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Executions and Department Store Day

Eh? What’s one to do with the other? Ever gone shopping in a department store with a significant other?  Nuff said.

Nah, you know what they have to do with each other…or at least you will.  16 October saw James II of Scotland born in 1430; Noah Webster (of the dictionary) born in 1758; Hirobumi Ito (Japan’s first prime minister under the Meiji Constitution) born in 1841; and David Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) born in 1886.  And on this day in 1773 the Philadelphia Resolutions were published; the battle of Leipzig in 1813; US Grant assuming command of the Union’s western armies in 1863; the Russian Baltic fleet departing St. Petersburg for their meeting with destiny in 1904; and the election of John Paul II as the first non-Italian pontiff in four centuries in 1976.  It’s also National Clean Off Your Virtual Desktop Day (First Monday after Labor Day), Boss’s Day and National Liqueur Day.  But today we talk about executions, real and imagined.

The famous “let them eat cake” quotation actually came from one of her maids

Maria Antonia Josepha Johanna, Archduchess of Austria, was born in Vienna on 2 November 1755, the fifteenth of sixteen children of the Empress Maria Theresa of Austria and Francis I of the Holy Roman Empire.  As Marie Antoinette, she was the last Queen Consort of France before the Bourbon Restoration. Marie used her considerable influence at court to try to reform not only the courts but the financial system of France, best described as pre-medieval.  The famous “let them eat cake” quotation actually came from one of her maids, but had nothing to do with the starving French. While the French Revolution devolved into chaos, and nobles were being sent to the guillotine in large numbers, Louis XVI was executed on 21 January 1793.  Locked in a tower, Marie was eventually condemned for treason against the Revolution (she did try to throttle it at birth) and executed 16 October 1793.

The trials were not a slam-dunk, as five of the indicted were either acquitted or never charged, and seven were given prison sentences.

While as often criticized as victor’s justice, the Nuremberg trials that began in November 1945 were held largely at the behest of the UK, US and USSR to punish the main perpetrators of WWII.  The trials were not, as some have put it, a slam-dunk, as five of the indicted were either acquitted or never charged, and seven were given prison sentences. The biggest targets of the intended trials, Adolf Hitler, Heinrich Himmler and Joseph Goebbels, had all beat the hangman, killing themselves either before or shortly after capture. Martin Bormann was tried and condemned to death in absentia, but unknown to the court he was already dead (his remains were found in 1972, and dated to May 1945). But the other eleven were condemned to die, and despite protests about “victor’s justice,” they went to the gallows on 16 October, 1947.

  • Joachim von Ribbentrop, foreign minister;
  • Wilhelm Keitel, head of the German Armed Forces (OKW);
  • Ernst Kaltenbrunner, head of the RSHA;
  • Alfred Rosenberg, Minister of the Eastern Territories and leading Nazi race theorist;
  • Hans Frank, gauleiter of Poland;
  • Wilhelm Frick, Minister of the Interior who co-authored the Niremberg Laws;
  • Fritz Sauckel, plenipotentiary of the Nazi slave labor program;
  • Alfred Jodl, Chief of OKW operations–signed the order for the summary execution of Soviet commissars and Allied commandos;
  • Julius Streicher, publisher of Der Sturmer, anti-semitic tabloid published throughout the war calling for the liquidation of Jews as early as 1933;
  • Arthur Seyss-Inquart, instrumental in the Anschluss of Austria and Governor-General of the Netherlands.

The “star” of the tribunal, Hermann Goering, beat the hangman by killing himself with poison the day before. All eleven were cremated in Munich and their ashes spread over the Isar River, leaving no shrines for latter-day Nazis to worship. Of all of them, only Jodl was subsequently been “rehabilitated,” only to be reversed later.  Apparently no one  objected to seeing the rest swing, “victor’s justice” or not.

