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The Founding of Japan and the Meiji Constitution

On 11 February in the year 660 BCE, it is said that the emperor Jimmu founded the empire of Japan.  Jimmu is said to have been descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu through her grandson Ninigi, and from the storm god Susanoo.  All of this is founded on myth, but far more reliable sources indicate that the Meiji emperor Mutsuhito’s constitution for the restored Japanese state/empire/arsenal was adopted on this date in 1889.

Most readers think “representative democracy” when they read the word “constitution,” but this is not always the case, and certainly it wasn’t for Japan.  The Meiji Constitution was a document that, by intent, ensured the tyranny of the hereditary samurai class by placing veto power for any policy in their hands, and their hands alone.  All the samurai had to do was withdraw their war minister (appointed from the ranks of the Army, samurai all), or later the navy minister (ditto) to force the imperial cabinet (selected from the Diet) to reform the government.  This they would do, repeatedly, when the governments–especially under the reign of Yoshihito, the weak Taisho emperor that followed the Meiji in 1912–did not support another of their unsanctioned outrages such as grabbing German territory in the Pacific at the outset of WWI, invading Manchuria, then China proper, in 1914, 1932 and 1937, respectively.  The process would be repeated during the reign of the Showa emperor Hirohito right up until 1941, when the appointment of General Tojo Hideki as prime minister obviated the need.

Most of the early 20th century was punctuated by assassinations, violent uprisings (food riots were common in japan, averaging two a year for the better part of a thousand years) and attempted coups d’état in Japan that everyone caught in the middle would support any measure that looked like it pointed to stability.  To the samurai, of course, this meant them running things.  And they “ran things” right up to August of 1945, when their emperor had had enough.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War 1941-45 examines the political reality of the samurai against a backdrop of a world that moved beyond the need for them.  Available from fine booksellers everywhere.

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Beginnings: Crop Duster a Winner; Japan Attacks Russia and Britain; Bloody Mary is Beheaded; Elizabeth II Becomes Queen

As the badge on today’s post says, Crop Duster: A Novel of WII is an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Writers Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards for Mainstream Fiction.  This is a long-winded way of saying that Crop Duster is regarded at one of the five best of over a hundred submitted books in this category.  It’s also a Notable Book in Shelf Unbound’s Self-Published E-Book Awards for 2014 for Page-Turners. Find out what the judges see is so great about Crop Duster today.  Available in paperback and E-book at fine booksellers everywhere.


On the night of 8 February 1904, Japan attacked the Russian naval base at Port Arthur with torpedoes from four destroyers.  A Russian protected cruiser (Pallada) keeled over and sank, and two battleships (Retvizan and Tsarevich ) were damaged.  An indecisive daylight action the next morning damaged vessels on both sides, but the Japanese had the advantage of being able to sail out of range of the Russian shore batteries, while the Russians were trapped in port by the strong Japanese fleet.

As the opening battle of what would come to be called the Russo-Japanese War, Port Arthur was a template for Japanese conflict initiation for the next fifty years: strong attacks with little warning followed by relentless pressing of the advantages of surprise.  While the Japanese attacks in 1904, 1914, 1932, 1937 and 1941 were expected in a general sense, their location often was not.  The 8 February 1942 invasion of Singapore after two months of attacks all around the Pacific Rim was forewarned, but the British had never expected an attack from landward along the Malay Peninsula.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look At Japan at War, 1941-1945 probes the Japanese mindset reaching back to before the Tokugawas. Available in hardback, paperback and PDF.


Two distantly related events, ironically, are marked in early February.  Mary,Queen of Scots was beheaded on 8 February 1587, an unfortunate victim of a dynastic feud begun in prehistory, for all intents and purposes.  The Stuart throne of Scotland dated from the 14th century (or 12th, for purists) in a country that had the poor luck of being weaker than most of her neighbors but stronger than her closest kin.  Britain had the sense to try to “civilize” the traditionally tribal Scots off and on for centuries, while Scotland allied with France and was used as a cudgel against Ireland in between periods of independence.  Mary’s poor timing that she would reign while Elizabeth I sat in Windsor, but was lucky enough that Elizabeth would be childless, so that her son would inherit the throne of England.

