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Iwo Jima and President’s Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

200px-Iwo_jima_location_mapSagredo

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Rennell Island and National Puzzle Day

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

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

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

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

Battle of Rennell Island
From Warfare History Network

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

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Three Moments in 1973 and National Blonde Brownie Day

So, 22 January. The depths of winter.  It’s cold in the Great Lakes, cold and snowy. Wet, icy.  If you’re up to going outside this time of year, more power to ya. Me, I’m staying where there’s central heat. Call me a wuss…see if I care.

But there was a lot of things that went on on this day. The battle of Basing, fought in Hampshire, England on this day in 871, was another in a series of indecisive encounters between the kingdom of Wessex led by Ethelred, and the invading Danes; as long as the English didn’t lose much and their burghs (fortified towns) survived, they would eventually prevail. William Kidd the pirate was born at Greenock on this day in 1645. On this day in 1863 the infamous “Mud March” of the Army of the Potomac began in Virginia, an attempt by Ambrose Burnside to redeem his failure at Fredricksburg that just racked up more casualties. In 1879 the battles of Isandlwana and Rorke’s Drift both started on this day; the Zulus overwhelmed the unprotected columns on the hill of Isandlwana but were unable to come to terms with the better fortifications at the Drift. 22 January also marks Bloody Sunday in Russia; the first modern revolution started as a general strike in 1905. And, on this day in 1984, the Macintosh personal computer was introduced.  But, today, we’re going to talk about three particularly notable events that all happened on 22 January 1973: strain your brain–those of you old enough–to remember which one you recall reacting to at the time more than the others: my vote’s at the end. And about brownies without chocolate.

As the deciding litmus test for the acceptability of all politicians, public officials, celebrities, or ordinary Joes on the street in America, Roe has very narrow shoulders. 

The first was the one with a lasting, pernicious impact down to this day: the Roe vs. Wade US Supreme Court decision that, depending on who you talk to, either;

  1. Legalized abortion in the US for one and all, or
  2. Only deregulated the procedure for the first two trimesters of pregnancy, or
  3. Started the United States on the road to Perdition.

SInce the 1990s, which of these three you choose has determined how you voted in the last ten national elections, how you feel about the rights of women in general, whether you are currently fit to breathe the same air as someone who chooses another answer, or none of the above. As the deciding litmus test for the acceptability of all politicians, public officials, celebrities, or ordinary Joes on the street in America, Roe has very narrow shoulders.  Few of us can now recall exactly what they were doing when they heard about it, because few people at the time really cared enough to march in the streets in support of or against the ruling, unlike now.

At Johnston’s death, it was the first time in a third of a century that there were no living former American presidents.

Also on this day in 1973, in Johnson City, Texas, Lyndon Baines Johnson, 36th President of the United States, died of congestive heart failure at age 64. A consummate politician whose ascent to the seat of power consumed his entire adult life, LBJ was a controversial figure, and is regarded as the last leader of FDR’s New Deal coalition. Johnson’s legacy is, to this day, mixed. Between his assumption of JFK’s last year in office in 1963, rising with his landslide victory over Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, soaring with the signing of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, sinking during the civil disturbances and riots across the country in 1967, sinking again during the 1968 Tet Offensive in Vietnam and the seizure of the USS Pueblo by North Korea, and collapsing after his ignominious showing in the New Hampshire primaries that same year, his policies waxed and waned. LBJ’s star, somehow, was never quite as bright as his martyred predecessor. After Johnston’s death was the first time in a third of a century that there were no living former American presidents.

When the agreement on border definition for Vietnam was announced, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird agreed to suspend the draft in the United States as soon as the peace was signed, five months ahead of schedule.

Finally, on the same day, a bit of irony from Paris that few took note of even at the time.  On 22 January 1973, the United States, the Republic of (South) Vietnam, the Democratic Republic of (North) Vietnam and the Central Office for South Vietnam (the political wing representing the Viet Cong) agreed on a fixed border between the two Vietnamese republics. This was a vital, final step before the final peace agreement between the four parties could be drafted and signed on 27 January. Vietnam, considered an albatross for the Democrats and a political football for everyone else, had been the most divisive American conflict since the Civil War. When the agreement on border definition for Vietnam was announced, Secretary of Defense Melvin Laird agreed to suspend the draft in the United States as soon as the peace was signed, five months ahead of schedule.

So, aging Boomers and others who remember being around in ’73: which do you remember more than the others? The death of LBJ was certainly covered more at the time, as the deaths of presidents always is (except Nixon)and I recall hearing of it, hardly the others; Roe v Wade was something of a footnote at the time (unlike today); the Vietnam border agreement was barely mentioned. But it was still an exciting time, wasn’t it?


OK, blonde brownies.  Why, you ask do these even exist: the whole point of brownies is the chocolate, no? Well, no: the point of brownies is to have a less-crumbly cake to put into a lunch bag than a conventional one. Also, for those of us who can’t eat chocolate, it’s an alternative. But, different strokes for different folks, I guess.  Here’s a recipe for blondies from Allrecipie.com. As good as any…

Anyway, they were probably invented in Sandusky. Ohio. Published recipes date from the 1940s, and likely existed even earlier. The folks at National Day Calendar can’t find who started National Blonde Brownie Day, and neither can anyone else. Ah, well…

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

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Hap Arnold and National Hat Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Come visit us at JDBCOM.COM

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Heisei Era Begins and National Joygerm Day

So, 8 January.  We’ve survived another holiday season and we’re raring to go into another year.  Or not.

