January 28th Incident and Groundhog Day 2019

As January grinds down once again, it’s time to reflect on a few truths. It’s cold in the Great Lakes, and it is in most of North America this time of year. It’s also wet, and cold and wet is the most miserable way to feel. Therefore, a good roof and furnace is vital; I hope you have both.

Since its successes of the late 19th century, the Japanese military leadership had been ever searching to expand Japan’s power base. WWI demonstrated to them that the single most important thing any state needed on its own was resources. While Japan had some things in abundance in the Home Islands–coal and silk–it lacked many of the resources that modern states needed to be competitive in the world market. Unfortunately, as an agrarian state, Japan was too poor to buy them. So the military leadership steeped in the samurai traditions resolved to take by force that which she needed.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:China-Manchukuo-map.svg

East Asia, 1932. Japanese Empire in salmon; Manchukuo in green. Wikimedia Commons

Japan’s annexation of Korea and aggrandizing its South Manchuria Railroad holdings to include all of Manchuria while China was in a state of civil war was relatively easy, often bloodless. By 1932 China itself had settled down after Kuomintang (KMT) party had taken control of the administrative apparatus of the country.

China in 1932 was a tinderbox waiting for a light, and Japan was more than willing to supply the flame. The cosmopolitan city of Shanghai on the Wangpoa River near the East China Sea coast was a busy seaport and Pacific Rim financial center, with several “concessions”–European quasi-colonies resulting from the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. Japan saw Shanghai as a potential target for another takeover…as long as it could make up a reason to do so.

On 18 January 1932, five Japanese Buddhist monks were beaten by a Chinese mob in Shanghai: one died. Later that same day, a factory was burned down and a policeman killed. It is impossible to think that these incidents were not brought about at the instigation of the Japanese military, who were adept at creating “incidents” of this kind. They weren’t necessarily sanctioned by the government in Tokyo, but the Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) didn’t necessarily care: they created these situations knowing that the leadership would–eventually–back them.

By 27 January, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) had positioned 7,000 IJA troops, some 40 warships (including Japan’s first aircraft carrier task force of 38,000-ton Kaga and 9,000-ton Hosho) and 40 combat aircraft for the coming battle. Also, there was the Shanghai Special Naval Landing Force (SNLF) of some 2,000 men. The force that would become the Shanghai Expeditionary Army was commanded by Shirakawa Yoshinori. Just outside Shanghai, the Chinese 19th Route Army*–called by some little more than a warlord force–containing about 20,000 men in three divisions. Though they had been paid to go away, they were in the city when the fighting started. With fortress garrisons and armored trains, China had maybe 30,000 initially available men for the defense of Shanghai, overall commanded by Cai Tingkai.

https://www.pinterest.com/pin/132996995218105171/?lp=true

Shanghai, 1932

On 27 January, the Japanese issued an ultimatum to China, demanding reparations for any damage to Japanese property or harm to Japanese citizens. While China agreed by the deadline, Japanese carrier aircraft attacked Shanghai at midnight on 28 January, the first major aircraft carrier attack in East Asia and a foretaste of the terror bombing of civilian populations that would follow. Simultaneously, IJA troops attacked targets all over the city, meeting fierce Chinese resistance.

As the fighting spread throughout the city, the members of the international communities tried to broker a cease-fire, which the Japanese at first refused, pouring more men and aircraft into the fighting up until 12 February, when a half-day truce was agreed to so that civilians could get out of the way.  That same day, the Japanese demanded that all Chinese troops be withdrawn. The Chinese responded on 14 February by sending the Chinese 5th Army– of two divisions and an independent brigade, perhaps another 20,000 men–to Shanghai.

The fighting continued until the Japanese had sent nearly 100,000 men into the battle. The two Chinese armies, pummeled by superior Japanese artillery and desperately short of supplies, had to withdraw on 29 February. Chinese casualties were about 13,000 to Japan’s 5,000.