Nearly four centuries later, Elizabeth II,oldest daughter of George VI would be proclaimed queen on 6 February 1952.  She would be the first British monarch for over a century who was not also empress of India. She is at this writing the longest reigning British monarch in history.


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Mill Springs: the Battle for the Ohio Country Begins

At sunrise on 6 February 1862, a small Confederate army under George B. Crittenden attacked a small Federal force under George H. Thomas near Fishing Creek on the Cumberland River in Kentucky, about a week’s march from Nashville, the capitol of Tennessee.  As Civil War battles go this one was fast and microscopic, but it had momentous consequences for the war, all out of proportion to its size and remote location.

The Confederates, in an attack that would be eerily similar to the attack two months later at Pittsburgh Landing, marched through the rain and fog with ancient weapons, poor organization and even worse discipline to surprise the Federals before their breakfast.  Initially successful, the Confederates were stymied by rallying Federals under Thomas himself, and the death of Felix Zollicoffer, Crittenden’s second-ranking officer.  As the Confederates abandoned the battlefield, in their hasted to cross the Cumberland they abandoned precious artillery (about two batteries’ worth) and supplies, as well as their wounded.  The bulk of the fighting, where less than a thousand casualties were incurred, was done by noon.  The battle is best known as Mill Springs if you’re a Yankee, or Logan’s Cross Roads if you’re a Confederate.

Tactically inconsequential, it made both the Richmond and Washington governments pay closer attention to the Ohio country, where fully a quarter of the population lived.  The Confederacy, for their part, sent PGT Beauregard, the victor of Mananas, to assist Confederate commander Albert S. Johnson in the fight to preserve the area.  The Union sent more troops and gunboats to aid Henry W. Halleck, the Federal commander.  Soon, while George B. McClellan whipped the Army of the Potomac into shape, a new general’s star rose in Middle Tennessee: a quiet, unassuming officer named US Grant.

The Devil”s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War by John D. Beatty, describes the run up to the momentous April 1862 battle in the pine barrens of Tennessee.  “No study of the war in Middle Tennessee is complete without consideration of Beatty’s ideas,” one critic said.  Available in paper and PDF at fine booksellers everywhere.

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The Long War

On 5 February 1985, in a solemn ceremony of unknown origins and unclear location, the mayors of Rome and Carthage signed a peace treaty ending the Third Punic War.  This conflict was the longest in human history, but had had no practical effects on either city for more than two thousand years.  No doubt the two were prodded into the peaceful and wholly ceremonial action to promote international relations, or a cruse line, or something else without either warlike or other international implications.

The conflict had begun in 151 BCE, and (openly) ended when Carthage fell to the Romans under Scipio Aemilianus after a three year siege that ended in the spring of 146. In the nature of such things, the city was rebuilt by Julius Caesar as a Roman city, and would become a major trading center under the Empire.

Unlike the Third Punic War, the prospect of a “long war” has reared its ugly head in the mass media as a conflict between militant Islam and the rest of the world–principally the industrial West–that would have a very active presence for generations.  Despite the protestations of some on both sides, it has very little chance of a peaceful resolution within the next news cycle or before the next elections.  It seems likely, indeed probable, that it will only end when people in the most influential factions (not necessarily the most powerful) realize the futility of continuing.  And that could take a very long time.

As the American Indians were gradually assimilated (by and large) over the course of 500 years, and the Irish insurgency against Britain waxed and waned over the course of at least as long, some elements will eventually ask how they could possibly prevail.  Both the Indians and the Irish, the Walloons and the Basques, the Armenians and the Maori and countless other small ethnic cultures eventually simply had to stop struggling against the inevitability of demographic defeat everywhere even if they won every battle in their own back yards.  After the fall of Carthage, it was likely that partial assimilation–not armed resistance–became the obvious key to survival.

Not that it would necessarily happen, but it could.  Declared wars, or open warfare, don’t always end in victory parades.  They don’t even always end in clear military success.  But they do always end.  The real challenge is to still be alive when the shooting stops.

