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William Boeing, Popular History and National Hair Day

Gonna try something different this month. Bear with me.

William Boeing, the founder of the Boeing Aircraft Company and United Airlines, was born on this day in 1881 to well-to-do parents in Detroit, Michigan. At an early age, he went into the lumber business in the American Northwest, becoming fascinated with aviation after seeing an airplane demonstration in 1909. He took flying lessons from Glenn Martin and bought a Martin TA floatplane. When it was damaged, Boeing decided to build a better one himself.

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Boeing B&W

The outcome of that was the Boeing B&W or Model 1, named for the co-designers Boeing himself and George Westervelt. There were two built–the aircraft above is a replica. The two units that were made were offered to the US Navy but eventually sold to New Zealand. Soon afterward, the US Navy ordered fifty Boeing Model C training seaplanes to prepare pilots for WWI, Boeing’s first real financial success.

After WWI, Boeing built airmail aircraft, fighters, seaplanes, and flying boats, producing the first aircraft intended for passengers, the Boeing 80 in 1928, followed by the 247 in 1933, recognizable as the first “modern” airliner.

As the firm grew, Boeing expanded his reach into commercial airline routes, eventually founding what would become United Airlines. That ended in 1934 when Congress compelled all aircraft manufacturers to divest themselves of their interest in airmail routes and airlines. Boeing himself backed away from the day-to-day business by 1937, exploiting a growing interest in horses.

Personally, popular history would excoriate Boeing for monopolistic practices (about which they would be right…sort of) and for racist attitudes for founding some communities north of Seattle that had segregationist covenants. These were fairly typical of the time, but contemporary historians also dismiss this explanation because, well, because.

Popular history also holds that Boeing’s business affiliation with the military made him a war-monger. That his firm built the B-29 Superfortress that would be used to firebomb Japan and deliver the atomic bombs to Hiroshima and Nagasaki only proves the case. So there.

While Walter Boeing had nothing to do with either starting the war or personally with the development of the B-29 or the atomic bomb, he gets at least part of the blame for them in some circles. Boeing died 28 September 1956, long before anyone thought to blame him personally for the tools of war and industry his company provided.

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Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

The illustration over on the left is the cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan which is now in its final stages and is scheduled to be available by the end of the year. The subtitle, A Study of Miscalculation and Folly, is a not particularly glib attempt to summarize our conclusions.

Popular history and even academic history has been selling one of two versions of Japan in WWII. The first is what could be called a triumphalist version of the United States clawing their way back from the smoke and ruins of Pearl Harbor to dictating a just peace to a thoroughly prostrated Japan after whipping them like a poor relation.

The second is more nuanced but still ends the same way. Some popular historians and a few academics have questioned the “true” motives for the American response to the initial Japanese attacks. Some have even wondered out loud if there hadn’t been some very deep race-based motives for “pushing” Japan to war with the sanctions that started in 1933 and concluded in 1941. After all, at least one American naval officer after the Pearl Harbor attacks publicly stated that he wanted to exterminate all Japanese.

Did race play a part? Unlikely. Though John Dower in War Without Mercy tries to sell this message, frankly he does not connect the dots between attitudes and behavior on the part of either the West or the Japanese. The Japanese were as convinced of the superiority of their race as were the Germans, though they didn’t stoop to genocide the same way. The West, as suspicious of other races as other races were of them, was in no way particularly “racist” about how their war was fought against any of their enemies.

The goals of Japan for their conflict against the West in 1941 were both simple and complex. They earnestly expected an easy victory, piggybacking on Germany’s anticipated defeat of the Soviet Union. At the same time, they expected Asia to follow their “natural” leadership in resisting further encroachments into their territories.

Why the Samurai Lost Japan isn’t a popular history in the sense that it reads in the “USA triumphant” vein or in the “Japan was a victim of western capitalist/racist greed.” It is a study of why a supposedly defunct subgroup of Japanese society reached across the Pacific to engage in a trans-oceanic war with the leading industrial power of the time, expecting to succeed in their goals–but not “win” the war in the conventional sense. It is a study of miscalculation and folly on the part of not only Japan but of nearly everyone else that affected the samurai’s fateful decision to go to war. Look for it in December.


The lovely lass above is celebrating National Hair Day, proclaimed in 2017 by the National Day Calendar at the behest of NuMe, a purveyor of hair care products. I personally don’t get it (except to clean it out of the tub drain) but I don’t have to.

Hair, as we know it, is endemic to human society, as it is to all mammals–in fact, it helps define us, in part.

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Really?

Define us…how? Is this definition or is this just showing off? But then there…this…which is…what?

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Huh?

Suffice it to say I’m glad I don’t have to clean your drains. My hair…as you may appreciate, I don’t have that much more than I did here…

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Your author, about age 2 or so.

Keep your cards and letters coming in, folks.

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Pearl Harbor Planning and National Punctuation Day

Ah, late September in the Great Lakes…the colors, the light frost, the leaves in the gutters, the beds to clean up, the garage to get ready for snow…yeah, great. At least that air conditioning compressor isn’t running non-stop.

On 24 September 1541 Theophrastus von Hohenheim, better known to history as Paracelsus, died in Salzburg. Generally thought of as the father of toxicology, this physician, astrologer, and alchemist emphasized the value of observation in addition to received wisdom in the practice of medicine, a true pioneer in a field full of pioneers in the Renniassance. This date in 1869 is known to history at Black Friday when the “gold ring” of Jay Gould and James Fisk tried to corner the market on gold on the New York Gold Exchange. The speculators tried to advantage of bits of inside information on US government gold sales which backfired, triggering increased government species sales rather than decreased, cratering the prices and causing a panic on Wall Street. And on 25 September 1864, the Warren Commission’s final report on the assassination of President Kennedy was presented to President Johnson and made public three days later. Because of the nature of the Kennedy assassination and the tenor of the times, the conclusions–that Oswald acted alone in the killing of the president, and that Ruby acted alone to kill Oswald–have always been controversial. Today is also National Cherries Jubilee Day (no one knows why just go with it) and Schwenkfelder Thanksgiving (the Schwenkfelders are a small Protestant sect dating from the Reformation; they have celebrated their deliverance to Philadelphia since 1733). But today we talk about hasty-yet-brilliant-in-their-way plans, and about ending sentences.

Onishi Takijiro had been studying feasibility without specific information about the November 1940 Fleet Air Arm attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, which didn’t reach Japan until early 1942.

