Kido Butai and National Cake Day

So, glad you survived not only Thanksgiving last Thursday but Black Friday the day after, for those of you who indulge in that orgy of retail greed. But today is Cyber Monday, so those among you who want to wait in your living room watching your computer rather than standing in a checkout line for the same stuff–knock yourselves out.

On this day in 1941, the main portion of the Imperial Japanese Navy’s (IJN) Kido Butai (literally mobile force. but also known as the Carrier Striking Task Force, depending on sources) with the 1st Air Group embarked (sources differ, but this was more symbolic than a real operational command) left the fleet anchorage at Hittokapu Bay and headed for Hawaii. The six aircraft carriers in the Kido Butai were the largest concentration of naval air power anywhere in the world and would be the largest until the US invasion of the Marshall Islands in 1944.

The course of the Kido Butai December 1941. Wiki Commons.

Though the details are sketchy, the Kido Butai proceeded on its course with strict communications discipline, giving position reports and little else. This in itself is somewhat unremarkable to serious analysts, but to conspiracy-minded Americans, it’s proof of a US government cover-up at the very highest levels.

Regardless, the Japanese force was proceeding, supposedly, under the strict control of the “government” in Tokyo, which in theory was in control of the entire mission, indeed the whole war. The story goes that there was a chance that the attack on Pearl Harbor–which had required a complete redirection of the IJN from a mid-ocean ambush of the USN strategy that had been planned since 1922 in a matter of months–would not be needed. This is an interesting but ultimately unsatisfying version of what was likely the truth: the Pearl Harbor attack was going in no matter what because stopping the samurai from going to war was not going to be possible. After 1938 they controlled the economy; by October 1941 they controlled the government outright. The negotiations with the diplomats in Washington were, as FDR’s Secretary of State Cordell Hull thought at the time, a stalling tactic.

The “go code” message “Climb Mount Niitaka 1208,” has been widely asserted to have been sent by Yamamoto Isoroku, commander in chief of the Combined Fleet, to Nagumo Chuichi, commanding the Kido Butai, on 2 December 1941. This has been interpreted to mean that the attack on Pearl Harbor was to go ahead as scheduled on 8 December (Japan time). There are many different versions of this episode, but none of these versions answer the simple question that any good analyst would ask:

WHO authorized Yamamoto to send such a message?  

THAT part of the story is left out, and there is no evidence of any discussions of any “authorizations” by Tojo Hideki’s government that would have unleashed the attack–or how a lack of any such instruction would have restrained it–outside the movies. In other words, the military government (bakufu) that ran the country didn’t appear to authorize it. Huh.

So, who was waiting for word from the negotiations in Washington? Not Yamamoto, apparently. Beyond that, where are the similar messages to all the other Japanese commands headed to Malaya and the Philippines at the same time, and those poised to strike at Hong Kong? Was it the same message for everyone? Was the Imperial Japanese Army going to be taking orders from the Navy? Really?

Another nagging part of this story is the “1208” tacked on to the end of the message, always interpreted at December 8th. Huh. Some code, eh? One would think that if they went to the trouble of encoding the actual order, the date would be too, yeah?

The “Climb Mount Niitaka” message was purportedly intercepted by the Americans and the British, and probably by the Russians (though that is unclear in the “sources”). Its significance was, of course, missed, or misinterpreted. Trouble is, there’s no original source on any intercepts, nor any record or memory of discussions of any meaning attached to such intercepts at any level. More than that, the “East wind rain” message that signaled imminent hostilities that was supposedly also sent sometime before the Pearl Harbor attack wasn’t transmitted according to Japanese sources and was almost certainly never intercepted by anyone.

The two supposed coded messages combine in some minds into a missed opportunity to alert Hawaii and minimize the loss of life on 7 December. However, they are more critical to post-war views that Japan was a rational actor, that they genuinely wished for peace, and that by extension the American peace overtures in 1945 should have been more strident…and generous. Without the “Climb Mount Niitake” message, the Pearl Harbor strike was merely ordered by a duplicitous regime, not allowed by a more reasonable one.