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America Ascendant and Germany Descendant

On 2 February 1848 the Mexican-American War came to an official end, though for all practical purposes it had ended weeks before.  Winfield Scott, the only American General-In Chief to take field command (a whole other story, that) was the most celebrated soldier since Andrew Jackson.  An entirely self-educated officer who was first commissioned at age 22 as a captain of artillery (1808), “Old Fuss and Feathers” had led the American invasion of the Mexican Plateau in the first such expedition since Cortes.  What was remarkable was that European observers were all convinced that the European-trained Mexicans would handily defeat the Americans, whose last outing against European-style armies was in 1815.

Scott’s army never lost a battle, nor left a battlefield in retreat.  Six different American forces invaded Mexican territory from 1846-48 ranging in size from company to Scott’s small army, and none were unsuccessful.  “A little more grape, Captain Bragg” became a buzz phrase for a generation before the Civil War.  Mexico, beset by internal division, class warfare, and political uncertainty since its independence in 1822, would gradually settle into a twilight state between revolution and civil war that would obtain until the European invasion in 1862, and return until the Cristero War ended in 1929.


And then there was Stalingrad.  Though German Sixth Army officially surrendered on 31 January 1942, it would be two days until the last pockets of resistance were destroyed.  Between the Axis Allies and the Soviets, somewhere near two million soldiers and at least as many civilians died in the carnage and bitter weather at the City of Stalin.  Films like Stalingrad (1943) and Enemy At the Gates (2001) depict desolation, privation, random death and injury only to well-fed Germans and Russians, but the truth was that both sides were nearly on starvation rations even before the November 1942 offensive cut off the Germans and their allies.

Stalingrad changed the entire face of WWII in Russia, and arguably lost the war for Germany.  Between the loss of Guadalcanal by Japan earlier in the week, the brawl that was the American’s return to combat in North Africa in the next month, the British offensive into Libya and then Tunisia, the cracks in the Axis empires were becoming bigger, if not deeper.  It was clear that, if the Allies would fight long enough, both the German and Japanese monsters could be tamed.

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The End of The Great Harry

Henry VIII, King of England and head of its church, died on 28 January 1547.  Though he was certainly mourned as any monarch was, some parts of the world found reason to celebrate.  As king for three decades and then some years, Harry had overseen a great overhauling not just of the Church in England but the idea of the rule of law.  No crown sat easy on any royal head in Britain, but ultimate authority in the Middle Ages seemed to rest in two places: the throne of St Peter in Rome and whatever monarch happened to rule.

Martin Luther nailed his theses on the door at Wittenburg in 1517, when Harry was still an impressionable young king anxious to father an heir to the throne.  After his father’s tenuous claim to the throne after the death of the last Lancaster, Richard III, and the death of his elder brother while Harry was still a boy, there was great trepidation over the succession.  England had been wracked by civil wars off an on for centuries, and could ill afford another dynastic struggle.

When his first wife failed to produce a male heir Henry wanted to divorce her, but there was no clean way to do it.  The Church discouraged divorce to the point of excommunication; Catherine of Aragon, his wife, was a princess of Spain that was enraged at the idea.  But too, England needed money.  Churches paid no taxes and were wealthy.  Confiscating their wealth in the name of the Crown made sense, only if one wanted also to enrage the Holy See and every other Catholic prince in Europe, especially the Holy Roman Empire, whose Emperor was Catherine’s nephew.  If it were only that simple.

But every prince in Europe wanted to do what Henry eventually did: take full control of the destiny and the incomes of their nations without the Pope or some local bishop telling them how to run things and taking their tax money.  In his struggle with the rest of the world, Harry formed the basis for church/state understanding and cooperation without one dictating to the other.

Too, the Anne Boleyn crisis began a movement in England called the “Patriots,” a movement that supported the monarch because he was the monarch, not because of who he was married to.  During the Stuart period a century later, Patriots would back whoever sat on the throne, and later became a movement that was the nucleus for the American Tories of the 18th Century, as well as the original Patriots who imagined that George III was being usurped by the English Parliament and addressed their Declaration of Independence to him.  In American history books beginning in the 19th century, the Tory Patriots are all but forgotten.