The “peace process” brokered by the League of Nations that followed made a mockery of Chinese sovereignty, but there was no hope for it. Shanghai was “demilitarized” only of Chinese soldiers–the Japanese were allowed to keep a small garrison.

The 28 January Incident in Shanghai was yet another example of Japanese military passive-aggressive tactics that succeeded so often it gave them a sense of false confidence. They came to believe that anything they did–even a strong bluff like southern Indochina–they could eventually get away with because of their military prowess and the fear of the West of another war. When they went too far in 1941, their fate was sealed.

*A Chinese Route Army was a larger field force than an Army of more than two divisions, often more than three corps.


Yes, yes…Groundhog Day is 2 February; next Saturday. The American/Canadian custom date was first documented in 1840, in a Morgantown, Pennsylvania (traditionally Pennsylvania Dutch country) diary, where the locals believed that if a groundhog saw its shadow on Candlemas (also 2 February), the winter would be longer than if it didn’t.

My mother, of old German/English stock, knew the accuracy of the groundhog-swami to be absolute, declaring to my sisters and me that if the shadow were seen, winter would last another six weeks; if not, spring would arrive in just a month and a half.

Don’t overthink it.

The more formal custom followed in 1887 in Puxatawney, Pennsylvania, which is known for nothing else at this writing. The beast is coaxed out of its lodgings at a given time, and its handlers declare whether or not Puxatawney Phil has seen its shadow. Accuracy figures are sketchy but don’t seem to exceed those of random chance.

SInce 1887, other locales have acquired their own overgrown squirrels, from Texas to Russia to Nova Scotia–and some are stuffed. Potomac Phil in Washington DC predicts the end not of winter but of Congressional gridlock–and has never been right.

SOMEONE has to point out that Bill Murray has turned an otherwise dull and mundane non-holiday into a freaking meme. For those who haven’t seen the 1993 Harold Ramis film,  Groundhog Day was released to generally favorable reviews and good sales worldwide. The story centers on a TV weatherman (Murray) who is trapped in a time loop, reliving the same 2 February over and over again with the same people, but he’s the only one who realizes it. While better film analysts and critics than I have dissected the film over and again, I have to state that I found it was mildly amusing the first time, but afterward was dull not because of the repetitive nature, but because, like many comedies, the fun stems from the unexpected.

Since the film’s release, “Groundhog Day” has become shorthand in popular culture for the repetitive nature of everyday life.  Frankly, the only thing about Groundhog Day that this correspondent finds repetitive is the insistence upon attention to it. But that’s me.

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Sun Yat Sen and National Girl Scout Day

So, 12 March, and the snow–hopefully–isn’t piling up above the sills anymore in the Great Lakes. By now those of us who don’t do winter sports and live on corner lots with fireplug responsibilities are just done with it.

But a lot of things happened on 12 March. The Ostrogoth siege of Rome ended on this day in 538: it only lasted ten days, and the Ostrogoths retreated. The first mention of a Gutenberg Bible was recorded in a letter from Enea Silvio Bartolomeo Piccolomini (the future Pope Pius II) on 12 March 1455: though exact dates are unclear, he had probably seen a copy of the first book printed in Europe with flexible metal type as early as the previous year. Koriki Kiyonaga, a daimyo who fought for the Tokugawas in the wars that ended in 1600, died in Japan on this day in 1608: the circumstances of his death are still controversial. John Worden, US naval officer who was the first skipper of USS Monitor, was born on this day in Mt Plesant, New York in 1818: his long naval career started when he was just sixteen. On 12 March 1910, armored cruiser Georgios Averoff was launched in Italy: built for the Royal Hellenic (Greek) Navy, she is now a floating museum and the last surviving vessel of her type in the world. On this day in 1933, President-Elect Franklin D. Roosevelt broadcast the first of six “fireside chats” that he used to reassure the country after its severe economic downturn, then in its fourth year: the worst of the Great Depression was yet to come. The US voting age was lowered to 18 on this day in 1970, much to the consternation of many: the reelection of Nixon in 1972 reassured the conservatives that the liberal “wave” was not led by teen voters. And on 12 March 1999 Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic joined the NATO alliance, much to the consternation of Russia: the West was now a day’s drive closer to Moscow. Today is also, for some unaccountable reason, National Plant A Flower Day: go to it if you have a mind. Bht today we’re talking about Chinese revolutionaries, and about Girl Scouts.