8 January has its share of notable events, though. On 871 AD, somewhere in what is now Berkshire, England, Prince Alfred of Wessex and his brother King Ethelred defeated a Danish army under King Bagsecg of Jutland…we think (the record is mostly from Asser’s hagiography of Alfred, so it is, as we say, uncorroborated). Galileo Galilei died in Italy on 8 January 1642; despite being branded a heretic twice (once posthumously) by the Church, his works and legacy has since been rehabilitated.  The battle known as New Orleans was fought at Chalmette Plantation in Louisiana on 8 January 1815; though tradition has it that New Orleans was part of the War of 1812, some scholars (including me) submit that it was an attempt to bargain central Canada’s access to the Mississippi, and was undertaken knowing that the larger conflict was ending. On 8 January 1916 the campaign known as Gallipoli came to an end, finally; most scholars believe it to have been a wasted effort, but nonetheless was the torch of Australian nationalism, and the seed of the Turkish revolt against the Ottomans. On this day in 1964, Lyndon Johnson launched his “War on Poverty;” and half a century later we can safely say that there is a war in Washington, but on poverty is questionable. Today is also National Clean Off Your Work Desk Day, observed on the first Monday in January for no clear reason. And, for unclear reasons, National Argyle Day. But today, we’re going to talk about changing emperors in Japan, and joygerms.

This “selection” of era names is probably only half-true, if that: the names are contrived from classical Chinese which is hardly ever used anymore even in China, and which few but a handful of scholars can work in.

In Japan, emperors (tenno in Japanese, or “heavenly sovereign”) are given ceremonial names which identify their eras when they ascend to the throne. The Meiji (“enlightened peace”) had his name given to him; the Taisho (“great rightness”) is said to have selected his name as one of his last rational acts; the Showa Emperor Hirohito (either “enlightened peace and harmony” or “radiant Japan” depending on who you ask) is said to have selected his name from a selection of several, as did his son, Akihito, who chose Heisei (“peace everywhere”) from a list. This “selection” of era names is probably only half-true, if that: the names are contrived from classical Chinese which is hardly ever used anymore even in China, and which few but a handful of scholars can work in.

Akihito has no role in Japan’s military forces, and has only ceremonial duties.

On 8 January 1989, the Heisei Era is said to have begun after the death of the Showa Emperor of cancer the day before. Akihito, like his father before him, had been well prepared for the event, though unlike his father Akihito was not trained to act as the head of the government. Also like his father, Akihito has a keen interest in marine biology, and has published articles on the history of science in Japan.  Unlike his father, furthermore, Akihito has no role in Japan’s military forces, and has only ceremonial duties.  Born in 1933, the current emperor apparently has plans to abdicate in 2019 at age 86.

This War's Over (WWI Edition)
American soldiers, probably Western Front somewhere, learning that WWI is over.

A ways back in 1981, Joan White of Syracuse, New York, started this…thing…called Joygerm Limited, which by 2011 had grown to encompass 117,000 banners worldwide.  On 8 January (her mother’s birthday) she started National Joygerm Day to spread the idea of spreading joy. Exactly what she had started was, well, as tangible as Robert Reich’s orgones. The idea is simple: spread joy by being joyful. “Laugh and the world laughs with you: cry, and you cry alone” is one version of the adage. While I can agree that happiness is more contagious than misery, misery can be offset by schadenfreude, or the satisfaction in  other’s unhappiness. If there is a balance in feelings, I guess joy could outweigh others in that way, if only in a minor part.  “Joy” I believe should be reserved for truly joyful events, like the birth of children or, as they guys above are showing, that they are still alive when the shooting stops.  But, a joygerm may not be that bad a thing to catch, after all, if you have to catch something.

Come see us some time at JDBCOM.COM.

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Chinese Republic Begins and National Bloody Mary Day

Well, happy 2018 to my faithful readers (all five of you), and welcome to a new year of exciting yet well-written tidbits that you need to proceed with your day…or not.

The first of January became a holiday of sorts only in recent years, so a lot of things happened before the 20th century on the first day of the year, which was first observed in 45 BC in Rome. The last gladiator exposition was in Rome on this day in 404 AD, somewhat later than some fiction writers have it.  Muhammad traditionally set out from Mecca to Medina on this day in 630. Nagahito, who would become the 111th, or Go-Sai Emperor of Japan, was born on this day in 1638. In 1660 Samuel Pepys (pronounced “peeps”) began his brief career as a diarist, the most important entry being his description of the Great Fire of London in 1666. Japan adopted the Gregorian calendar on this day in 1893, at least starting to join the rest of the world in timekeeping.  The Union of Soviet Socialist Republics began on this day in 1923–and broke up on the same day in 1992. The Showa Emperor Hirohito renounced his divinity on this day in 1946–a pragmatic undertaking much less momentous than most Western observers want to think. And finally, on this day in 2000, the world didn’t end: Y2K that many of us remember wasn’t the computer apocalypse that many thought would befall us. It’s also National Thank God It’s Monday Day, and National Hangover Day.  But, today, we talk about the first Chinese Republic, and about Bloody Marys.

