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Sun Yat Sen and National Girl Scout Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Salt Lake Tribune, 2017
The future of Scouting


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

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

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


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The Bronx, Nagasaki and Jerry Ford

What possible connection could there be?  9 August.

The Bronx, the northernmost of New York’s five boroughs, is named after the Dutchman who bought it for four hundred beads in 1678, Jonas Bronk.  Right next to Manhattan and Alaska in the pantheon of savvy American real estate deals (legend or not), the Bronx is the most fabled of New York City’s many neighborhoods.  And,today is said to be one of the poorest, with over 8% unemployment in April.

But Nagasaki: not a “deal” at all, but the antithesis of one.  In 1945, a B-29 named Bock’s Car flown by Chuck Sweeny dropped a plutonium-core nuclear bomb on Nagasaki, with its shipyards, armaments plants and other important military assets.  More than seventy thousand people died at Nagasaki in a few moments.

Now, the raw facts of the event make it sound cold, but really, not so much.  Japan had been at war with pretty much everyone for nearly fifteen years by then, and even after Hiroshima three days before was still spouting defiance.  There are arguments on both sides of the “Japan was about to give up” debate, but none are more compelling than the fact that it took an announcement from the Showa Emperor Hirohito himself to compel the militarists to stop fighting, and even then a good number of them didn’t want to.  Yes, “Japan” had sought peace as early as the summer of 1944, but those in the very early offerings had no authority, and were not offering a peace as much as an armistice: a cease-fire in place.

But, like the native Americans who sold Manhattan to Pieter Minuit and Jonas Bronk the Bronx, many Japanese didn’t understand what was going on in the late summer of 1945.  Similarly, it is not clear to history how well native many Americans understood the European’s custom of placing a price on land.  The fury that the Americans and other non-Japanese felt towards Japan in general was only dimly realized by most of the Japanese population.  The samurai leadership of Japan had done an excellent job of keeping most of their citizens in the dark about not only the course of the war, but also the reasons for it.

Fast forward to 1974, and America’s first (arguably) unelected President was sworn in at noon, Eastern time.  Gerald Ford of Michigan had been the minority whip in the House for eight years before Richard Nixon tapped him for the vice-presidency after the resignation of Spiro Agnew in 1973.  When Nixon resigned before impeachment for, among other things, his involvement in campaign finance irregularities on 8 August, Ford became the first president since Washington who had never stood for a national election before he was sworn in.

Ford seemed unclear on the concept of how he went from the Congressional Office Building to the Oval Office in less than a year, and like the native Americans in the seventeenth century and the Japanese in the 1940s, seemed unsure of their future.  Though most Americans were familiar with Nixon’s issues, the Japanese of 1945, while they knew there was a war that wasn’t doing well, weren’t sure why.  And the native Americans of 1678 were, likely, just as baffled about having to leave because their homes had been sold for a bag of beads.

Kinda makes the choice that American voters have in November 2016 seem simple in comparison: one pathological liar or the other.  The republic will survive Trump or Clinton if it survived Nixon, just as Japan survived Nagasaki and the subsequent surrender.

Regardless of how hard it is to see now, America will survive.  Yet, like the Japanese in ’45, and the native Americans in the seventeenth century, and Jerry Ford in ’74, most voters will wonder how we got to this point.


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The Malay Emergency 1948-1960:  An Assessment

The Cold War skirmish on the Malay Peninsula just after WWII has been said to have been a “post-colonial, nationalist struggle,” but there is evidence that it was somewhat more, and less, than that.  It was one of the first long-term modestly successful counterinsurgencies by Britain since the Act of Union in 1804, and used successful techniques known as “hearts and minds” to win popular support away from the insurgents.  However, there were several motives behind the conflict in the first place that went beyond the many post-1945 Third World struggles of  at nation building:  it was an extension of the generations-long Chinese civil conflict that ended a most important phase in 1949.  The Chinese communist-led Malay uprising pitted the Maoists and other crypto-Marxists against all those who would get in their way.

All insurgencies start from some grievance somewhere, so it is instructive to look at the situation in Malaya before the “emergency” was declared. Before 1941 the ground was ripe for rebellion, and some stirrings of rebellion.  European contact with the peninsula began with the first Portuguese contact in 1511.  By the end of the 18th Century the British East India Company gained control as a counterweight against the growing Dutch presence in the East Indies, and to prevent revolutionary France from exploiting the feuding sultanates that controlled the strategically vital Straits of Malacca.  The British found their new sources of latex and tin ores to be lucrative, and settled in for a stay by 1867.

The Malays apparently had little control over their own destiny.  While the colonial administration and the plantation and mine workers enjoyed a very high standard of living, most of the native workers were edging poverty.  By 1895 the last sultan of a major Malay state was no more than a figurehead, and the largest and most populous states accepted confederation status with Britain.  And just in time, because the British situation in the area was becoming desperate.  The lavish and powerful naval base at Singapore, built as an anchor against the growing German presence in the East Indies before WWI, was immune to seaward invasion but vulnerable to landward attack.  Worse, the British Army garrison troops were forbidden to train in the jungle-covered peninsula because it was so disease and hazard-infested for European troops.