On this day in 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) began their preliminary research for a proposed attack on Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Most readers would take careful note that this was only 74 days–two months and change–before the attack took place. While the general offensive against the West was authorized on 2 July, the Pearl Harbor operation was something of a question mark. While Genda Minoru’s tactical air attack plan dated from February 1941, Onishi Takijiro had been studying the feasibility since November 1940–albeit without specific information about the November 1940 Fleet Air Arm attack on the Italian fleet at Taranto, which didn’t reach Japan until early 1942.

Yamamoto Isoroku managed to sell it to his fellow admirals, but many of them had little faith in the power of aircraft to sink maneuvering warships at sea: before December 1941, it had never been done. 

The issue was that the IJN was entirely unprepared for such an attack. Since the 1920s, the entire fleet had been built around a mid-ocean ambush of the US Pacific Fleet as it made its way across the ocean. Though discredited for years, the plan and doctrine had its adherents throughout the halls of Japanese power. Yamamoto Isoroku, the head of the Combined Fleet, had the Pearl Harbor strike in his head and managed to sell it to his fellow admirals, but many of them had little faith in the power of aircraft to sink maneuvering warships at sea: before December 1941, it had never been done.

There was no master switch to throw that could shift a generation’s worth of planning, doctrine, training and ship design from a mid-ocean ambush to throwing a force of projection across a third of the Earth’s surface.

So the entire fleet had to be retrained, reallocated, and reorganized for what it was to do in December 1941, and that took a great deal of time. More, the resources for such a long-distance air strike had to be gathered, and the rest of the fleet had to be re-purposed to support the Imperial Japanese Army’s (IIA) attacks in Indonesia and the Philippines. There was no master switch to throw that could shift a generation’s worth of planning, doctrine, training and ship design from a mid-ocean ambush to throwing a force of projection across a third of the Earth’s surface.

…the brilliantly-executed air attacks that Sunday morning were primarily meant to destroy the key elements of the Pacific Fleet, and that was about the only thing they could have done.

Nonetheless, it was done, and starting in September the actual nature of the area was carefully studied and scrutinized. The primary targets were to be the American aircraft carriers–failing that, there were no primaries. Though much ink has been spilled since 1941 on the value of hitting the fuel storage tanks and workshops–the supposed targets of the never-launched IJN third strike on 7 December 1941–it is difficult to assess what damage could have been done to them. First, it is difficult at best and impossible at worst to tell the difference between a warehouse and an engine workshop from an aircraft traveling at 300 plus miles an hour while someone is shooting at you. Thus, target identification was problematic. Second, attacking fuel oil bunkers with the bombs available to single-engined aircraft primarily intended to sink ships might cause some damage, but anything close to total or catastrophic was unlikely. Third, while single-engined planes might have damaged the drydocks and other facilities with their bombs, these are much smaller targets than ships, and thus hitting them hard enough to cause lasting damage would have been lucky at best. For these reasons, the brilliantly-executed air attacks that Sunday morning were primarily meant to destroy the critical elements of the Pacific Fleet, and that was about the only thing they could have done.

The plans that were undertaken in September 1941 were drawn up with hope as a planning tool: the hope was that the US would be cowed to the negotiating table by a series of lightning attacks. As others have learned to their peril, hope is an inferior contingency plan. Our book, Why the Samurai Lost Japan, published at the end of this year, covers this and many other aspects of the Pacific War.


Now, no one in their right minds really knows anything about National Punctuation Day, and absolutely no one would actually found such a thing let alone build a website around it, right? Well, turns out that’s wrong. Someone did. A fella named Jeff Rubin founded National Punctuation Day and made a website. He’s the publisher of a newsletter called The Exclamation Point that goes on and on about punctuation. As my editor and verbal sparring partner Frank will tell you, I’m personally a punctuation minimalist. I eschew as many commas as I can get away with, but that also tends to lead to long sentences that he has to break up in our laborious editing process for everything but this here blog. But he bears with me as much as I believe any friend of…well, Clinton had just been elected when we met. Leave it at that.

Anyway, today is National Punctuation Day, and if you write anything at all today (recent research indicates that most people actually write less than a thousand words a day), please pay attention to what you’re doing. Eats, Shoots, and Leaves by Lynn Truss is an excellent and easy-to-read guideline much more approachable than most other guides. And, as a general rule, there are certain parts of punctuation that not only baffle the “experts” but are not published anywhere because English is simply too flexible. There are rules, but not everyone agrees on all of them.

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Tenbun Hokke Disturbance and Left-Hander’s Day

August drags on…nearly the middle of the month now…the heat is unrelenting…the air conditioner drones day and night…resist…temptation…to wish…for January…

OK, 13 August. Most remarkable things happened on this day. For example, in 3114 BC, the Mayans started their calendar; so would somebody tell me, please…how did they know that it would be the middle of August? (ba-dump-bump). On 13 August 1851, Johnny Clem was born in Newark, Ohio; he managed to join the Union Army sometime during the Civil War, but there’s no evidence he was hurt at Shiloh, or even that he was there, making the “Johnny Shiloh” moniker the stuff of legends. Nonetheless, he did retire in 1915 a brigadier general, the last Civil War veteran serving in the Army.  On this day in 1913, British metallurgist Henry Brearley announced his formulation of 12.8% chromium and 0.24% carbon as an additive to steel, making what some claim was the true first stainless steel. There had been patents for stainless as early as the 1820s, but the formulation of a minimum of 10% chromium wasn’t established until 1911. As in anything else industrial, the bragging rights for being “first” are just that. And on 13 August 1953, Omar Bradley finally caught the brass ring in the US Army’s merry-go-round by being named Army Chief of Staff, working for his old friend Dwight Eisenhower, the recently-elected president. It’s also National Prosecco Day because some vintner says it is and the National Day Calendar agreed. But today we’re talking about Japanese warrior monks and southpaws.

This was one example that disproves the idea that all Buddhists are and have always been peaceful, and was one of many examples of the Japanese tradition of Gekokujō.

On 13 August (traditional date 27 July) 1536, Buddhist Sōhei (literally “monk warriors”) from Kyōto’s Enryaku Temple set fire to 21 rival Nichiren temples throughout Kyoto in what has come to be known as the Tenbun Hokke Disturbance. This action was just one example of many that disprove the idea that all Buddhists are and have always been peaceful, and was one of many examples of the Japanese tradition of Gekokujō.

The warriors-monks protected land as extensions of their patrons, becoming a significant factor in the spread of Buddhism and the development of different schools during the Kamakura (1185-1333) period.