This first war with Japan was a disaster for China, which lost control not only of its old satrap in Korea but both the Shantung and the Liaotung Peninsulas. 

The Manchu (Qing) dynasty of China was no better than any other dynasty at addressing its two perennial problems: protecting its long and remote borders, and feeding its ever-growing population that had quadrupled in four centuries. Its chronic institutional weakness made the incursion of European powers easy and profitable, establishing policies of “extraterritoriality” in their enclaves that immunized them from Chinese law.  In 1894 Japan went to war with China over Korea and the two peninsulas edging the Bohai and Yellow Seas to the east of the Korean Peninsula. This first war with Japan was a disaster for China, which lost control not only of its old satrap in Korea but both the Shantung and the Liaotung Peninsulas.

When the old emperor and empress died within hours of each other in November 1908, they left a not-quite-three-year old Puyi on the throne.

By 1899 this defeat and the abuse by Europeans gave rise to a series of anti-Western and anti-Christian riots called the Boxer Rebellion (less a “rebellion” than it was an attempt to oust the foreign powers and influences).  The insurgency against outside influence in China, supported by the Manchus, was put down by a coalition of European, American and Japanese forces in 1900, and new demands made on China as reparations. These reparations broke the back of the Manchu treasury, but worse, practically destroyed public confidence in Chinese government institutions. It was a signal for sweeping reforms, including the abolition of imperial examinations for civil service and the replacement of nearly all civil governors.  When the old emperor and empress died within hours of each other in November 1908, they left a not-quite-three-year old Puyi on the throne and his father, Prince Chun, as regent.

On 1 January 1912 the Tongmenghui announced the formation of the Republic of China, with Sun Yat-sen (his best known name) at its head.

As is always the case, might is right, and power is self-justifying. The Wuchang Uprising on 10 October 1911, which later became known as the beginning of the Xinhai Revolution (known in the West as the Gearwheel Revolution), was the first victory of the Hubei-based New Army.  On 1 January 1912, as a result of their signal victory, the Tongmenghui (variously known as the Chinese Alliance, the Chinese Revolutionary Alliance, the Chinese United League, the United League, and the United Allegiance Society) announced the formation of the Republic of China, with Sun Yat-sen (his best known name) at its head. On 12 February, the boy emperor was abdicated, and the “republic” in the heart of China had only a dozen or so warlords to defeat before it became a sovereign fact.


Today is also National Bloody Mary Day, for reasons both obvious and not. The first “Bloody Mary” was Mary I of England, the first child of Henry VIII and Catherine of Aragon. Raised largely by her mother’s priests and nuns, Mary was more devout than most Catholics of the time, and had hundreds of Protestants (including those sanctioned by her father) burned, beheaded or tortured to death.

Other Bloody Marys have been engendered in folklore, bearing the old name that Mary I earned. The best known involves young women invoking Bloody Mary spirits to see the face of her future husband–or a skull if she were to die a spinster. Since some of these rituals involved walking up stairs backwards in a darkened house wearing floor-length skirts with a candle in one hand and a mirror in the other…yeah, hardly surprising they should die alone, and young.

But the best known Bloody Mary to modern audiences is the concoction of vodka, tomato juice and various spices and flavorings often used to chase away evil spirits that were imbibed on The Morning After The Day Before–a hangover treatment if not cure. The earliest claimant to this invention is barkeep Fernand Petiot at Harry’s New York Bar (or the Ritz, depending on source) in Paris in 1921. Henry Zbikiewicz was charged with making one at Club 21 in New York during Prohibition. George Jessel was also said to have invented the concoction, also at 21.  Whoever and wherever the thing was first made, I prefer the Virgin Mary, which has everything but the booze. Since I don’t drink booze enough to get blasted anymore (and vodka ain’t on my list), I don’t need the spicy concoction it for its supposed therapeutic qualities (which, according to authorities, provides salt and hydration to the system, and according to legend is just the Hair of the Dog that Bit You).

Given a choice between all the options, I think the national day probably relates more to the beverage, though no one seems quite sure where or when the name originates or when the day tradition was begun (Nationaldaycalendar.com will “register and proclaim” any “national” or other day you should want).  Vodka makers are more than happy to proclaim the day, and one source states (without foundation) that the drink is named for Mary I.  Recipes abound, these from last year.

Ah, well.  Yet another of those unprovables that dot the annals of history.