By the 1920s every major city in America had one or more successful department stores

The department store as most of us knew it in its heyday originated in the late 18th century in Britain.  As social mobility and leisure time for urban women increased during the Industrial Revolution, and the spending power of wages multiplied exponentially during the first Retail Revolution of the early 19th century (when cash registers kept track of sales and made returns possible), so too did the appeal of having stores sell multiple lines of dry goods, and where husbands, boyfriends and sons were compelled by circumstances to hold purses for wives, girlfriends and mothers for hours on end.  By the 1920s every major city in America had one or more successful department stores; some had more than one store.  Soon the discount stores like FW Woolworth and SS Kresge crowded the retail space, and by mid-20th century there was nothing that couldn’t be had in some department store somewhere.

Older, established businesses like Hudson’s of Detroit featured above, have been killed by various factors, including foreign competition and the Discount Brothers Mart (Wal, K, and Targ), but more by pilferage.  At this writing a second Retail Revolution is threatening to replace them all with online shopping, with no purses involved.  Anyone with any information whatsoever is asked to come up with some explanation as to why today is Department Store Day is asked to let someone else know.

A few of you know that this blog now appears on a budding web site, JDBCOM.COM, or if you didn’t you know now. Unlike the rest of the platforms I’ve tried to build web sites on over the years, this one at WordPress is well within my skill set, patience and price range. If the appearance of the site changes significantly between now and the end of the year, sorry, price of progress.  For the rest of you, check in once in awhile to see what’s going on.  There will soon be new books, old books and other items for sale there.



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Wake Ends and National Newspaper Carrier Day

The 4th of September is remarkable for a number of things, among them being the end of the Western Roman Empire in 476 CE when Romulus Augustus abdicated at Ravenna; the founding of Los Angeles in 1781; and the Yugo prototype known as the Ford Edsel first hit the showrooms like a brick in 1959.  But today, we talk about the end of Wake Island’s drama, and news kids.

The fighting for Wake Island was something of a sensation in the dark days of December 1941.  On the morning of 8 December Japanese planes out of the Marianas (probably Saipan) bombed the island, destroying 8 of 12 defending fighters.  Air raids continued until 11 December, when the first landing attempt was decisively thwarted by the outnumbered Marines and civilians on the island, which sank the first Japanese warships of the Pacific War.  The garrison’s message, “Send Us More Japs” (actually message padding that was put together in Hawaii and released to the newspapers) was repeated in every headline in every newspaper across America, the only good war news in a dismal month.

But defiant Wake Island was too close to too many Japanese bases, including the Marianas. the Marshalls and the Carolines to be allowed to just hang around.  A second invasion force on 23 December overran the island defences after about twelve hours of bitter and brutal fighting. The Japanese suffered something over a thousand casualties; the Americans had something around 150 military and civilian killed and wounded, and some 1500 were captured.

But there was worse yet to come.  Most of the prisoners were removed to mainland Asia, but nearly a hundred American civilians were kept on the island for forced labor.  Fearing imminent invasion, the Japanese built up the island’s defenses, but the Americans chose not to go back to Wake, instead imposing a submarine blockade and using it as a sort of a bombing range.  From February 1942 to the end of the war Wake was irregularly raided by Navy carrier aircraft and by Army bombers. After one raid on 5 October 1943, Sakaibara Shigematsu, the island’s commander, ordered the prisoners killed.  One forever-anonymous prisoner escaped the machine-gunning and wrote “98 PW 5-10-43” on a coral rock near the mass grave.  The memorialist was captured and personally beheaded by Sakaibara.

The US blockade caused severe food shortages on Wake soon after it was implemented, causing the Japanese and their captives to hunt the Wake Island Rail (a small bird found only on the Wake Atoll) to extinction by 1945.  On 4 September 1945, a detachment of the 4th Marines under the command of Lawson Sanderson landed on Wake and took the remaining Japanese prisoner. Sakaibara was hanged for war crimes on 18 June 1947.