The Buddhist warrior monks of feudal Japan held considerable power, at certain points in Japan’s history, they obliged the imperial and military governments to collaborate. By the 12th century, the Go-Shirakawa Emperor complained that he could not control the monks of Enryaku-Ji sect. These monks of different sects acted as auxiliary armies for Japan’s rival daimyos, often marching alongside their patrons on campaigns. The prominence of the sōhei rose in parallel with the ascendancy of the Tendai Buddhist school’s influence between the 10th and 17th centuries. The warrior-monks protected land as extensions of their patrons and intimidated rival schools of Buddhism, becoming a significant factor in the spread of Buddhism and the development of different schools during the Kamakura (1185-1333) period.

After the Tenbun Hokke (so called for the period of Japan’s history ) Disturbance, the Ashikaga shogunate in Kyoto found it almost impossible to control this band of brothers and turned against them.

The warrior monks living high in the mountains above the (southern) imperial capital were intended to protect Kyoto from evil, but in fact, they were there because theirs was the most militarily powerful sect in proximity to the imperial throne, and thus to the resources of money, food, and influence.  After the Tenbun Hokke (so-called for the period of Japan’s history ) Disturbance, the Ashikaga shogunate in Kyoto found it almost impossible to control this band of brothers and turned against them.

Revolts both small and large were commonplace. One source claims that there were at least two Gekokujō revolts large and small each year for nearly four centuries, and often more.

But other daimyos and other priorities got in the way, not the least of which was the tradition of Gekokujō. Literally, this word means “the low shall rule the high,” and by the 15th century, it had come to be a matter of faith in Japan among the samurai and those who served them that was as deep as any religion. As odd as it may seem to a more ordered society, Gekokujō was seen by peasants, monks, minor lords and even groups of artisans or merchants to be tacit permission to violently rebel against an overlord. Revolts both small and large were commonplace. One source claims that there were at least two Gekokujō revolts large and small each year for nearly four centuries, and often more.

Gekokujō slept for a time in the 19th century, only to be resurrected in the 20th by the militant neo-samurai who provoked “incidents” that led Japan farther along the path to war, and who refused to even think of their oncoming defeat against the West in 1945. 

In 1571, as part of a program to remove all potential rivals and unite the country, shogun Nobunaga Oda ended this Buddhist militancy by attacking the Enryaku-Ji temple complex, leveling the buildings and slaughtering the monks. Other, less powerful warrior monk sects were similarly treated for the next twenty years, but the rise of the Zen Buddhists did more to eliminate (or convert) the militants who got away from the purges. But the Gekokujō tradition remained after the Tokugawa shogunate started in 1604. Gekokujō slept for a time in the 19th century, only to be resurrected in the 20th by the militant neo-samurai who provoked “incidents” that led Japan farther along the path to war, and who refused to even think of their oncoming defeat against the West in 1945.


Now, today is either International Left-Hander’s Day or it’s just Left-Hander’s Day: sources differ. The point is that we’re supposed to be either celebrating or commemorating or just recognizing all those southpaws out there today.

But there’s a fly in that soup. In the first place, the very nature of “handedness” isn’t all that clear. Some of the eggheads with more research money than sense claim that the reason the 90/20 ratio of righties to lefties exists is that the evolutionary models all show that the more social an animal, the more they tend to be commonly-handed. Regrettably, these same people can’t really say why such a distinction exists, anyway. Some say genetics, others say the environment.

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Famous Lefty…genetics or environment?

Famously, the Housecarls of early medieval Britain were all left-handed. Being some of the most massive men in England wasn’t enough, and all carrying the most feared weapons of the age–the heavy battleax–wasn’t enough. These guys could all step inside any shield wall and batter it to pieces on their opponents’ off-side. Regrettably, for Harold in 1066, they couldn’t stop arrows that easily.

Nearly everyone who went to a parochial school before the 1970s who was unfortunate enough to claim to have been left-handed was converted to right-handedness without fail, but often without success. The reason for this attempted conversion was old but was not because of the Latin sinister (left) and dexter (right). It was because the inkwells on 19th-century school desks were all on the right, and because dragging one’s sleeve through the wet ink when writing from left to right soiled the robes or other sleeves with impossible-to-remove ink.

To read one study of left-handedness, one would be given to believe that more top athletes were left-handed than were right-handed, but that doesn’t wash. Left-handed pitchers (southpaws, so-called because of the geographic orientation of important early baseball fields) have a slight edge in the game but not as disproportionate as might be expected, as are left-handed batters (strike zone is different). Left-handed golfers are rare, however, and almost unknown in the shooting sports. Only goaltenders are common lefties in hockey; left-handed quarterbacks are in smaller proportions than they are in the general population.

The woman above’s plight is, of course, made-up but emblematic of our modern culture of wanting something to be recognized for. I was ambidextrous as a lad but gradually switched to right-only, even though I always wore my watch on my right for unclear reasons, and I still do. A story my mother used to tell about me in kindergarten was that my teacher was convinced I needed to go to a special school because I couldn’t write correctly. My dad looked at a sample, went to a mirror and held it up: it was perfectly backward. “It’s OK with his right hand, but backward with his left,” Dad told her. “Don’t worry about it.” Dad, apparently, had the same problem as a kid and outgrew it by 2nd Grade, and so did I. I’ve heard since that this kind of thing is not that unusual. That my dad survived it, however, probably was.

 

 

 

 

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Meiji Emperor and National Father-In-Law Day

Dog days of July…hot and getting hotter in the Great Lakes. “Dog days” are:

  • Mid-July through mid-August or,
  • 3 July to 11 August

Because:

  • Dogs are said to go mad/contract rabies;
  • Sirius the Dog Star is visible in the northern hemisphere within that window;
  • Someone called them that long ago and it stuck.

Take your pick. The ancient Egyptians paid attention to Sirius because it coincided with the periodic flooding of the Nile, which enriched the otherwise desert soil with nutrients. The Greeks, not relying on a periodic flood for survival, thought that same star just made the world hotter. But 19th-century American farmers thought that rain during the dog days made for a bad harvest. And they had a rhyme (From the Old Farmer’s Almanac):

Dog Days bright and clear
Indicate a happy year;
But when accompanied by rain,
For better times, our hopes are vain.