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Verdun Ends and National Roast Suckling Pig Day

18 December…chestnuts roasting on an open fire…and all that.  On this day in 1261 the Yuan Dynasty began in China. And in 1603 the first Dutch East India fleet left the Scheldt. New Jersey ratified the Constitution on this day in 1787; and Amendment XIII banning slavery went into effect in 1865. And in 1800 Charles Goodyear, future tire king, was born in Hartford, Connecticut. Joseph Stalin, future bloodthirsty cannibal, was born in TIflis in what is now Georgia on this day in 1879, the same day that John Kehoe, quasi-anarchist leader of the Molly Maguires, was hanged in Pennsylvania. Benjamin O. Davis, Jr., son of the first African-American general officer and the future first African-American lieutenant general, was born on this day in 1912 in Washington DC. And Woodrow Wilson married Edith Galt at the White House on this day in 1915.  But today, we’re talking about French charnel houses, and roast pork.

…committing to attrition as an offensive strategy was alien to German arms

Before 1916, no German planner ever thought attrition was a good idea for German arms: they simply weren’t set up for it. German war-making had always emphasized the quick encirclement and decisive warfare: Germany was never prepared logistically to pound an enemy to death. Germany had built splendid entrenchments starting in 1915 that could withstand attrition, but committing to attrition as an offensive strategy was alien to German arms.

In February 1916, Germany began an offensive at the traditional German invasion route of France: at the forts guarding the city of Verdun on Meuse river, the clearest route to Paris. 

But Erich von Falkenhayn, Chief of Staff to the German Army, believed that France was teetering on the edge of military and political disaster. He believed that French casualties were such that the manpower pool was dry, so his plan for Verdun was two-fold: attack France at its most vulnerable point–Paris, and draw as many French reinforcements as possible into the killing ground. In February 1916, Germany began an offensive at the traditional German invasion route of France: at the forts guarding the city of Verdun on Meuse river, the clearest route to Paris.

Battle_of_Verdun_map
From WIkipedia, the cleanest available

…the metal expended by the guns of Verdun from February 1916 to December could have built the French Navy twice over.

On 21 February 1916, the German offensive kicked off with a horrific bombardment, but it was also clear that the French still had plenty of fight left in them. While the major success at Fort Douaumont took just three days, it was one of the few tactical successes the Germans saw.  The offensive continued week after week, month after month. Few of Falkenhan’s calculations proved correct.  No matter what he did he could not suppress the French artillery enough to reduce his casualties. First Phillipe Petain then Robert Nivelle, commanding the French forces in the area, managed to keep the trenches filled with men, often with fresh troops every fifth day.  Nearly every French soldier in uniform at the beginning of 1916 spent at least some time in the Verdun killing zone; four out of five French infantrymen were in the Verdun area for more than a month. Half of French and 2/3rds of German heavy (155 mm and larger) and super-heavy (208 mm and larger) artillery was in range of the Verdun battlefield at one time in 1916. Though the infantry often had a respite from attacking trenches, hills, craters and ruins for a few yards of gain, the artillery never fell completely silent for nearly a year.  One scholar estimated that the metal expended by the guns of Verdun from February 1916 to December could have built the French Navy twice over.

It saw the destruction of the old British professional army in favor of a drafted force…

But 1916 was about a great deal more than Verdun. As a break in the deadlock on land, Reinhard Scheer took his High Seas Fleet out of port at the end of May to parry with John Jellicoe’s Home Fleet, and the resulting battle in the Skagerrak (also called Jutland) cost only about ten thousand lives and a few ships and the reputation of the naval leadership and the builders of ships. But the German fleet never ventured out again. In June, the Russians under Alexei Brusilov launched an offensive in Galicia that cost as much as 2.5 million casualties for very little territorial gain. To take some pressure off of Verdun, Britain launched their infamous Somme offensive to the north of the Verdun abattoir in on 1 July, and that slaughter-fest cost another million casualties until the offensive officially ended in November. It saw the destruction of the old British professional army in favor of a drafted force, and the deadlock in the trenches went on.

No country that fought in the European theater in 1916 came out untouched by the costs of Verdun.

After ten months, the French were strong enough to counterattack and start pushing the Germans back.  Falkenhayn was compelled to resign, and the German offensive at Verdun was called off on 18 December 1916.  There were nearly a million casualties at Verdun…a million that anyone officially counted.  But there were deep political and psychological wounds for both the French and the Germans, for the British and the Russians and the Austro-Hungarians.  France had survived, but Germany was entering a period of famine called the “turnip winter” caused by a combination of the British blockade, wet autumn weather, lack of agricultural manpower and collapsing transportation networks. Of all these causes, the blockade and the lack of manpower are the most cited as being responsible. It is not difficult to trace the failure of German plans at Verdun to their resumption of unrestricted submarine warfare that led to the entry of the United States in the war. Germany survived, but the government of the French Third Republic itself came under siege. French soldiers, though relieved to have survived, felt at if their politicians didn’t care about them. Russia survived, but Austria-Hungary, always a weak link in the German armor, teetered on the precipice of economic and social collapse.  Britain survived, but Russia was cut off completely from the outside world because she could not get her agricultural product out or military goods in, despite Britain’s dominance of the seas. Worse, Russia’s armies were burning with a deep resentment that, in just a few months, would spark a revolution. Russia survived for the moment, but Britain was confronted not just with bankruptcy of funds but bankruptcy of men. No country that fought in the European theater in 1916 came out untouched by costs of Verdun.