Also on 4 September in 1833, Barney Flaherty was hired to carry (or hawk; the record is unclear) the New York Sun newspaper.  News-kids, often boys but also girls, was for generations the first paying job teens could have.  Paid circulation/home delivery of newspapers has an unclear origin, but Barney was probably not a corner hawker because they had been around for some time before 1833.  In any event, the news-kid is something of a thing of the past now, though not entirely extinct.  Physical paper circulation had fallen dramatically since the internet took over in the early 21st century, and these days home delivery is likely to be done by a regular adult employee.  Still, in those bygone days that I can still recall…ah, you get it.  If you’ve still got a paper-kid, give him/her a bigger tip this week because 4 September is National Newspaper Carrier Day; International Newspaper Carrier Day is the first Saturday in the first full week in October.  I didn’t make that up.

Today, the first Monday in September, is Labor Day in the United States, the traditional End of Summer, though it’s supposed to be the day that we recognize the value of organized labor to the workforce.  WIth union membership dwindling worldwide, that seems a stretch, but there was a time when those of us who have toiled for others would have worked six and a half days a week and 12 hours a day and barely be able to keep the lights on.  Admittedly, it was a lot cheaper to keep those candles burning than it does to run the LEDs…no, actually it doesn’t.

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The Occupation of Japan Begins and Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day

So, today, 28 August.  Lots of momentous stuff, like the beginning of the American invasion of Quebec in 1775, the birth of Charles Rolls in 1877, the German naval disaster against the British at the Heligoland Bight in 1914, Martin Luther King delivered his “I have a dream” speech in Washington in 1963, the “Battle of Chicago” between police and Vietnam war protesters broke out in 1968, and Charles and Diana officially called it quits in 1996.  But on this date in 1945, the world held its breath as the first Americans–Navy and Marines from Task Force 31, and Army paratroopers from the 11th Airborne Division–landed on the Japanese home islands.

Japan had announced its intention to surrender, and a delegation of senior Japanese officials had flown to Manila and returned with details on the occupation, the surrender itself, and had hammered out a timetable for the events, but no one was quite sure what was to come once the Americans actually started to land.  Even though the Japanese the negotiators who pinpointed every ship, every Army unit, and every major armory in Japan, they were still concerned that the initial date of 25 August was too soon.  There were still Shishi–young men of purpose–in the Army who were plotting to continue the war at whatever the cost.  In the event, a typhoon prevented the Americans from arriving on that day, and the date was reset to 28 August, though Japanese officials pleaded for another week to cool or neutralize the hotheads.  Nothing doing: the American would land on the 28th.

The leading elements of the American occupation arrived in the early morning hours of 28 August at the Atsugi airfield outside Tokyo.  First, a train of forty-five C-47 cargo planes landed two hours early.  Led by Charles Tench of Douglas MacArthur’s staff, the Skytrains were packed with nervous paratroopers, communications gear, and a small hospital unit.  Seizo Arisue commanding the men who guarded the airfield against the Shishi that lurked within miles, if not yards, scrambled to receive their “guests.” But the opening SNAFU of the day was spectacular in a much different way that restarting the war: the lead C-47 pilot misread the wind marker and landed in the wrong direction, putting the reception committee on the wrong end of the field.  “Just how in the hell does one begin an occupation,” Tench later remembered as he watched the Japanese hastily approaching his airplane.

“Just how in the hell does one begin an occupation?” — Charles Tench

Near the same time, the Atlanta class light cruiser USS San Diego (CL53), the flagship of Oscar C Badger who was commanding Task Force 31, entered Tokyo Bay leading the minesweepers and other combat elements of TF 31.  The task force included USS Missouri (BB-63), at least nine destroyers, and an amphibious task force carrying the 4th Marines, who would land on the Tokyo waterfront on 30 August, liberating the POW camp at Omari in the process.  The Marines would save a young American with a hot appendix that the Japanese could not treat. When the Japanese prison camp commandant opined that he had no authority to release his prisoners, Harold Stassen, William Halsey’s assistant chief of staff who was in charge of repatriating the American POWs and would later run for president, kicked the general in the posterior and growled “You have no authority, period.”