But 30 July was an eventful day in history. On this day in 1419 was the First Defenestration of Prague, when Bohemian Hussites (a Catholic sect) threw a burgomeister and several town council members out a town hall window (that’s what defenestration means, by the way: to throw something or someone out a window). This action triggered the Hussite Wars (1419-1434) and a number of crusades that I just don’t have space to go into here and now. Yes, there was a Second (and better known) Defenestration of Prague in 1618 that triggered the Thirty Year’s War. And, on 30 July 1898, the “Iron Chancellor” Otto von Bismarck died in Friedrichsruh in Schleswig-Holstein. Bismarck had been responsible for the machinations that created the Concert of Europe in the late 19th century, the one that created the German Empire out of a customs union and put Wilhelm II on the throne of it; Willie didn’t like being restrained, so he had fired Bismarck in 1890. Finally, on 30 July 1997, Emperor Bao Dai–the last emperor of Vietnam–died in Paris. Born Nguyễn Phúc Vĩnh Thụy, was the last of the Nguyen emperors who ruled that part of the world from 2879 BC (traditional) to the abolition of the monarchy in 1945. Bao Dai was briefly Head of State of South Vietnam, but after 1949 he spent most of the rest of his life in France. Today is also National Cheesecake Day (for reasons beyond understanding) and National Whistleblower’s Day (commemorating a Congressional resolution passed in 1778). But today we’re talking about the death of another emperor, and about fathers-in-law.

Less than a year after Mutsuhito’s birth, Perry’s squadron muscled its way into Tokyo, and Japan was never quite the same.

The Meiji Emperor Mutsuhito was born Sachinomiya in Kyoto on 3 November 1852 to the Komei Emperor and a favored concubine, Nakayama Yoshiko. That the boy survived to adulthood was both a good omen that suggested he was destined to lead Japan to great things, and a medical miracle, as five of his brothers and sisters (and ten of his fifteen children) died in childhood. Less than a year after Mutsuhito’s birth, Perry’s squadron muscled its way into Tokyo, and Japan was never quite the same.

By the time the Komei Emperor died in January 1867 and the fourteen-year-old Meiji Emperor was enthroned, Japan was ripe for civil war.

There are conflicting accounts of Mutsuhito’s childhood, but he was given his adult name in 1860 not long after he was named the heir to the Komei Emperor. By that time the great daimyos were making restive noises about the Tokugawa shogunate and their bakufu–all the more restive because those nasty treaties with the West were bringing foreign influence into Japan. By the time the Komei Emperor died in January 1867, and the fourteen-year-old Meiji Emperor was enthroned, Japan was ripe for civil war.

The seventeen-year-old Meiji Emperor had better advisors and had the allegiance of the great daimyos that his father did not. 

Emperors in Japan had always been more-or-less powerless figureheads, but the daimyos were using his happiness or unhappiness as an excuse for what they did. The Meiji Emperor, very early, wasn’t immune, but by the end of the Boshin War in June 1869, he was ready and willing to take some command of his country. The official change had been made a year before, but the seventeen-year-old Meiji Emperor had better advisors than his father and had the allegiance of the great daimyos that his father did not.

The Meiji Constitution made the War and Navy ministers co-equal with the civil government, enabling the samurai in the Army and Navy to control the destiny of the country.

As Japan modernized and industrialized externally, its social structure and core values could not move ahead at the same pace. The samurai–the class of swaggering swordsmen who had dominated the archipelago for centuries– was a dominant physical, social and economic influence whether their traditions had been abolished or not. When the Meiji Constitution (issued in his name but he didn’t write it) took effect in 1890, it enabled political parties and an elected lower house (Diet), but real power was reserved for those who wielded it in the non-elected cabinet: traditional lords and strongmen. Worse, the Meiji Constitution made the War and Navy ministers co-equal with the civil government, enabling the samurai in the Army and Navy to control the destiny of the country.

The Meiji Emperor had a son and five daughters who lived to adulthood. Yoshihito would become the Taisho Emperor on the Meiji Emperor’s death on 30 July 1912. The Meiji Emperor, after all of that, was primarily a pacifist who penned this poem:

The seas of the four directions—
all are born of one womb:
why, then, do the wind and waves rise in discord?

His grandson, the Showa Emperor Hirohito, read this poem in an Imperial Conference in September 1941 to show his displeasure at the samurai’s growing threat of war with the West.


Today is also National Father-in-Law day for reasons unknown. Generally speaking, fathers-in-law are older gentlemen who are the parents of one’s spouse who are privileged with some title associated with “father.” My quasi-step-son-in-law has never, to my knowledge, acknowledged any such relationship with me, and my step-father-in-law Howard, an estimable gentleman that I didn’t meet until my wife and I had been married for 22 years, has never asked anything of me at all. There’s a great deal to be said for having your in-laws always living in another time zone, though in-laws generally get a bad rap that they may or may not deserve.

The trouble is, some fathers-in-law come with nothing but trouble: the guy at the top of this blog was the father-in-law from hell for Galeazzo Ciano. Ciano served Italy from 1934 onward, and when his government dismissed him, he fled to Germany to escape his country’s wrath after his ouster in September 1943. Nope, guess again: the Germans turned him over to Papa Benny, who had his fellow fascists declare him guilty of treason, then try him, sit him in a chair and shoot him. Gee, thanks, Papa.

So, for all those of you who have fathers-in-law who weren’t (or aren’t) like Mussolini, think pleasant thoughts about the old boy today. For those who are, hope your day it at least quiet.


And in News of the Future-Past, on this day in 2018 Beezelum (pronounced “Smith”),  Professor of Studies-Studies at The Miskatonic University Extension-Wherever, announced, “Beezelum has determined that reality as you know it does not truly exist in time and space because it lacks definition.” Beezelum, who eschews titles of all kinds and whose personal pronoun is “Deity of Deities,” insisted that “reality, as it is now known, can only exist in non-sis-gendered racially defined time and ethnically-challenged and redefined non-space, and therefore does not deserve the distinction of being real.” To further study this post-Derridasist pseudonarrative, Deity of Deities announced a new studies program intended to redefine definition and is seeking a grant of $1,000,000,000,000 from the US Department of Education for the effort. Contacted for further information, a Department of Education spokes-entity replied “what?”

Now you don’t know that either, future archivists.

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Fall of Okinawa and National Leon Day

Nearly July already. The grass should be up by now, first sweep of allergy season over, and ready to move into Independence Day next week, this year in the middle of the week so dreams of three- or four-day weekends are just that. June is, however, one of three months in the US calendar that have no Federal, bank-closing holidays; March and April are the other two. For what it’s worth.