When the powerful Dowager Empress Cixi died in 1908, the time was ripe for revolution.

Late 19th century China was a victim of Euro-American expansionism, and of technology gone wild. While Britain and France vied for empire in India in the 18th century, the Russian Empire continued to consolidate its far eastern holdings on the borders of Manchuria. Steam-powered ships and the demands for expanding markets led to conflicts within China over the coming of the Europeans, and the Opium Wars didn’t help. “Extraterritoriality” demands after these conflicts were impossible for the hapless Qing Dynasty which, though it knew it had to modernize, could not overcome its internal influences. A disastrous war with Japan in 1894 and another with most of Europe in 1900 led to even more foreign troops and influences on Chinese society.  When the powerful Dowager Empress Cixi died in 1908, the time was ripe for revolution.

Though the Wuchang Revolution failed, it inspired others that fired up all over China and is traditionally the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution.

By then there were literally scores of groups, societies, and organizations willing to start something, somewhere. Their goals ranged from simply anarchy to a whole new republic, and their methods from a peaceful transition to calls for mass murder. On 10 October 1911, a violent protest over a railway protection plan in Wuchang exploded into civil war. Though the Wuchang Revolution failed, it inspired others that fired up all over China and is traditionally the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution.

It would be another three months before the Qing dynasty would finally cede power to the new government in Nanking, and Sun Yat-Sen, who had spent most of his adult life out of the country, was the leader of the most populous state on earth.

After weeks of riots, battles, protests, massacres, and arguments over precedents, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen was elected president of a Chinese Republic on 29 December 1911, even though the Chinese United League to which he belonged controlled only part of the county. The Republic of China was proclaimed on 1 January 1912 when Sun Yat-Sen was sworn in. It would be another three months before the Qing dynasty would finally cede power to the new government in Nanking, and Sun Yat-Sen, who had spent most of his adult life out of the country, was the leader of the most populous state on earth.

By cooperating with the Communist Party of China the KMT restored themselves to power in Nanking by 1921, but China was so severely factionalized that Manchuria was, for all intents and purposes, a separate country, an administrative fact that Japan would exploit.

But Sun was not to lead for long. On 10 March 1912, he resigned his post as president in favor of Yuan Shikai, who had been the last emperor and could control the many royalists better than an intellectual could. Sun became the president of the Nationalist Party of China, better known as the Kuomintang, or KMT. Soon, though, Yuan was plotting a return to the monarchy, broke up the KMT and exiled Sun to Japan. Another revolution was followed by another return to China in 1919. By cooperating with the Communist Party of China the KMT restored themselves to power in Nanking by 1921, but China was so severely factionalized that Manchuria was, for all intents and purposes, a separate country, an administrative fact that Japan would exploit.

On Taiwan Sun Yat-Sen is revered as the father of the Republic; in China, he is politely recognized as an early opponent of the monarchy.

By 1925 Sun Yat-Sen, by then 58 years old, was dying of liver cancer. Radium and traditional treatments failed, and on 12 March 1925, he died in Bejing. Sun Yat-Sen’s legacy in China is mixed. While he is hailed as the leader who overthrew the monarchy, Sun Yat-Sen is also the founder of the political party who opposed the Reds for nearly 20 years. On Taiwan Sun Yat-Sen is revered as the father of the Republic; in China, he is politely recognized as an early opponent of the monarchy.