So, after all this…what about the Kido Butai? It was ordered to attack Pearl Harbor regardless of what happened elsewhere because the entire Southern Operation (seizure of the Duch East Indies) was the objective. Neutralizing the US Pacific Fleet, even if briefly, was seen as an essential element of that operation. These coded messages were needed for other purposes, and have no basis in fact or hard evidence to support the contention that they were final instructions.

Waking the sleeping dragon/tiger of the US was concerning, but not restricting. If the carriers were there, excellent and most desired; if not, it would have been impossible not to attack whatever ships and facilities were there.

Think about that.

Next week, I start a series called “Pearl Harbor Reconsidered” to frame the publication (finally) of Why the Samurai Lost Japan on or about 15 December. The series will explore Japan’s strategic and tactical options for that December in 1941, including the folly of the mythical Third Strike on Pearl Harbor. Hope you enjoy it.

National Cake Day…who’s idea was this? No one knows, apparently.  And yet, the world continues to turn…

The word cake to denote baked goods is said to be derived from the Old Norse “kaka.” However, “kaka” in English is borrowed from the Maori and used to describe a species of birds native to New Zealand…or, for children and gremlins, poop.

No one can know how many different kinds of cake there are worldwide. There are countless recipes, some are bread-like, some rich and elaborate, and many are centuries old. Cakes typically contain a combination of flour, sugar, eggs, and butter or oil, with some variety of liquid which may be milk or water, along with a leavening agent such as yeast or baking powder. Flavorful ingredients are often added, for example; chopped nuts, fresh, candied or dried fruit, fruit purees or extracts. Cake can be enjoyed with or without frosting or icing…or eating, as these two examples show.

Happy birthday…cake!?

Look hard enough on the internet, and you can find some even more remarkable cakes. Since I strive to make this a family-friendly blog, I shall avoid including the more salacious images or links to them. The cake to the left is one of the tamer images I found on a particular site.

There are several “cake” days (and a month), according to at least one source. Here’s a list With luck, I won’t be punished for blatantly stealing it:

  • National Cake Month – February
  • National Lemon Chiffon Cake Day – March 29
  • National Hazelnut Cake Day – June 1
  • National Applesauce Cake Day – June 6
  • National German Chocolate Cake Day – June 12
  • National Angel Food Cake Day – October 10
  • National Cake Day – November 26




Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day, and Tideline

Yesterday was Veteran’s Day in the US. Some of you will be observing the “holiday” today (using that uniquely American phenomenon known as the Monday Holiday Move), which keeps you from getting any mail today or doing any banking.

However, it should NOT have prevented you from realizing that yeaterday was the centennial of the end of World War One. I haven’t done a lot of WWI material on this blog (some, not much) because there have been so many experts who would put me to shame.

If you didn’t pay your respects before…pay them now.

By November 1942, the Japanese were beginning to realize that the American lodgement in the eastern Solomon islands was not just serious, but dangerous. Henderson Field was a fully-equipped air base (if extremely primitive) capable of handling long-range bombers that could threaten Rabaul. But earlier Japanese efforts to reinforce the ground forces on Guadalcanal had been unevenly successful, and the logistical situation on the island was increasingly grave. Finally, the superbly trained cadre of prewar pilots was wearing thin, for the Japanese could not rescue downed pilots like the Americans could, and frequently did, and the Australian coast-watchers on several of the islands didn’t take prisoners. At the same time, constant harassment of American supply runs cost time and material that even the Americans could ill afford.

The Japanese, directed by Yamamoto Isoroku, put together a reinforcement convoy of 11 transports backed up by two battleships, two heavy cruisers, four light cruisers, and sixteen destroyers to run down the Solomons starting 12 November, shooting up Henderson Field while depositing another 4,000 men and their equipment, the whole commanded by Abe Hiroaki. Confronting them would be two American battleships, two heavy cruisers, three light cruisers, and twelve destroyers, with an aircraft carrier available as needed.