By the end of the 1914-18 war European influence was restricted to Britain and the Netherlands, but China was beginning to affect events in the region.  Seeking external sources of support, both KMT and communist agents had infiltrated the large Chinese refugee population working in Malaya and Singapore.  The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) was founded in 1920 by Maoists of the Nan Yang, also known as the South Seas Communist Party, a fairly obscure study-group-style movement with little power, and little heard of until the 1930s.  Both the KMT government and the Chinese communists encouraged various anti-colonial movements in the East Indies and Indochina, even while they were at each other’s throats.

When war with Germany began in 1939 the flow of German arms to China (the KMT government was Germany’s biggest overseas customer) came to an end, and with it the trickle of support to the Malay nationalist movements.  The two Chinese factions joined forces when Japan invaded China, but their influence was beginning to wane as Japanese agents fomented the ideals of the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere in 1940, and soon the Chinese were again at odds with each other in Malaya.

The Japanese invasion of Malaya in 1941 triggered open civil war between the factions, but the communists were getting help.  The MCP formed a front group called the Anti-Enemy Backing-Up Society (AEBUS) that received arms and training from the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) and the American Office of Strategic Services (OSS).  In 1942 the MCP also formed the Malayan People’s Anti-Japanese Union and Forces (MPAJUF) that, with the AEBUS, fought the Japanese at the far end of a very long logistical tether.  With practically no supplies coming in the disparate groups did considerable damage to Japanese efforts, but Japan had no trouble recruiting sizable security forces from among the Malays.

In August 1942 the MCP leadership was arrested by Japanese authorities and large numbers executed, but Leninist party Secretary Lai Peck and his Stalinist assistant Chen Ping survived.   While the nationalist insurgency continued in a dispersed fashion, the communist effort was centrally and tightly controlled, not risking cadres in combat but exposing them occasionally to safer raids.  The MCP guerrillas also spent a great deal of resources in killing informers and reeducating recalcitrants who deviated from the party line.  When Japan surrendered and the SOE supplies ended, the MCP had some 7,000 highly trained and disciplined cadres.  Soon after the British returned to Malaya Lai Peck disappeared with the MCP treasury, and Chen Ping was left in the vacuum.

Taking advantage of the administrative confusion after the war, the MCP organized labor strikes and guerrilla raids to coordinate with the 100th anniversary of the 1848 revolutions that so inspired Marx and Engels.  They also introduced an organization called Min Yuen; a peacetime version of the Anti-Japanese Union, as a political front to coordinate a shadow government. The British reaction to the violence began with a conventional military response of large units in sweeps through unfamiliar territory that had practically no effect other than to embolden the guerrillas.  After ineffectively bungling up through 1950, the Korean conflict brought new prosperity to Malaya, and new attention to the insurgency as a communist Chinese effort to destabilize Asia.  While Chen Ping apparently wanted to liberate Malaya, there’s no evidence that Mao had a mind for a presence in the Straits of Malacca.

But no matter, because a distinct change in strategy was yielding results by late 1951.  While population control measures such as food rationing and strict curfews were imposed on the villages that supplied the guerrillas, the army turned to more auxiliaries, intelligence-gathering, police and small-unit operations that began to yield results by the end of 1951.  By 1953 MCP recruiting was less than half what it had been in 1950, and guerrilla casualties to starvation began to outnumber those to combat.   Local elections were held in 1955, when the combat phase of the British operation was at an end; a national government was in place by 1957; the consolidation of government control was complete by 1960.

Chen Ping, however, wasn’t done.  He and a few hundred of his followers retreated to the Malay-Thai border and operated an insurgency from there at least until the mid 1970s, concentrating his efforts on the 40% of Malaya’s ethnic Chinese population.  He was never captured, and the MCP still raids into Johore, mostly attacking the economic infrastructure of Malaysia.

While ultimately successful in keeping a communist-dominated group from controlling the Straits of Malacca, the British counterinsurgency was a mechanistic one that failed to address the root of the problem: discord among the ethnic Chinese and the refugees from the Chinese mainland that was about 40% of Malaya’s population, and that still boils over today.  While the MCP is a legal organization in modern Malaysia, its renegade counterpart is pirate band in the Straights, responsible for billions in shipping losses and a twenty-fold increase in insurance rates in forty years.  It boasts of control of large parts of the most rugged country close to Thailand, but exercises it only occasionally.  While the decentralized counterinsurgency approach the British used  to stabilize the country were effective, the problem of the large ethnic Chinese population remains..  Modern Malaysia may have to deal with a wider problem again soon.


Asprey, Robert, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History, Volumes 1 and 2.  New York: Doubleday and Company, 1975.

Black, Jeremy, War Since 1945.  New York: Reaktion Books, 2006

Carver, Michael, War Since 1945.  New York: Prometheus Books, 1990

Kensington, Roger LTC (Ret) Special Air Service, British Army (Maintenance supervisor, MinePro Services Malaysia (a division of P&H Mining Equipment), personal interview with the author, July 2010.

Marston, Daniel, and Carter Malcasian (eds), Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare.  Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2008.

Pye, Lucian W., Guerrilla Communism and Malaya–Its Social and Political Meaning.  Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1956.