18 December is National Roast Suckling Pig Day for some reason (apparently no one really knows why).  The featured image above is a vegetarian creation. A suckling pig is generally less than six weeks old when slaughtered, usually between 8 and 30 pounds.  Cooking it can be tricky because the cross-section is so thin, but those whose cooking skills extend beyond mine (that would be…pretty much anyone who can actually roast anything without the smoke alarm going off) assure me that it’s like roasting a turkey.  Somehow, not reassuring.

As for Why the Samurai Lost, it’s proceeding apace. Remember to check in with us at JDBCOM.COM for more.

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Declarations of War and National Noodle Ring Day

11 December…there will be snow here in the Great Lakes soon, if it hasn’t come to your neighborhood already (or mine: this is drafted in September). But on this day, a whole lot happened that, quite frankly, we just need to mention right now. Llewellyn the Last, the last native Prince of Wales, was killed on this day at Cilmeri in 1282. James II, the last Stuart king of England and the last Roman Catholic monarch in England, was captured in Kent on this day in 1688. Louis XVI went on trial in Paris on this day in 1792, but there was very little doubt asw to what the verdict would be.  In Hartford, Connecticut on this day in 1844, nitrous oxide was used for the first time as a dental anesthetic. In 1916, while the British Army struggled to pull themselves together after the Somme offensive, David Lloyd George formed another government in London. At Windsor, Edward VIII abdicated the throne of Great Britain in favor of his brother in 1936. And, in 1946, the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was founded to provide relief for the millions of children caught up in WWII.  But today, we talk about the legal niceties of declaring war, and about noodle rings, in that order.

On 11 December 1941:

  • Germany declared war on the United States
  • The United States declared war on Germany and Italy
  • The Dutch Government in exile in London declared war on Italy

Now, these events were, by their nature, belligerent. The Kellogg-Briand pact of of 1928 pledged the signatories (all of these states) to denounce war as an instrument of national policy.  With me so far? Good.

Now, here’s the rub: all of these states were more or less at war with the declared enemies for at least a year before war was officially declared…or, at least, were in a war-like status.  See, just issuing a declaration of war does two things:

  1. Announces that a state of war exists between sovereign states;
  2. Provides a bully pulpit for the various blowhards to harangue their respective populations.

Simply declaring war doesn’t really do anything other than let everyone know what’s going on. 

Note that declaring war has no real effect on the conflict itself, other than to galvanize a population.  But it does have an effect on neutrals (which by 1941 mostly meant Latin America).  They become constrained in supporting one belligerent or another; witness the naval action outside Montevideo in 1939 that led to the scuttling of Graf Spee. Simply declaring war doesn’t really do anything other than let everyone know what’s going on.

Arguably the US and Germany were already at war.

In the case of Germany declaring war on the United States, there has been some confusion about it, and many scholars have questioned whether it was either required by the Tripartite agreement (it really wasn’t) or if it was a good idea. Even if it wasn’t required, the US Navy had been escorting British convoys as far as mid-ocean since early 1941–how would that not be a war-like act?  The Americans and British had met to confer on war planning and measures for nearly two years–again, America already looked like a belligerent anyway. Finally, the Lend-Lease Agreement traded use of British bases in the Caribbean for warships–thin even to American observers. Arguably the US and Germany were already at war. The mutual declarations were merely icing on the cake, as it were.

Unlike in Germany where one person could do it, it was the US Congress who made these declarations in America…

The Americans declaring war on Germany and Italy didn’t provide for 2. above because Roosevelt had already made his war speech three days earlier, calling on Congress to declare a that a state of war existed between the US and Japan on 8 December. Unlike in Germany where one person could do it, it was the US Congress who made these declarations in America, and when Congress voted on 11 December 1941, it was by direct vote in response to the German declaration just hours before, without a presidential call being necessary. Now, the Dutch declaring war on the Italians may not have done much on the outside of it, but it allowed the United States to harbor refugee Dutch warships (both of them) in the West Indies and use them and their bases against the much-feared Italian submarines roaming the Atlantic.  Okay, there were only two of them, but it was two more that had to be dealt with, and they had the range to reach Brazil.

The last declaration of war was in 2005 in Chad’s civil war.

All of that aside, there have been far more “undeclared” wars between states than there have been “declared” conflicts.  Declaring war was something that certain treaties and agreements of the 19th century required to clarify the status of neutrals, belligerents, noncombatants and other legal niceties that were important when there were neutrals and noncombatants.  The last declaration of war was in 2005 in Chad’s civil war. It is important to note, however, that Rome and Carthage were technically at war from 264 BC to 1985, called an “administrative error” in WIkipedia.  By such errors whole empires can be lost.


Now, this is serious…just look at my face.  Today, 11 December, is National Noodle Ring Day.  But I know what you’re thinking: who would want to observe a day for Spaghettios…

Uh-Oh, Spaghettios
Remember these? Sure you do. But Ring Noodles in Tomato Soup are not Noodle Rings.

No, Noodle Rings are something completely different.  Noodle Rings are pasta dishes baked in a ring mold or bundt pan. The ingredients include noodles, flour, breadcrumbs, cheese, eggs and a host of other add-ins, from tuna and broccoli to ham, beef, sausage and even spam. They were more popular in the 1950s than they are today, apparently, but some recipes may go back as far as 4th millennium BC China.