Ironbottom Sound, where most of the battle took place, between Savo island (left), and Guadalcanal (right)

The night gunfights that followed were confused enough: I’ll not make them worse this year. What mattered was that the Japanese were stopped, losing both battlewagons and all the transports. What mattered most wasn’t the fact that the Japanese couldn’t shell or reinforce, but that the troops already on the island were starving, and the supplies didn’t make it. The additional 600 Japanese soldiers and sailors that did manage to land just became that many more mouths to feed.

Guadalcanal was an attritional campaign on the scale of Verdun, though shorter and with less fanfare. Unlike Verdun, the Japanese and the Americans were both doing what they had always done: the Japanese attacked, the Americans defended, then attacked. The gates of Paris weren’t at stake at Guadalcanal, but the lifeline to Australia was.

Like the epic struggle then shaping up along the Volga between the Germans and the Soviets at the same time, the Solomons campaign would determine the initiative between the US and Japan for the rest of the war.

This is National Chicken Soup for the Soul Day, for reasons beyond anyone’s ken. Now, as we all know, Chicken Soup for the Soul is a commercial phenomenon, producing 100 million books with over 250 titles in forty languages, pet food, television shows, podcasts, journalism, and licensed products out of Connecticut.  Starting in 1993, motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen produced the first book of inspirational stories they’d heard over the years, simply titled Chicken Soup for the Soul. It took off from there.

Um….no….not in my family.

Just to be clear, I’ve never read any of the books, can’t stand the smell of chicken soup (a friend’s mom made it for every meal) let alone the taste, and I just don’t get the hoopla over it. But, multimedia phenomena are hard to ignore, so I’ll avoid criticism of my own. There have been accusations of plagiarism in some of the books, but it’s hard to plagiarize anecdotes. Some critics have claimed that the books are repetitive and somewhat dull. Others have been inspired. Ah, well.

It is, however, a little ironic that this day falls on 12 November, the day after the American remembrance of the end of WWI, when the 1918 influenza killed more people than the war itself was killing men, women, and children globally, and some clinicians were calculating the end of the human race because they had no idea how to stop it.

At left is an ad that ran in magazines in 1944, typical of the commercial phenomenon of the time. Yes, they wanted to sell chicken soup, and my parents were married in 1943, when my father was in the Army and, obviously, before he went overseas. My dad was not a fan of prepared foods, but regrettably, for the family’s palates, my mom was not a very good cook. This little scene may amuse and may have sold a lot of cans of Campbell’s, but I can practically guarantee you that, given a time machine, you would never have seen it around my parent’s home at any time.

All of this has nothing to do with the Chicken Soup for the Soul, but it is a sort-of lead-in for my next book, Tideline: a Story of Friendship. I’ve talked about it before, but now…it’s probably going to be ready by mid-2019. Here’s a tentative cover:


Tentative cover for Tideline

It’s a story about friends, love, youth, loss, finding yourself, and family secrets, but most of all it’s about the kind of trust that most of us are lucky to have just once in one person. You’ll also learn something about a family with a poor principal cook.

It takes place mostly in metropolitan Detroit and Key West, Florida at two times: 1963 to 1973, and 1985-86, before cell phones, the internet, and popular social media made personal contact between under-40 humans little more than fleshy accessories to digital noise. When the two main characters meet and fall in love it is personal; when they find each other again after half a lifetime apart, it’s still in the flesh.

More as it develops…

William Boeing, Popular History and National Hair Day

Gonna try something different this month. Bear with me.

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

Boeing B&W

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

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

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

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

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

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


Cover for Why the Samurai Lost Japan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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



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

JDB_001 001

Your author, about age 2 or so.

Keep your cards and letters coming in, folks.

Pearl Harbor Planning and National Punctuation Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saipan, National Sugar Cookie Day, and News of the Future-Past

Nearly mid-July and the weather is–or should be–warmer than it was six months ago. If not, Prince Albert Gore of St. Albans and his disciples of climate change have some explaining to do. As a reminder to my readers–climate changes. This does not mean we all have to start walking to work.