But June has events enough. On 25 June 1678 Elena Cornaro Piscopia became the first woman in the world to earn a Ph.D.; hers was in music, but she lectured in mathematics and was fluent in Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, French, and Latin–makes you feel like an underachiever, don’t it? And, on 25 June 1863, while the Army of Northern Virginia was invading the North again, George Meade took command of the Army of the Potomac from Joe Hooker; “Old Snapping Turtle” Meade had ruined his back a year before during the Seven Days’, and was known as an irascible but sensible commander. On 25 June 1950, the Korean War began which, remarkably, may finally come to an end during the administration of “warmonger” Trump who, we were assured in 2016, would begin a nuclear holocaust Any Minute Now. Today is also National Strawberry Parfait Day because someone wanted it to be today. But today we’re going to talk about the end of Okinawa, and pure marketing holidays.

This is what Okinawa looks like these days

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Okinawa ca 2018

This isn’t the same beach, but it might have been.

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Another view

One of the more remarkable things a historical writer gets to do is decide which times in the past he wants to concentrate on, and through what lens it is to be viewed. My co-writer and I have been working on Japan in the Pacific War off and on for nearly a decade. Our latest effort, Why the Samurai Lost Japan, focuses on the “why” of the Japanese aggression in the 20th century. In so doing, we’ve created a narrative that seems to be unique. This essay is in that spirit.

When 77-year old retired IJN Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, who had been Japan’s Prime Minister for less than two weeks, announced that the last of the Okinawa garrisons had been overwhelmed, it was his way of announcing that Japan was doomed.

On this day, 25 June 1945, we have to note, the bakufu–military government–of Japan announced to its people that Okinawa had been lost to the Americans. Many commentators have missed the significance of this event. Mostly the announcement is regarded as a “so what” event by those whose access to information is free and, in the 21st century, instantaneous. But in wartime Japan, leaders admitting that a part of metropolitan Japan had been captured by an enemy who was supposed to have been unwilling to fight at all was, by then, both breathtaking and soul-numbing. Barely a year before, Tojo Hideki had lost his jobs as Prime Minister/War Minister/Chief of the Imperial General Staff after admitting to the loss of Saipan. When 77-year old retired IJN Admiral Suzuki Kantaro, who had been Japan’s Prime Minister for less than two weeks, announced that the last of the Okinawa garrisons had been overwhelmed, it was his way of announcing that Japan was doomed.

Since the 1920s, the shishi had been killing those who opposed their visions of Japan’s future.

Most scholars have written about the end of WWII in the Pacific in one of two ways: either as a triumphalist American campaign attacking the Home Islands with impunity or as a hopeless Japanese resistance driven by fanatics. Trouble is that both have elements of truth, but neither is complete. Both ignore the fact that Japan had been driven by fanatics for decades. These neo-samurai had among them young men with dreamy views of an Imperial Japan that had never existed, where His Majesty ruled directly, unfettered by pettifogging politicians, where strict moral codes (theirs) were enforced. The most dedicated of these were known as Young Men of Purpose, contracted in Japanese as shihi. They were scattered all over the services, in influential enough positions so that they had access to those at the heights of power. Since the 1920s, the shishi had been killing those who opposed their visions of Japan’s future.

To the samurai, failure of any kind and on any scale–from fighting wars to writing a message–resulted in death: not as punishment, but as a natural consequence of failure.

The doom that Suzuki announced wasn’t as stark as saying “that’s all, folks” Bugs Bunny fashion, but its implications were far more stark. In the samurai culture that dominated the Japanese leadership, the strong resistance that would be offered to any invaders would certainly destroy any vestige of a Japanese state or empire. But this was not a punishment–it was the natural consequence of Japan’s inability to achieve the samurai’s goal of self-sufficiency. To the samurai, failure of any kind and on any scale–from fighting wars to writing a message–resulted in death: not as punishment, but as a natural consequence of failure.

The announcement of the loss of Okinawa on 25 June 1945 set the stage for both the samurai’s Gotterdammerung and the Showa’s rescue of Japan from it.

This was well known among those in the military, and to most Japanese civilians both in Japan and out. The Potsdam Declaration a month later was met with silent contempt at the time because there was no other way the samurai could answer it. Surrender was, for them, impossible. Those who spoke of it, overtly or covertly, risked being killed by a shishi in the next office, or desk. But in August, when the Showa Emperor Hirohito realized that he didn’t want to see his country exterminated, he decided to take the Allies up on their Potsdam Declaration and told his government to do just that. You see, the Showa wasn’t a samurai, so he didn’t have a failure=death mindset. Though there were several shishi who tried to prevent compliance with the Emperor’s wishes–they believed that His Majesty was being misled by bad counselors–that resulted in several score casualties, they couldn’t stop it. The announcement of the loss of Okinawa on 25 June 1945 set the stage for both the samurai’s Gotterdammerung and the Showa’s rescue of Japan from it.


Now, National Leon Day is one of those national days that I have to scratch my head over. The “logic” behind it is that it’s exactly half a year to Christmas (Leon is Noel backward), yet the good folks at National Day Calendar can’t find whose brilliant idea it was. It seems like a natural for all those marketing types to jump on with as much gusto as they could muster–any excuse for a sale. But…no. Too, there’s a complication: Leon Day.

https://baseballhall.org/discover/leon-day-day
Leon Day, Hall of Fame Pitcher

Leon Day was one of the best players of his time, playing every position but catcher. He was inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown in 1995. Marketing thus runs into the crass commercialism of Christmas versus commemorating something of a legend. And we can’t have that.

So, it is recommended that those who make their Christmas gifts by hand observe National Leon Day by getting started on your macrame or paper-mache or knitting or whatever else it is you clever sods can do for your loved ones. And you can watch baseball at the same time if you’re so inclined.

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Imperial Resignations and National Making Life Beautiful Day

Well, June marches on. School is out or nearly is, for most youngsters. If I recall correctly grade school never finished the year on a Friday, but usually like Tuesday or Wednesday. There was probably a perfectly good reason for that, but I never knew what it was. That or my memory is a little off. Not surprising.