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America Bombs the Reich

By later standards the first USAAF bombing of Wilhelmshaven on 27 January 1943 was not a lot, but it was something.  B-17 Flying Fortresses from parts of the 369th Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group (H) hit the small port city on the Jade River, hitting mostly industrial plants where they hit at all.  Bombing accuracy, much to the disappointment of the Americans, was never stellar.  They would make up for it later with sheer numbers.

These early efforts, like the 15th Squadron’s 4 July 1942 raid on a Dutch Luftwaffe field in borrowed aircraft, were mostly symbolic.  The Americans taking the war to the enemy, like Jimmy Doolittle’s military stunt bombing Japan 18 April 1942 showed, could be disconcerting,  It also boosted morale for the military as much as the home front.  For a generation that had been told that strategic bombing would be able to prevent the kinds of deadlocks that characterized WWI, this was heady stuff.

By the end of 1943, the USAAF had bombed Germany more than a hundred times, and the Luftwaffe showed no signs of deterioration…on the outside.  Internally, the Luftwaffe had good morale, but the physical and mental strain on its pilots was beginning to tell.  Goering spoke of a “plague” as early as 1942 that killed many new pilots in accidents that more experienced men might have avoided.  But the Americans had lost nearly a third of their aircraft and crews in September and October of 1943…their morale was not nearly as good as their opponents, and never would be.

Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII is a story about Americans and Germans flying over Europe in that tumultuous year.  Available in paper and E-book from fine booksellers everywhere.


As the Soviet juggernaut pressed ever onward to Berlin, the 332nd Rifle Division reached  partly dismantled and almost entirely evacuated concentration camps near Oswiecim, in southern Poland on 27 January 1945.  Eventually, the Allies would find evidence of nearly two million deaths and the Auschwitz/BIrkenau complex, with warehouses full of the pitiful possessions of the inmates.  No one before believed the wild tales coming out of the area.

Even today the sheer numbers of the Nazi’s “final solution” strains credulity.  There is a cottage industry of deniers (author David Irving among them) of the extermination of probably close to 12 million people (a little over half were Jews; the rest just got in the way) as a matter of state policy.  The British who liberated Belsen in Germany in April 1945 couldn’t believe it, either.

Though this writer has never been to Auschwitz he has been to Belsen, where many of the evacuees from Auschwitz were liquidated.  That was bad enough, though a fraction of the size of Auschwitz.   But not believing does not change the evidence, nor the testimony of the survivors.  Just as strategic bombardment gained evidence of success with practice, technology and numbers, so too did the accounts of the survivors of the death camps gain credulity.

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Staring Down Tyrrany

Whatever we may think of him, Winston Churchill, who passed fifty years ago this week, never flinched in the face of two of the most notorious tyrants in the 20th century,  He was obstinate to the point of being a tyrant himself with Great Britain, defying those who would have made peace with Hitler in the aftermath of the German conquest of Europe.  Even as the RAF struggled over Britain, even as the U-boats sank ship after ship, and even as invasion loomed just over the horizon, his defiance was not only insistent and courageous, but heroic.

But with his allies, he could also be insistent, courageous and even heroic.  Pressed over and again for a “second front” by Stalin (whose armies were after all killing three of every four Germans who died in the war), he insisted that he and his American partners weren’t ready…especially when they weren’t.  And again, after the war when Greece threatened to fall into the Soviet orbit, he insisted from the back benches that Britain’s tattered empire support the Greeks.

In the defense of his empire, his sovereign and his publishing rights, Churchill was a tireless fighter, even pugnacious.  Shameless self-promoter, perhaps; stretcher of the truth, occasionally.  But during his bouts of genteel poverty, his lonely exiles from the halls of power, even in in his occasional lapses of timelines, he was always the same: a Tory monarchist Amerifile English gentleman.  Many of us could learn from his fearless example.

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National Guard and Draft Dodgers

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.