If I didn’t like doing this blog I wouldn’t do it, but the research on this one was interesting.  I’m no epicure, but one of the scores of recipes I ran into digging into this  may just get made in my kitchen.

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Mine Run Begins, National Craft Jerky Day and Cyber Monday

27 November…Thanksgiving is over and we can now coast to Christmas…sort of.  In the American business world of which I am still occasionally a part, this is the time of year that very little really gets done…and you can tell I was never in retail.  But, too, 27 November marks the death of Clovis I, king of the Franks in Paris in 511; in 1495 James IV of Scotland received Perkin Warbeck, who pretended to be Richard of Shrewsbury and the rightful king of England; Nakagawa Hidemasa, son-in-law to one of Japan’s unifiers, Oda Nobunaga, was killed in Korea on this day in 1592; the University of Pennsylvania was founded in Philadelphia on this day in 1779; the American Statistical Association, the second oldest professional society in the US, was organized in Boston in 1839; the first Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, the world’s largest repeating parade, was held in New York in 1924; Lester Gillis, better known as Baby-Face Nelson, was killed in a shootout with the FBI in Barrington, Illinois on this day in 1934; the first missile to intercept an aircraft, a Bell Labs Nike-Ajax, was demonstrated at White Sands Proving Grounds in New Mexico on this day in 1951; and Gerald Ford was confirmed as Vice-President in 1973, following the resignation of Spiro Agnew.  But today, we’re talking about Virginia, about salted meat, and about the ultimate in procrastination.

After the inconclusive Bristoe campaign that just ended, Meade saw an opportunity in the Confederate movement that he was well-placed to exploit.

Mine Run was one of those odd, whoever-heard-of-that 1863 post-Gettysburg, before-the-WIlderness campaigns in the American Civil War that everyone knows of but that no one cares about.  Yet, it had an importance beyond the battlefield that helped to seal the fate of the Southern Confederacy.  It all started when George G. Meade, commanding the 81,000 men of the Union’s Army of the Potomac, got wind of a split in Robert E. Lee’s 45,000 man Army of Northern Virginia, where Clark Mountain stood in between two halves.  After the inconclusive Bristoe campaign that just ended, Meade saw an opportunity in the Confederate movement that he was well-placed to exploit. On 26 November 1863 (the first national Thanksgiving), Meade got his men moving around Lee’s right flank, to fall on Richard Ewell’s Confederate II Corps anchored on Mine Run (a run in geography is a flowing body of water unsuitable for navigation).

…in the morning, Meade was smart enough to recognize the potential for another Fredricksburg when he saw it.

The movement started well, but WIlliam French’s III Union Corps got bogged down while fording the Rapidan, losing a day.  The delay and confusion alerted Lee, who placed Jubal Early in command of Ewell’s corps.  Early then marched to Payne’s Farm, meeting French’s vanguard divisions there on 27 November, but failed to stop the Federal movement. Lee dug in behind Mine Run after pulling back away.  But in the morning, Meade was smart enough to recognize the potential for another Fredricksburg when he saw it. While he bombarded Lee’s position on 28 November, he sent Gouverneur K. Warren’s II Corps and John Sedgwick’s VI Corps around the flanks, looking for weakness. There wasn’t any, but Meade felt obliged to look.  Lee, meanwhile, gathered reinforcements and planned for another Chancellorsville flank march on 2 December. But Meade decided that the position was too strong, and backed away from the confrontation.  Lee, frustrated by Meade’s caution, went into winter quarters.  So did Meade, returning to Brandy Station.  For less than 1,500 Federal casualties and about 600 Confederate, neither side had a great deal to show for it.

That Meade didn’t hazard his force in another abattoir was good, but still seemed indecisive. 

The true tragedy regarding Mine Run is that it decided nothing geographic, and therefore history has neglected it.  But, I feel we should look at it in a rather different light.  President Lincoln was always anxious for “his army” to be doing something, and that soon after his reelection he was looking for military success in the Eastern Theater. William Sherman left Atlanta for Savannah on 15 November; John B. Hood, who had invaded Tennessee with and army in September, was already as far north as Colombia on the march for Nashville, where George H. Thomas seemed to be slow to react. That Meade didn’t hazard his force in another abattoir was good, but still seemed indecisive.  It was in early December that Lincoln started seriously considering putting Ulysses S Grant in overall command of the armies, if only he could be certain that Grant had no political ambitions. That would be along directly.

Ideally, the jerky known on the American prairies was hard enough to sharpen and use as a weapon.

Now, jerky (the word originated in the Andes mountains) is a borrowing from the Andes that the Spanish discovered.  It is but one of many different varieties of salted meat that 19th century armies thrived on, but was much different than the tender snacks that many of us may see in stores these days. Originally, one “jerked” whatever meat was on hand by salting and dehydrating whatever meat was at hand; beef, pork, lamb, deer, kangaroo, opossum, alligator, even fish and earthworms–anything with a fat content.  Ideally, the jerky known on the American prairies was hard enough to sharpen and use as a weapon. Modern consumers would shy away from eating anything that tough, but the toughness preserved the meat, and the consumption made the eater salivate–important in the high desert mountains. Today’s featured image is likely bacon or material made to look like it (but it made you look this far) but in its original form jerky could have been used to make jewelry–and maybe it was, once or twice.