School may or may not be out, but 11 June 1184 BC may have seen the fall of Troy, according to Eratosthenes; there have been numerous historical essays written (including one of mine) on the quasi-mythical siege best known from Homer’s epic poems, but no one has yet to show that there was not an epic fight between the proto-Greeks and the residents of what is now known as Troy VIIa. Also on this day in 1742, Benjamin Franklin finished his design of a stove that came to be named after him. Though his design was inefficient and impractical (and hardly original), it was enough to inspire others to improve on what we would now call a fireplace liner. And on 11 June 1979, the legendary John Wayne (played by Marion Morrison) went to the last roundup. Suffering from cancer off and on for years, his last film appearance, The Shootist (Don Siegel, 1976), was released after he got a terminal diagnosis. Today is also National Corn on the Cob day if for no other reason than someone wants it to be today, and National German Chocolate Cake Day* for the same reason. But today we talk about Japanese emperors and resignations, and about making life beautiful.

The current secession is based on primogeniture, but before the Household Law of 1886 it was much looser: there have been at least nine empresses of Japan ruling in their own right.

The Yamato dynasty is also the longest–by nearly any calculation–monarchic line in the world. The Chrysanthemum Throne of the Empire of Japan is the only one that uses the title “Emperor” at this writing (2018). At one time in the 14th century, there were two emperors, an anomaly that was only resolved by civil war. The Japanese monarchy’s origins in 660 BC are shrouded in mythology. The first emperor of any Japanese Empire, Jimmu, is said to have been a descendant of the goddess Amaterasu. The first Japanese emperor with a provable historical existence was the Kinmei Emperor (539-571). The personal divinity of the Emperors and Empresses of Japan is usually misunderstood in the West. They are not gods in the Abrahamic sense of an all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful deity. Rather, they are something like conduits to the divine in the Shinto faith. Divine or not, the current Emperor Akihito (personal name) is the son of the Showa (reginal and posthumous name), Emperor Hirohito.  The current secession is based on primogeniture, but before the Household Law of 1886 it was much looser: there have been at least nine empresses of Japan ruling in their own right.

Arguably, when the Showa Emperor directed his government to accept the Potsdam Declaration on 10 August 1945, he exercised more temporal power than any of his ancestors ever had, or his heirs ever will.

Legally, the emperors of Japan have never had a great deal of power. Even after the Meiji Emperor took a personal interest in the running of his country as a young man in the 1860s, his power was nebulous. He attended ceremonies, made heirs to the throne (which after 1889 Household Law passed the Diet was a requirement), issued rescripts of great and small importance, and waited on his family. Arguably, when the Showa Emperor directed his government to accept the Potsdam Declaration on 10 August 1945, he exercised more temporal power than any of his ancestors ever had, or his heirs ever will.

This first male birth in 41 years assured–for the moment–the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

Until 2007, there was something of a crisis in the succession.  The Constitution of 1947, which left the old Household Law unchanged, did not provide for empresses and did not provide for a regency. The Showa had two sons, Akihito (the current emperor) and Masahito. Akihito also has two sons: Naruhito (the heir apparent) and Fumahito. However, Naruhito has only a daughter. However, Fumahito had a son in 2006, Hisahito. This first male birth in 41 years assured–for the moment–the succession to the Chrysanthemum Throne.

The critics miss the point of Japan’s monarchy: the throne provides a continuity that no other institution in Japan can.

But there has recently been a different kind of a crisis in the succession: Akihito wants very much to retire. While the succession is clear, it was not clear that the 84-year-old man could legally leave office–even a ceremonial one. On 11 June 2017, the Diet approved a law that allows the Emperor to retire/resign/abdicate. Akihito is expected to abdicate/resign in favor of Naruhito on 30 April 2019, at which point he will become known as the Daijo Tenno, or Joko. Critics, however, say that adherence to the old Household Law only delays the inevitable, that a return to older ways or abolition of the Imperial house altogether would be a better long-term solution. But the critics miss the point of Japan’s monarchy: the throne provides a continuity that no other institution in Japan can.


Today is National Making Life Beautiful Day, a creation of Apriori Beauty LLC, proclaimed by the good folks at the National Day Registry in April 2016. Apriori is a firm that sells high-end cosmetics via their website and through the Avon/Mary Kay model of independent contractors. While there’s nothing wrong with any of these things, I can say that, with my granddaughter working for Aveda, people can spend a great deal to create some image of beauty that is not necessarily their own that lasts maybe twelve hours.

Beauty, true beauty, comes from within, doesn’t it? The picture below, from Geograph in Great Britain, didn’t take someone else’s idea, a small fortune in “products,” or a jostling trip to the mall. Just wait a few hours for the weather to clear. Having a beautiful life isn’t the same as making oneself beautiful: it’s not given, it’s created. And it is continual, no matter what anyone says. And it’s often hard work.

From http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/735915
Tideline: just be careful when you cross it

Most of my readers know that I write a lot of military history, but now I seem to have created something that is still anchored in the military but contains no battles, no real fighting at all. It’s called Tideline: A Story of Friendship. It’s about a guy and a gal who start out as childhood friends, lose contact with each other and then find each other again years later. They discover that they are still buddies–the kind of a friend that they can always count on for anything and everything.

The primary story takes place in the 1980s, when they are both in their thirties and serving in the military: he in the Army as a Ranger, she in the Navy as a diver. Their attraction vexes them because they know that their services, regardless of their status, could separate them as required. The journey of these two buddies who become lovers and their determination to make both their relationships and their families, their careers and their lives work is the main focus: making a beautiful life, one way or another. Tideline I expect will be ready for publication after the first of the year (2019).

OK, it’s a shameless plug. Sue me. What are blogs for?

* German chocolate cake originated in the US in about 1852, when Mrs. George Clay developed a recipe for cake using Sam German’s sweet chocolate.

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USS Hornet and National Reconciliation Day

April already? Wow, what happened to winter? Oh, yeah, a new furnace, a busted toe while chopping ice, and another year on the roof. That’s what happened to winter. But hey, yesterday was Easter, so spring is just around the corner…for most of us in the Northern Hemisphere; you down south, yep, winter’s just around the corner.

So, 2 April. Charlemagne, king of Franks and Lombards and Holy Roman Emperor (at the time about half the known world) was born somewhere in Frankia (part of modern France) on 2 April 742. On this day in 1513, Ponce de Leon landed somewhere between modern St. Augustine and Melbourne Beach and claimed Florida (“land of flowers” in Spanish) for his masters in Spain. And on 2 April 1865, the Confederate forces under Robert E. Lee were forced out of their defenses at Petersburg, Virginia; that night, the Confederate government broke up and fled south, making the Southern Confederacy a dead issue. Also on this day in 1872 Samuel FB Morse, the guy with the keys and the code, died in New York.  On 2 April 1917, Jeanette Rankin first assumed her seat in the US House of Representatives, the same day that Woodrow Wilson asked the Congress for a declaration of war against Germany: she would vote against it. Speaking of wars, the Falklands Islands Crisis/Conflict/War began on this day in 1982 when Argentina invaded the islands. Today is also National Ferret Day and National Peanut Butter and Jelly Day. But today, we’re talking about the Doolittle Raid, and about reconciliation.