On 9 July 1540, Henry VIII annulled Anne of Cleaves, his fourth wife. Of all his divorces, this one was probably the one that everyone agreed with but robbed the headsman his fee for beheading her. Also on this day in 1686, the League of Augsburg (also known as the Grand Alliance) was first formed between the Holy Roman Empire, Austria, and Spain; at various times nearly every country in Europe would join to oppose expansionist France. Today in 1776, the Declaration of Independence was read to the troops on Long Island as they were preparing to meet some 11,000 oncoming British troops; the reaction, according to most, was mixed. But it worked, since on 9 July 1795, the national debt of just over $2,000,000 was paid off–the last time that happened all at once. On this day in 1887, Samuel Eliot Morison was born in Boston, Massachusetts. Morison was a well-known scholar when he was appointed to write the US Navy’s official history of WWII, and left a lasting legacy of maritime and naval history, best remembered for coining the term “Long Lance” describing Japan’s oxygen-fueled Type-93 torpedo after the war. Today in 1993 is also the day when remains found near Ekaterinburg, Russia was identified as those of the Romanovs using mitochondrial DNA studies, the 75-year-old mystery of the fate of the last monarchs of Russia finally solved. But today, we’re talking about the end on Saipan, and the most delectable possible taste in all of creation (other than the kiss of your most precious loved ones).

In the Pacific War, much of the fighting was simply for bases. The prewar US plans were for a methodical march across the central Pacific, seizing the Mariana Islands as a prelude to a distant blockade of the Japanese Home Islands. But the prewar plans did not have the B-29s in them, and the Marianas were in range of the new super-heavy bombers out of Seattle.

Saipan Campaign, Wiki Commons

Japan had moved into the Mariana Islands when they took them from the Germans in 1914 and had treated them as extensions of the Japanese Empire. Strategically, they were important to prewar Japanese planning as air bases for attacks on the expected US Navy fleet assault. Over 30,000 Japanese civilian colonists lived on Saipan in 1941.

While only isolated parts of Saipan were out of USN battleship range, none of it was out of the range of their carrier-based aircraft.

The American invasion fleet left Pearl Harbor for Saipan on 5 June 1944, a day before a much larger Anglo-American force hit the beaches of Normandy. The US naval force, 5th Fleet, was commanded by Raymond A. Spruance; V Amphibious Corps of two Marine and one US Army divisions on board the amphibious fleet was commanded by Holland M. Smith. Opposing them was the Central Pacific Area Fleet, led by Nagumo Chuichi of Pearl Harbor infamy, that included the Thirty-First Army commanded by Saito Yoshitsugu,  and 14th Air Fleet commanded by Nagumo. Tokyo knew the Americans were coming, and more-or-less when based what they gleaned from intercepting the radio traffic of the chatty Americans. The bombardment of the island started on 13 June, the invasion started on 15 June. The landings were essentially unopposed. Having tried to meet the invaders at the beaches at Tarawa with no success, Japanese strategy shifted from that to a defense in depth, in part to stay away from the pinpoint gunfire that American destroyers and other light ships were capable of. While only isolated parts of Saipan were out of USN battleship range, none of it was out of the range of their carrier-based aircraft.

In two days, 19-20 June, the Japanese lost three fleet carriers, two oilers, over 600 aircraft, and any hope of resupplying the Marianas, compared to just over 100 US aircraft (of some 900 engaged) lost.

On the day the invasion started, the Japanese committed to A-Go, the implementation of their mid-ocean ambush that they had drilled regularly since 1922.  A-Go is known to historians as the battle of the Philippine Sea, or colloquially as the Marianas Turkey Shoot. In two days, 19-20 June, the Japanese lost three fleet carriers, two oilers, over 600 aircraft, and any hope of resupplying the Marianas, compared to just over 100 US aircraft (of some 900 engaged) lost.

Ominously, civilians and wounded men joined in the largest banzai charge of the war.

