing deserters.