Today, 12 March, is also the anniversary of the founding of the Girl Scouts of America by Juliet Gordon Low in Savanah, Georgia in 1912. The Girl Scouts do more than sell cookies and make S’mores: they have always been an organization that encourages and trains young women to lead productive lives. They do this by encouraging them to learn about traditional crafts, but also, yes, to sell cookies. Such activities build confidence and prepare them to learn even more. Merit badges are a big part of the scouting life, and there are few activities, from cooking and sewing to running a business and space exploration, that girls cannot earn a merit badge or an award for.

 

Salt Lake Tribune, 2017

The future of Scouting

 

There’s some question about the future of scouting in America. Recent court rulings and policy changes in the Boy Scouts signal that a merger of the two organizations will happen in the not-distant future. With girls joining the Boy Scouts imminently, there has been a great deal of discussion about how this might impact either or both organizations. It must be pointed out, however, that like combat arms jobs in the military, just because girls can join the Boy Scouts, there will likely be precious few who actually do. I can see that, yes, the two organizations can join together, but that there will still be boys’ troops and girls’ troops that may be together from time to time: at certain stages of their lives, the two genders just won’t mix well, no matter what the social engineers want.

In the interest of full disclosure, my sisters were Girl Scouts, and my mother was a Scout leader. I was in Scouting all the way to the Order of the Arrow. While we rarely had anything to do with any Girl Scouts officially in the ’60s and ’70s, we occasionally did, and the interactions were, well, teenage-appropriate as long as the grownups were around. But the weather was usually cold as I recall, and–let’s just say that what everyone’s afraid of just didn’t happen.

I’d prefer that young men and women were allowed to fail in the company of other young men and women before they have to learn to deal with failure in the adult world among members of the biologically-verifiable opposite sex who they may seek the favor of in future. It’s a lot scarier then, regardless of how many genders and sexual orientations someone may demand the UN to recognize.

 

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.

Why Nanking Matters

By 18 February 1938, the Japanese Army had exhausted itself in Nanking, and about 300,000 Chinese civilians had been dead, maimed, mutilated, or raped to death in Nanking, and the first reports were reaching the world outside.  Refugees, diplomats, the odd reporter, and the sheer volume of horror carried the story, but it was not widely reported.  Japan, to this day, denies the scale, and is generally silent about the issue.

More than seventy years later, the issue of Japanese war guilt is indisputable, but the issue of exactly what atrocities were committed is not, especially in Japan.  The west insists that massacres like Nanking happened, and that the many scores of perpetrators be punished (albeit many already have been).  Japan insists that these incidents were exaggerated, that “comfort women” were volunteers, and that Unit 731 was not a biological warfare outfit that used humans as guinea pigs.  At minimum, Japan often suggests, Japan was only doing what was necessary to survive.

While the gods of Expediency often is worshiped in wartime, that does not excuse atrocity.  To say “I know you are but what am I” to accusers holding evidence of barbarity (deflecting guilt by saying “so did you”) is just frivolous. While the Americans burned Tokyo and a score of other Japanese cities with firebombs and torpedoed hospital ships that routinely carried ammunition, the Soviets invading Manchuria in 1945 were as brutal to the Japanese and Chinese they encountered as they were to the Germans,  Yes, these crimes were committed in the name of the Expediency gods, but that does not excuse Japan’s denials.

Japan’s excuse-making deflection may be intolerable, but so is the litany of finger-pointing every year when some prominent Japanese visits the Yasukuni shrine.  The west insists that this is a place of worship for the “killers” of WWII.  Trouble is, it’s for them…as well as for every other Japanese who ever died in any battle, including WWI and the Peking Relief in 1900, side by side with the west’s finest fighting men.

The reason Nanking matters even to this day is though Japan was guilty, so is popular perception of a war that had enough tragedy to go around.  No one has to compound it by making up things, or by denying the undeniable.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look and Japan At War, 1945-45 is a study of Japan’s motivations and methods up to and including WWII.  Available in hardback and paperback at fine booksellers everywhere.