…an observance started by the Long Beach Jerky Company in 2016 to recognize the small-batch makers of real jerky, as distinct from the (overpriced) jerky-like commercial food that many consumers enjoy…

But 27 November is National Craft Jerky Day, an observance started by the Long Beach Jerky Company (you were expecting maybe IBM?) in 2016 to recognize the small-batch makers of real jerky, as distinct from the (overpriced) jerky-like commercial food that many consumers enjoy (but maybe not after they read this). The modern large-batch product is made from a fondant (a slurry or paste) of the desired base meat that is shaped, colored and flavored (by the time process-manufactured products get shaped, they may as well be sawdust), before it’s packaged. No open fires, sun racks or salting tubs here.

Jerky.com (no, really) advertises over a hundred different varieties of jerky from a simple “original” beef to a teriyaki venison, a maple wild boar, and an ahi tuna. 

Not so with the craft products (no, I don’t know anyone in the trade and I don’t eat it unless I’m desperate). The small-batch is done in a more traditional, if industrial and sanitary and higher-cost-per-unit, manner. Craft jerky is available in a blizzard of meats, rubs, spice selections and package choices; even low-salt. There’s one outfit called Jerky.com (no, really) that advertises over a hundred different varieties of jerky from a simple “original” beef to a teriyaki venison, a maple wild boar, and an ahi tuna.  Eh, different strokes for different folks.

…the term “Cyber Monday,” coined in 2005 by Ellen Davis of the National Retail Foundation, caught on quickly enough in the developed world and has spread.

Today, the Monday after Thanksgiving in the US, is Cyber Monday in, let’s see, Australia, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Romania, South Korea, Portugal, Uganda, Germany, the UAE, Egypt, the Netherlands, Finland, Chile, Colombia, Peru, Japan and Argentina.  Do they all celebrate American Thanksgiving?  No, but the term “Cyber Monday,” coined in 2005 by Ellen Davis of the National Retail Foundation, caught on quickly enough in the developed world and has spread. It is said to be the biggest online shopping day of the year, just as Black Friday (the day after Thanksgiving) is the biggest in-store retail day. While that trend may be changing, there’s no real need to wait until Cyber Monday to put the extra load on the delivery guys for your one delivery day: as you find it, buy it.  But that’s me.

Speaking of “Buy It”…my books make excellent gifts for the discerning reader.  There’s surely one for everyone on your list who can read.

 

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Tarawa Begins, National Absurdity Day, and Thanksgiving in America

And this is 20 November, four days before our Thanksgiving break.  Many of you will be out deer hunting, or stocking up for the in-laws and outlaws who will descend upon you in just three days.  But some of us will be recalling that Edward I “Longshanks,” fabled of song and story as the Hammer of the Scots, was proclaimed king on this day in 1272.  Also, in 1820, whaler Essex was sunk by a whale off Peru on this day; the forerunning theological seminary to Howard University was founded in Washington DC on 20 November 1866; Tom Horn, the guide that stalked Geronimo, was hanged in Cheyenne, Wyoming on 20 November 1903; in 1920, Woodrow Wilson became the second president to win a Nobel Peace Prize; and in 1947, Princess Elizabeth Windsor (later Queen Elizabeth II) married Prince Philip Mountbatten (later Prince Consort and Duke of Windsor).  But today, we’re going to talk about undaunted courage, and absurdity.

After the fall of Guadalcanal in 1943, American planners had to consider which of many targets they were interested in securing. There were two strategic imperatives at that point:

  1. Returning to the Philippines because Douglas MacArthur said so;
  2. Establishing bases in the Marianas so that a blockade of the Japanese Home Islands could be implemented,

The two were geographically exclusive.  A third, tactical imperative to both, the isolation of Truk in the Carolines, could address both, and that meant the Gilbert islands.  Planners chose the small island of Betio in the Tarawa atoll as a target.

Using their mastery of camouflage and ingenuity at field fortification, the Japanese built a maze of bunkers with interlocking fields of fire using concrete, steel plate, green coconut logs and coral fill that were impervious to all but direct hits from naval gunfire.

Beito is literally a high spot in the ocean, two miles long, eight hundred yards wide, and less than fifteen feet above flood tide. Its principle redeeming feature in military terms is that it is the largest island in the Tarawa Atoll that forms a lagoon of a little less than 200 square miles–large enough for a small fleet to shelter.  The Japanese had been in the area since the spring of 1942, and had moved a Special Naval Landing Force unit (about a battalion in size) there, in addition to engineers and two thousand or so Japanese, Korean and Chinese laborers. A Special Base Defense Force unit of about 1,100 men rounded off the Japanese garrison.  There were also fourteen Japanese tanks and about fifty artillery pieces defending the island under Shibazaki Kenji, a Navy amphibious expert who boasted that “it would take a million men a hundred years” to conquer Tarawa.  While the total numbers of Japanese on Beito was modest (less than 10,000 total), their defences were not. Using their mastery of camouflage and ingenuity at field fortification, the Japanese built a maze of bunkers with interlocking fields of fire using concrete, steel plate, green coconut logs and coral fill that were impervious to all but direct hits from naval gunfire.  Short on fuel, the Japanese used their tanks as bunkers, burying several at the water’s edge.