“You have no authority, period” — Harold Stassen

Despite a great deal of tension, fear and suspicion in Japan and amogh the allies as they arrived, the occupation and the surrender ceremonies would come off without a significant hitch.

Today, 28 August, ironically given the circumstances, is also Rainbow Bridge Remembrance Day, a day that Deborah Barnes founded in 2015 in memory of one of her many feline friends. Since then, 28 August has become something of a minor sensation in social media, spawning tributes to our furry, finny, feathery, scaley and other -y friends that have gone to their rewards.  Having lost five gerbils, four dogs, three cats and a spider myself, I get it. So today, spend some extra time with your family pets, and unless they’re tarantulas or fish, they’ll appreciate it.  If they are all gone, give an hour or two to your local animal shelter. Are there no Fish Whisperers out there?

Are there no Fish Whisperers out there?

For those of you who follow this blog on a regular basis, welcome back.  For the rest, thanks for stopping by; hope you come back next week. For everyone, there’s going to be some design changes over the next few months. Hopefully it will help me to streamline my business communications, consolidating everything on one WordPress site.  Stay tuned…

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Ending a Nightmare

14 August marks quite a few ironies.  It was the day in 1791 that the slave revolt in Santo Domingo began, and the date in 1852 when the Second Seminole War ended in Florida.  And, in 1281, it was the day that the second divine wind–kamikaze–in the Straits of Korea wrecked much of a Mongol fleet that was headed for Japan.  And, in 1941, it was the day that the Atlantic Charter was announced after reporters found FDR and Churchill hugger-muggering in Newfoundland while the US was still neutral.  But much of the world would remember the 15 August 1945 radio broadcast that was recorded the day before: the Showa Emperor Hirohito of Japan recorded the Jewel Voice Broadcast of his Imperial Rescript on the Termination of the War on 14 August 1945.

The actual date of the recording is in some dispute, but the timing and the seal imprint is dated the 14th.  The Rescript ended not just World War Two in the Pacific and East Asia, but it also ended the power of the latter-day bakufu–military government–that had dominated Japan since 1941.

The quotes in the rest of this missive are from the Rescript as it appears on WIkipedia in the entry for the Jewel Voice Broadcast.  The blather in between is from the research that Lee Rochwerger and I are doing on Why the Samurai Lost, a retooling of our original What Were They Thinking?


After pondering deeply the general trends of the world and the actual conditions obtaining in our empire today, We have decided to effect a settlement of the present situation by resorting to an extraordinary measure.

This was the first time that 99.9 percent of Japan, and 99.999% of the entire world would hear the voice of Hirohito, the Showa Emperor of Japan.  The reasons for creating a recording and not doing it live were several, but the most important was that the powers behind the throne–collectively, the jushin–felt it important that a recording of his actual intent be made available just in case the Americans struck again.

We have ordered our government to communicate to the governments of the United States, Great Britain, China and the Soviet Union that our empire accepts the provisions of their joint declaration.

He refers here to the Potsdam Declaration of 26 July 1945 that, only at the end of the Declaration, is the phrase “unconditional surrender” used. The Potsdam Declaration was an official rejection of the unofficial “peace” feelers–actually offering nothing more than an armistice in place with no authority from Tokyo–that had been floating around Europe since the summer of 1944. The Potsdam Declaration did not assure the imperial polity, but that was agreed to during negotiations that started 10 August, when the Japanese embassy in Switzerland informed the Americans and British that Potsdam would be accepted if the Imperial polity would be maintained.  The Rescript, therefore, isn’t a formal surrender, but the announcement to the world that Japan would stop fighting.

To strive for the common prosperity and happiness of all nations as well as the security and well-being of our subjects is the solemn obligation which has been handed down by our imperial ancestors and which lies close to our heart.

In this passage, the Showa is calling upon his duty–as he saw it–to keep Japan from becoming extinct, which he finally realized was a possibility after the Soviets declared war on 9 August. In the all-out fight in the Home Islands that the Army and Navy were planning  against the Soviet and American invasions that would come that fall, it was planned to turn every square inch of Japan and the surrounding waters into an abattoir.