The result of the fighting on Saipan was never really in doubt. The biggest delay was caused by interservice rivalry. Marine General Smith relieved Army General Smith because his troops were taking too long to clear a particularly tricky defile dubbed Death Valley. The area was finally cleared, using the original commander’s plan but implemented by his relief. On 7 July, after Nagumo killed himself, over 4,000 men committed themselves to a final banzai charge that, for fifteen hours, battered two already-decimated Army regiments to tatters. Ominously, civilians and wounded men joined in the largest banzai charge of the war. Saito killed himself shortly afterward.

If Saipan was a preview of the future, it was also ammunition for arguments against an invasion of the Home Islands and for a strategic bombing campaign.

But the bloody slog was over, and Saipan was declared secured on 9 July 1944. Within hours of the first landings, engineers were laying out the future airfields for the Superfortresses. It is thought that at least 22,000 Japanese were killed or killed themselves during the battle for the island. Saipan was the first part of the prewar Greater Japanese Empire to fall to Allied forces and was regarded as a preview of what was to come in any invasion of Japan. If Saipan was a preview of the future, it was also ammunition for arguments against an invasion of the Home Islands and for a strategic bombing campaign.

No one knows why, exactly, National Sugar Cookie day is 9 July, but who cares?

The Perfect Dessert, Unadorned as the Creator Intended

Originally known as Nazareth cookies, these delectable confections were thought to have been invented in the mid-1700s around Nazareth, Pennsylvania by German Protestant settlers who were known to make them. Made with sugar, flour, butter, eggs, vanilla and either baking powder or baking soda, most people have the ingredients on hand at all times and can have the kids help make a batch on any day. The fun just begins with cutting the dough with fun shaped cookie cutters and then getting creative by decorating with icing and sprinkles.  Recipies abound on the internet, but here’s one of the easier ones from

Sugar cookies are holiday favorites, often polluted–excuse me, decorated–with various icings and supposed enhancements including raisins. But for the love of all that’s holy, just don’t. Consume the unadorned delights plain, like you should take you pound cake and your angel food cake: simple, elegant, irresistible.

Or not.

Today, I’m starting a new segment, News of the Future-Past, a homage to the future rewriting of history, which as we all know will happen because we’ve done so much of it before and we continue to do it today, and we will continue to do it until we all get tired of it–the day after never. Continual re-interpretation of the historical record is so rampant and expected it shouldn’t be remarkable…but I can have fun with it. Future historians take note: these vignettes are presented for amusement, entertainment, and punditry. Almost none of them didn’t ever happen.

And you thought you were confused before.

In News of the Future-Past, on 9 July 2018, nuclear war with North Korea was narrowly averted by the courageous intervention of President-Emeritus Legtingle Lightworker and his tireless Secretary-of-State-Forever-in-the-Mind Swift-Boat Johnny. It should be recalled that Johnny was the same former presidential candidate whose memory of a Nixon speech denying that US forces were in Cambodia was seared–seared–into his mind when he was more than a hundred miles outside that country–and he later said he was in it at the time. More history that didn’t happen.

Like this post if you agree:

History: The only test for the consequences of ideas.

Fall of Okinawa and National Leon Day

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

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

This is what Okinawa looks like these days

Okinawa ca 2018

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

Another view

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leon Day, Hall of Fame Pitcher

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

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

Sugar Loaf Ends and National Women’s Checkup Day

OK, 14 May. Yesterday was Mother’s Day (you did remember, didn’t you?), and I hope all you mothers out there were well feted and pampered. I also trust that those of you who still have mothers or mothers-in-law or ersatz-mothers did your duty in pampering and honoring them. One can only hope. We can also pray for a snow-free Mother’s Day in the Great Lakes.