On 2 April 1942, USS Hornet (CV-8) departed San Francisco on what looked like a ferry mission to somewhere in the Pacific. Her decks were crowded with sixteen B-25 medium bombers and, as everyone knew, those airplanes were too large to be recovered on a carrier deck, even if they could take off. Therefore, it had to have been a ferry mission: even the bomber crews half-believed it. Well…

Wiki Commons
B-25 Mitchell medium bomber said to be that of Doolittle himself, launching 18 April 1942, from USS Hornet.

James Doolittle and his little band of bombers had intended to launch about 500 miles east of the Japanese Home Islands on about 18 or 19 April, but their plan was foiled by a picket line of Japanese vessels that included fishing boats and a 70-ton patrol craft Nitto Maru. that the US didn’t know anything about before they literally ran into them on 18 April. The intention was to have the B-25s bomb Japan, then fly on to join Claire Chennault’s airmen in China, but most of them wouldn’t make it that far.

What radars there were in Japan, and a bulk of the air observers were watching for a sneak attack from mainland Asia to the north and west, not from the sea to the east.

The true story here isn’t the well-known Doolittle Raid, but the lesser-well-known Japanese preparations for such attacks, the Japanese response to the attacks, and what happened afterward. Japan, unlike most histories of WWII say, was ready for an attack on the Home Islands, but not from the sea. Most Home Island air defenses were oriented to detect and intercept an attack from the Soviet Union. What radars there were in Japan, and a bulk of the air observers were watching for a sneak attack from mainland Asia to the north and west, not from the sea to the east.

The brave patrol boat Nitto Maru got its warning off just before one of the Hornet’s escorting cruisers, USS Nashville (CL-43), sank her with gunfire, capturing four of the crew.

But the air defense of the islands was an Imperial Japanese Army (IJA) responsibility, and the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) felt it imperative to watch the seaward side of the islands. The IJN set up their cordons from 400 to 750 statute miles away from Japan, calculating that the first line would detect an aircraft carrier strike at least two days before any attack could be undertaken. The brave patrol boat Nitto Maru got its warning off just before one of the Hornet’s escorting cruisers, USS Nashville (CL-43), sank her with gunfire, capturing four of the crew.

Therefore, when Tokyo received the message from the patrol line, they believed they had at least a day before any air attacks could be mounted.

But the warning didn’t say that Hornet was carrying twin-engined bombers, if indeed Nitto Maru saw them (the record isn’t clear). In addition, only one aircraft carrier in Task Force 16 was spotted, probably USS Enterprise (CV-6), which carried no bombers.  Therefore, when Tokyo received the message from the patrol line, they believed they had at least a day before any air attacks could be mounted.

When the first of the Doolittle Raiders were spotted over Japan’s eastern coast at about 11:00 Tokyo time, the spotting stations were told that what they were seeing simply had to be a large formation of birds.

The defenses of Japan were commanded by Higashikuni Naruhiko, an Imperial prince, career IJA officer and uncle-in-law to the Showa Emperor Hirohito. Higashikuni was a capable officer but lacked imagination. Though he was aware of the limitations of Japan’s homeland defense, he, like most of the IJA, felt that a serious attack on the Home Islands could not be mounted from aircraft carriers. On the morning of 18 April, he was alerted to the presence of at least one aircraft carrier at the outer limit of the early warning cordon (that the IJN had told the IJA about just that morning), but was assured by his staff that no air attack was to be expected before the next day. However, IJN officers familiar with US aircraft carrier doctrine were not sanguine that there was only one American carrier in the task force. When the first of the Doolittle Raiders were spotted over Japan’s eastern coast at about 11:00 Tokyo time, the spotting stations were told that what they were seeing simply had to be a large formation of birds.

 Japan’s resources were so thin that no Japanese radar even by 1945 was as accurate, powerful, or rugged at Allied units dating from 1940.

About ten minutes before the first bombs dropped, the warning sirens started going off, and the intercepting fighters were launched. The antiaircraft batteries opened fire soon thereafter. It was obvious that day that neither the Ki-27 fighters that were used for homeland defense nor the 75 mm antiaircraft guns without target predictors that made up a bulk of the batteries were adequate even against these low and fairly slow threats. The Nates (Allied code name) simply didn’t have the firepower, and the 75 mm’s lacked range and power over large aircraft. These inadequacies were addressed as quickly and as simply as Japan’s resources could, but one consequence was that the numerous 75 mm anti-aircraft guns were shipped out to defend island outposts, and often were turned into ground defense weapons. More work on radar did improve the early warning network somewhat, but Japan’s resources were so thin that no Japanese radar even by 1945 was as accurate, powerful, or rugged at Allied units dating from 1940.

The strengthening of the Home Island defenses was expensive enough; the ships, planes, and men that would be expended for the rest of 1942 on islands that meant nothing to Japan but everything to the Allies would be the beginning of Japan’s downward spiral to ultimate defeat.

But the most serious consequence of the Doolittle Raid on Japan was the outrage and overreaction to that military pinprick that caused the old Eastern Operation (Midway and Hawaii) and Expanded Southern Operation (Solomons Islands and Northern Australia) to be dusted off again, and sparse resources used to stretch the frontiers of the Empire even further beyond the sustainable limits. The strengthening of the Home Island defenses was expensive enough; the ships, planes, and men that would be expended for the rest of 1942 on islands that meant nothing to Japan but everything to the Allies would be the beginning of Japan’s downward spiral to ultimate defeat.

Why the Samurai Lost, available at the end of 2018, goes into more detail on the thought processes that brought Japan to its destruction. Follow us at https://JDBCOM.COM for more information.


Today is also National Reconciliation Day in the United States, a completely unofficial observance in America. In South Africa, Reconciliation Day has been observed on 16 December since 1994 and the end of apartheid. In Australia, Reconciliation Day will be observed in the Capital Territory for the first time on 26 May 2018. In South Africa, the “reconciliation” was to correct decades of injustice under a predominantly white rule. In Australia, the effort is aimed at a recognition and remembrance of the abuses suffered by the indigenous Australian population since the European colonization of the island continent since the late 19th century.