Indeed, we declared war on America and Britain out of our sincere desire to ensure Japan’s self-preservation and the stabilization of East Asia, it being far from our thought either to infringe upon the sovereignty of other nations or to embark upon territorial aggrandizement.

He’s speaking from a victim’s standpoint, but Japan was in serious economic straits, and had been since 1920.  Not to excuse the war and Japan’s aggression, but Japan went to war in 1931, 1937 and 1941 because they desperately needed raw materials and fuel just to keep the entire economy, not just the military, going.  Japan had been a feudal, agrarian country that had an industrial impetus with a parliamentary democracy thrust on it less than a century before, and they could barely afford to feed their burgeoning population, let alone continue to build a modern industrial state.

But now the war has lasted for nearly four years. Despite the best that has been done by everyone – the gallant fighting of the military and naval forces, the diligence and assiduity of our servants of the state, and the devoted service of our one hundred million people – the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan’s advantage, while the general trends of the world have all turned against her interest.

Japan had lost something like 2.7 million people in the wars between 1931 and 1945. Over forty countries eventually declared war on Japan: the last, Mongolia, on 9 August.

The phrase “…not necessarily to Japan’s advantage” was as close as he could come to “Japan has been beaten like a red-headed step-child and will not rise again.”

“Our hundred million” was a common theme in Japan starting in the 1930’s, but by 1941 there were only about 72 million Japanese in the archipelago and its possessions from the Ryukyus and the Bonins to the Marianas and Manchuria.

Moreover, the enemy has begun to employ a new and most cruel bomb, the power of which to do damage is, indeed, incalculable, taking the toll of many innocent lives. Should we continue to fight, not only would it result in an ultimate collapse and obliteration of the Japanese nation, but also it would lead to the total extinction of human civilization.

Yes, he is acknowledging that the A-bomb had an influence on his decision, but again, he had decided that the war had to end as early as March 1945, but for reasons outlined below he couldn’t have done this that early.

What he wanted to do was save his country from annihilation from all causes–bloody great bombs, starvation, useless sacrifice and direct combat.  The Japanese Army believed that wearing light-colored clothing would save many from the effects of the flash and heat of nuclear weapons.  But, it may have been this very idea, announced in the last Imperial Conference on 9 August, that pushed the Showa over the edge, that made him instruct the government to accept the Potsdam terms, and to endorse the Marquis Kido’s idea of a Rescript and make this recording.  It was clear that Japan’s military leadership did not want to end the war, so he knew that he had to.

Such being the case, how are we to save the millions of our subjects, or to atone ourselves before the hallowed spirits of our imperial ancestors? This is the reason why we have ordered the acceptance of the provisions of the joint declaration of the powers.

What’s important here is that the Showa Emperor, like his grandfather the Meiji Emperor had in 1867, had taken direct charge of the country.  That it was necessary for him to do this is a real long story…just buy our new book when it comes out.

We cannot but express the deepest sense of regret to our allied nations of East Asia, who have consistently cooperated with the Empire towards the emancipation of East Asia.

The thought of those officers and men as well as others who have fallen in the fields of battle, those who died at their posts of duty, or those who met with untimely death and all their bereaved families, pains our heart night and day.

The welfare of the wounded and the war-sufferers, and of those who have lost their homes and livelihood, are the objects of our profound solicitude.

The hardships and sufferings to which our nation is to be subjected hereafter will be certainly great. We are keenly aware of the inmost feelings of all of you, our subjects. However, it is according to the dictates of time and fate that We have resolved to pave the way for a grand peace for all the generations to come by enduring the unendurable and suffering what is unsufferable.