On 14 May 1610, the colony known as Jamestown in Virginia was founded; my ancestor arrived there in chains from Ireland about a year later. Also on this day in 1686, Daniel Fahrenheit was born in what was then Prussia; he would later develop the Fahrenheit temperature scale based on the freezing and boiling points of water, then a revolutionary development. Also in the world of science, on 14 May 1796 Edward Jenner would first innoculate a patient using a cowpox strain; while Jenner was the first to inoculate using scientific means, primitive inoculations had been used using other sick patients’ weeping pus to bring on a milder form of the disease for some time before that. On this day in 1919 Henry J. Heinz–famous for ketchup–died; and on this day in 1954, Heinz Guderian–famous for armored warfare–died. But today we talk about rocks on islands and women’s health.

Announcements of the end of the war in Germany on 8 May did not affect the chaos and slaughter on Okinawa at all.

By the beginning of May 1945, most of the island of Okinawa was in American hands. Since the invasion on 1 April by the Tenth Army’s half million men, the Japanese had defended the island’s mountainous southern parts with their Thirty-Second Army’s 76,000 men plus conscripts with far more tenacity than the flatter parts to the north. The main Japanese holdouts were on the southern 1/3rd of the island, where a series of defensive lines of mutually supporting killing zones made the fighting a nightmare of noise and dust. Announcements of the end of the war in Germany on 8 May did not affect the chaos and slaughter on Okinawa at all.

To crack the Shuri Line, Sugar Loaf had to be secured. It fell on the 6th Marine Divisions to do the job.

One of these defensive lines was centered on Shuri Castle, which had been the seat of the independent Ryukyu Kingdom until it was annexed by Japan in 1879. The castle itself had been shelled and bombed repeatedly, but the Japanese held firm on the defensive line. One of the many defensive positions on the Shuri Line was dubbed Sugar Loaf Hill by the Marines fighting there. Barely fifty feet above the surrounding ridgeline and perhaps three hundred yards long, Sugar Loaf Hill is just east of the city of Naha, one of Okinawa’s principle municipalities and the western anchor for the Shuri Line. To crack the Shuri Line, Sugar Loaf had to be secured. It fell on the 6th Marine Divisions to do the job.


Shuri Line, March 1945

If only it were a simple job. Not only were the Japanese positions mutually supporting, they were mutually supporting in all directions. In some cases, it became necessary to attack in three directions at once to clear a single position. An entire book has been written on this one insignificant land feature. From the Marine Corps Association website:

The Japanese were so entrenched that many Marines fought … without ever sighting the enemy…[describing] a colonel shaking hands with the Marines who returned from one of the fights…one Marine refused to shake hands, saying: “I don’t deserve any commendation. I took the worst licking of my life and never even got one of them in my sights.”

The 6th Marine Division was practically destroyed by the time they secured the hill on 14 May 1945. Nearly a thousand Marines were killed there, and more than 2,500 wounded, at a cost of just over 1,000 Japanese. But their sacrifice helped outflank Shuri Castle itself, even though it would be another two weeks of hard fighting to before the ruins of the castle itself were secured.

When I write stories like this, I come back to the penultimate scenes in Sergio Leone’s The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly (1966). In its 2002 restoration form, the film becomes more than a western–it becomes an anti-war film on the scale of Stanley Kubrick’s Paths of Glory (1959). The cemetery where the Maguffin is buried is called Sad Hill. That cemetery is only accessible using a single bridge that has been fought over for months by opposing forces. But once the bridge is no longer an issue…no more futile battles.

What if there were no more hills and bridges to fight over? We would still fight over something…it’s in our nature.

This is National Women’s Checkup Day (the second Monday in May), a part of National Women’s Health Week (the week after Mother’s Day every year*). While women procrastinate about checkups as men do, the latest polling numbers indicate…not as much. An annual no longer costs anything in the US but time and may save your life. But…


Wile E. Coyote says…

But seriously, folks. Health is important for everyone. I’ve come to like going to my internist, a lovely younger woman (about my daughter’s age) who has put up with my intransigence about my shaky health for going on eighteen years. She says I’ve got at least another decade in me. Good for her.

Stop by next week, folks.

*There’s also an observance of Women’s Health Week the week of Labor Day in some locations.