Reconciliation in accounting and banking suggests a balancing of the books. In the Catholic faith, it’s related to Confirmation. In most contexts, the concept of reconciliation suggests a process or act of making up differences. In Australia and South Africa, this process has had definite racial and political overtones.

The idea of a National Reconciliation Day in the US was popularized by the popular newspaper columnist Ann Landers beginning in 1989 and carried on in her columns until her death in 2002. Landers urged readers to try to repair broken relationships on 2 April every year. The success of her efforts, however, are unknowable. Still, the goal is noble. I’ve had my share of broken relationships in my time, but most of those people who I’ve been alienated from are gone now. Hard to reconcile with ghosts, or with the memory of them.

 

 

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Komandorski Islands and Epilepsy Awareness Day

Oh, good, March is ending, the sooner the better. Snow melting into mud puddles faster than spit on a skillet…or at least I hope so. Looking forward to the spring cleanup and some relief from my furnace running all the time.

On 26 March we’ve got a lot of things going on. Conrad II was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 1027, beginning a dynasty that would include Charlemagne. English forces captured Bombay (Mumbai) on the coast of India on 26 March 1668, beginning three centuries of colonization on the subcontinent. Herman Haupt, the railroad genius of the American Civil War, was born in Philadelphia on 26 March 1817. The battle of Glorietta Pass began in what is now New Mexico on 26 March 1862, between 1,300 Union and 1,100 Confederate troops, sometimes dubbed the “Gettysburg of the West.” William Westmoreland. who would command MACV during the Tet offensive and later be Chief of Staff of the US Army, was born on this day in 1914. Jonas Salk announced his polio vaccine on this day in 1953. And, on this day in 2005, James Callaghan, who had served Great Britain from 1945 to 1987, died at his home in Surrey. But today we talk about a decisive battle at sea that few have heard of, and an insidious medical condition that many know of but few know about.

At the far reaches of the North Pacific, the US and Japan dueled over the control of the Aleutian Islands for a little over a year. Though the Japanese captured Attu and Kiska easily in 1942, the Americans had other things on their plates for most of that year, leaving the Japanese more or less unmolested except for the occasional air raid. By early 1943, with a great deal more ships and men available, the US presence in Alaska was greatly enhanced. In March 1943, the Americans became aware that the Japanese were planning a resupply convoy, and a six-ship task force was sent to intercept it. The Japanese knew that eventually, the Americans would try to wrest their Aleutian conquests away from them, but felt it imperative that their toehold on American soil be preserved. To preserve their position, Japan sent a six-ship task force under Hosogawa Boshiro to escort the three transports carrying reinforcements and supplies to the garrisons on Attu and Kiska.

Though there were no clouds there was a great deal of fog, the temperature was below freezing and the sea was glass-flat: the combatants would spend most of their time dodging  between packs of ice-fog.

Before sunrise on 26 March 1943* the US task force of USS Salt Lake City (CA-25), Richmond (CL-9), Coughlan (DD-606), Bailey (DD-492), Dale (DD-553) and Monahagn (DD-534) were in a scouting line when they made radar contact with the tail end of the Japanese convoy. The sea conditions were, to put it mildly, unusual. Though there were no clouds there was a great deal of fog, the temperature was below freezing and the sea was glass-flat: the combatants would spend most of their time dodging between packs of ice-fog. After a little more than an hour of maneuvering and reacting to each other’s maneuvers, Japanese light cruiser Nachi opened fire on Richmond a few minutes after dawn at 0800. Richmond, Salt Lake City, Bailey, and Coughlan opened fire on Nachi, scoring four hits between them and crippling her. Soon, Japanese heavy cruiser Maya started firing on Salt Lake City, scoring six hits in two and a half hours, crippling her. at the end of the fighting, Bailey launched torpedoes but missed. Bailey and Coughlan were hit by Maya. After this, the Japanese, with the weather clearing and fearing an American air attack, retired to the west just after noon. For all the shooting and maneuvering in the four-hour gunfight, no ships were sunk and there were less than fifty casualties combined.

The out-gunned and outfought American task force, by luck, doomed the Attu and Kiska garrisons to starvation.

There’s been some speculation about the Komandorski Islands fight over the years, specifically on how the Americans seem to have won even though they got the worst of it. But Hosogawa never got another sea command. The Komandorski Islands battle is notable for many reasons: it was surface action fought entirely in daylight, and with no active air or submarine participation on either side. Torpedoes, though launched by both sides, were not even a factor. But as a result, the Japanese, having suffered catastrophic destroyer casualties in the South Pacific, dared not try another surface convoy. The out-gunned and outfought American task force, by luck, doomed the Attu and Kiska garrisons to starvation.

* The battle is often dated 27 March, but the US Navy used the date in Hawaii which is on the other side of the IDL, making it 26 March to the USN.


Today is Epilepsy Awareness Day, begun in 2008 by Cassidy Megan of Nova Scotia to increase awareness of this insidious condition. Wearing purple, in theory, is supposed to make public the tragedy of the wide range of disorders known as epilepsy.

The young lady at the top is only one of the best-known sufferers of epilepsy, a neurological disorder that can either be acquired or the result of some birth defects. Known throughout recorded history, it’s been called the Sacred Disease or the Noble Disease in part because genetic roots ran in intermarried families. Famous epileptics include Fyodor Dostoyevski, Edgar Allen Poe, Neil Young, Vladimir Lenin, Theodore Roosevelt, and Florence Griffith-Joyner (who died as a result of a seizure) and hundreds of others. It may have affected Julius Caesar and Napoleon Bonaparte. But because of the stigma attached, well-known sufferers, including Socrates, hid their conditions, while others were condemned and locked away, while others were hanged or burned as being possessed by evil spirits.

Most people have at least seen an epileptic episode (mistakenly called “fits”) on TV or in a movie at least once. But most episodes come and go without notice to any but the sufferers. One friend described most of his petit-mals (small seizure, as opposed to a gran-mal that is impossible to hide) as not unlike a short nap. One other sufferer, a childhood friend of the family who died in a seizure-related accident, described even her small seizures as jolting as getting an electric shock.

While I do not suffer from the condition myself I have known those who have, and more than once helped people suffering events related. While I don’t think that wearing a color would change anything–ribbon-weariness being the issue–I do think that public awareness that the condition is neither contagious or (usually) dangerous to others is a good thing. So, take a few seconds to at least become aware that epileptics are neither dangerous nor worthy of scorn, as people discovered in 2016 when Marie Ventrone (above) was chosen as Miss New Jersey.

 

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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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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.