The Showa is being absolutely sincere .  After viewing the damage done by the B-29 fire raids in Tokyo in March and April of 1945, he had become convinced that the war had to end or his people would suffer even more.  But there were young men who stalked the halls of government and the barracks who would kill anyone who would wish to get some common sense and stop the fighting.  These officers believed in the tradition of Gekokujo, roughly meaning “the lower shall rule the higher,” among other translations.  This was a centuries-old tradition in Japan that refused to die, that inspired the assassinations that exhausted and frightened the civil government in the 1930s, and that triggered the incidents that led up to the China War.  The “unendurable” and the “unsufferable” here are to stop these Shishi–young men of purpose–from fighting and acquiesce to whatever comes next.

Having been able to safeguard and maintain the Kokutai, We are always with you, our good and loyal subjects, relying upon your sincerity and integrity.

Kokutai can mean a lot of different things (click the link), but for his purposes it means “national polity.”  It was an 18th century term/concept that caused a great deal of trouble in prewar Japan because of its different interpretations.

Beware most strictly of any outbursts of emotion which may engender needless complications, or any fraternal contention and strife which may create confusion, lead you astray and cause you to lose the confidence of the world.

Let the entire nation continue as one family from generation to generation, ever firm in its faith in the imperishability of its sacred land, and mindful of its heavy burden of responsibility, and of the long road before it.

Unite your total strength, to be devoted to construction for the future. Cultivate the ways of rectitude, foster nobility of spirit, and work with resolution – so that you may enhance the innate glory of the imperial state and keep pace with the progress of the world.

Here the Showa is sincerely begging his people–Shishi included–to have courage in the days and years to come: occupation was certain, as humiliating as that would be.  The record is clear that by the time he made this recording the Showa no longer cared what happened to him personally, but he cared deeply about what happened to everyone else.  There were at least four attempts on his life by Japanese officers between 9 August and the time the recording was made in the wee hours of 14 August, and one attempt to destroy the recordings.

In all the above, I urge the reader to find the word “surrender” in any of the quotations.  This is the complete text: look it up for yourself.

The next day, when the cease-fire actually started, would be VJ Day in most of the world.  But today, we need to celebrate the fact that this frail, timid man realized that the only way to save his people was to take charge, to tell his subordinates that they were, indeed, subordinates, and tell the entire world that, like Chief Joseph, Japan would fight no more, forever.

So, to honor this auspicious day, do like Edith Shaine and Glenn McDuffie above at Times Square when they heard the news, and kiss someone with genuine relief, or joy failing that.  Just make that sure that, whoever your participant happens to be, unlike Glenn before he grabbed Edith, you know who they are before you do the smooching so that you don’t get bit, slapped or accused of sexual assault decades later.


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Operation WATCHTOWER and National Lighthouse Day

Yeah, I know…running late.  Sue me.

So, 7 August marks a number of auspicious events, among them being the creation of the Order of the Purple Heart in 1782 (making 7 August Purple Heart Day), the US War Department in 1789,  the patenting of the revolving door in 1888, the beginning of the Battle of the French Frontiers in 1914, and the passing of the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution in 1964.  But today, we talk about Guadalcanal, and lighthouses.

The exgenesis of what would become the Guadalcanal campaign of WWII is shrouded less in mystery than in myth.  Yes, the big island at the far eastern end of the Solomons Islands chain had a central plain large enough to support an airstrip, but that’s not why the Japanese went there: that’s why the Americans went there.  The Japanese were more interested in Tulagi, the smaller island to the north of Guadalcanal that had a longer, deeper beach that could support a seaplane base: the strip they started on Guadalcanal that so alarmed the Australians was to be for fighters to protect the seaplane base.  Japan wanted a seaplane base from which they could control the waters on the northern side of the Coral Sea and around New Zealand and New Caledonia, further isolating Australia; the Americans wanted to prevent both from happening, to build an airfield from which they could control those same waters, and as a starting point in the isolation of not only Rabaul but the Marshall Islands.