V Amphibious Corps was slated for Operation GALVANIC, commencing landings on Betio on 20 November 1943, five days before Thanksgiving.

The 2nd Marine Division had been formed in February 1941, and two of its regiments had fought on Guadalcanal with the 1st Marine Division.  Elements of the Army’s 27th Infantry Division was assigned, with the 2nd Marine Division (commanded by Julian C. Smith) to form V Amphibious Corps under Holland M. “Howlin’ Mad” Smith.  V Amphibious Corps was slated for Operation GALVANIC, commencing landings on Betio on 20 November 1943, five days before Thanksgiving. Raymond Spruance commanded the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet at the time of the landings;  and Harry Hill commanded the amphibious task group.

One by one, Marines cobbled together ad hoc task groups to perform this mission or that one, clearing this much of one end of the island, knocking down a bunker complex, or just fighting for enough space to land supplies or evacuate wounded.

The Marine invasion was the first contested beach that both the Marine attackers and the Japanese defenders had faced, and as the Higgins boats grounded on the coral reef five hundred yards off the beach, the killing began.  Though the initial bombardment had destroyed some of the heavier guns, those that remained were enough to slaughter much of the first and second waves. One by one, Marines cobbled together ad hoc task groups to perform this mission or that one, clearing this much of one end of the island, knocking down a bunker complex, or just fighting for enough space to land supplies or evacuate wounded. Though the Japanese didn’t mount a major counterattack the first night, they managed to keep the Marines awake and bleeding strength.

23 November was a day of consolidation as the Marines developed a technique they would use time and again on Japanese bunker complexes called “corkscrew and blowtorch.”

More Marines managed to get ashore on 21 November, and yard by bloody yard they secured the western end of the island by nightfall.  23 November was a day of consolidation as the Marines developed a technique they would use time and again on Japanese bunker complexes called “corkscrew and blowtorch.”

  • An automatic weapons team, light howitzer or a tank would occupy the defenders, keeping their heads out of their vision slits.
  • A flamethrower team would get as close as they could to one bunker, dousing the defenders suddenly and completely.
  • Finally, engineers would rush the structure and plant explosives to blow in either an entrance or a vision slit, followed up by the flamethrower and more explosives.
  • If all of that didn’t work, bulldozers would bury the structure, defenders and all.

The Japanese managed to put together a final charge on the Marines on the night of the 23rd with perhaps 300 men; all are thought to have been killed. Fortunately for future American attackers, the Japanese had a tendency to die to the last man on their isolated island outposts, leaving no legacy of intelligence information for future samurai defenders.  By the time Beito was declared secure on 24 November, the day before Thanksgiving, there were fewer than 150 Japanese survivors, and more than a thousand Marines were dead.  The legacies of Tarawa are many: numerous legendary acts of courage and willing sacrifice; the discovery of a ‘minimum neap tide’ that oceanographers had never seen before that kept the tide over the reef low (that a New Zealander familiar with the area had warned the Marines of but was ignored); the realization that the Japanese were going to fight it out regardless of the odds–and so were the Marines.

OK, guys, let’s start our chat on National Absurdity Day with a definition or two:

Absurd, adjective 1. utterly or obviously senseless, illogical, or untrue; contrary to all reason or common sense; laughably foolish or false: an absurd explanation.

Absurd, noun 2. the quality or condition of existing in a meaningless and irrational world.

Now, for most of us, these definitions are fairly simple, reasonable, and concise.  Regrettably, here lately, “absurd” has come to mean “that which I disagree with,” as in “Hillary Clinton belongs in jail,” or “Donald Trump openly colluded with the Russians to steal the 2016 election,” or “we should spend an outrageous volume of our wealth to keep global temperature means from rising 0.6 degrees by 2100,” or “either play the entertaining filler between beer commercials that you are paid an obscene amount of money to play, or protest with the rest of the whiners outside: just leave the fans and their advertisers out of it.” National Absurdity Day, November 20th every year, will no doubt share many of these and like sentiments around the Thanksgiving TV on Thursday.  And let’s not forget the ultimate absurdity as represented in today’s featured image: A fairly typical 26-year old American infantryman in 1943 (probably somewhere in Italy by his outfit), and a supposedly typical 26-year old American student in 2013, talking about health care (an infantilized child-man with cocoa and onesies promoting…what, again?).

Absurd?
I’ve got another word for it…

Yup, that’s absurd all right.

But it’s Thanksgiving on Thursday, a day set aside to celebrate the bounty that the hard work and sacrifice of so many has provided for us. Let’s all take a moment and think about what an extra day or two off means to those of us who get that much, and what working that day in whatever capacity also means.  Working or not, be thankful you live in a society that allows professional athletes to protest, or not, and also hope that our first-responders not get called to some emergency, somewhere, for one day, at least.