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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.