So was born Operation WATCHTOWER (colloquially, as Operation “Shoestring” for the meager support it got in the early months), the naval/ground/air operation in the eastern Solomons Islands that ran from the Marine landings on 7 August 1942  to 9 February 1943 when the Americans declared the island secure. Guadalcanal, in Navy/Marine parlance, was Task One for the South Pacific, and in many respects it was the most important single operation for both the Americans and their allies and for Japan.  Control  of the Eastern Solomons by either side meant control of the waters around eastern Australia, the springboard for the southern Pacific offensive. against Japan.  But too, it was the first test of Japanese resilience in the face of an Allied counter-offensive, of their ability to control events far from Japanese waters, and without strategic initiative.  As the end of the Guadalcanal offensive showed, Japan’s ability to outlast the Allies was wanting.  It was the first major chink in Japan’s island cordon.

The Guadalcanal campaign is well-covered by several authors, but for my money the best is The Guadalcanal Campaign by Richard Frank.  His dynamic, nearly day-by-day account of the three-month long campaign best covers both American and Japanese problems, but the one Japanese issue that Frank does not cover is the increasing desperation not of the senior commanders or even the common soldiers, but of the ever-increasing weariness of the overworked aircrews and their mechanics, which is best described in Okumiya Masatake’s Zero!. 

As some of you know, my co-author. Lee Rochwerger, and I have been working on a…retooling…of our What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War (Merriam Press 2009) book.  The new version, Why the Samurai Lost, will be bigger and better, with maps and tables that the first version lacked, and more information on the infighting between the Japanese Army and Navy.  Expect to see Why the Samurai Lost at the end of 2018.  Of which, more later.

On 7 August 1789 the US Congress approved an act for the support of “Lighthouses, Beacons, Buoys and Publik Piers” that marked the beginning of what would become the Lighthouse Service, which would be eventually be rolled into the Coast Guard. Two hundred years later, Congress passed a commemorative bill designating 7 August as National Lighthouse Day.

Sometime in the 1960s, the Coast Guard determined that the older the lighthouse, the more costly it would be to knock down because of their stout construction. As of the 1980s, all of these innocuous structures that dot the coastlines of every major body of water in the US  have been automated, many shut down and abandoned. The Lighthouse Preservation Society is dedicated to keeping at least some of these landmarks as monuments, museums, or other repurposed function. For those of you who live on or near the Great Lakes or one of the three major coastlines of the US, have a look at those old brick piles with the big light domes and remember: it’s likely at least one of you had some friend or relative that counted on that light to keep from being wrecked on some rock or shoal.

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Hamburg and National Tequila Day

So, 24 July marks a lot of things. The Great Fire of Rome (the one Nero fiddled through…not) ended in 64 AD; Mary Queen of Scots was compelled to abdicate in 1567; the Rochester (New York) Riot started in 1964; and Apollo IX returned from its Moon mission in 1969, fulfilling JFK’s pledge to send a man to the Moon and bring him back.  Too, today is Amelia Earhart Day (born in 1897), and Fast Food Day, and Cousin’s Day (I only ever had two and one’s gone, so that one’s lost on me.  But today we’ll talk about Operation Gomorrah and Mexican booze.

By 1943, the RAF and the USAAF were able to pick and choose targets in Germany with some impunity, having built up an inventory of over 1,000 heavy bombers and crews.  After a five month campaign against the Ruhr, RAF Bomber Command decided to switch targets and concentrate on Hamburg, on the North Sea coast.  The first RAF raid was on 24 July, 1943 included a pathfinder force that saw the first use of chaff (called “Window” at the time) to jam the German radar. The fires the first raid started burned for three days.

A daylight raid followed on 25 July, and another night raid. After a 24 hour respite, over 700 RAF bombers struck on the night of 27 July, igniting the first recorded man-made firestorm: a cyclonic blaze so big it was seen in England and Norway (read Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII for a description).  After 27 July, the Luftwaffe wrote off Hamburg, declaring that it was no longer worth defending–or that they were capable of defending it.  There were two more raids before the British and Americans were done on 2 August.  In the end, Operation Gomorrah caused more than 80,000 German casualties at a cost of less than 500 Allied, caused over a million Germans to flee the city, and essentially knocked Hamburg off-line for better than a year.

Why Hamburg?  There’s some debate about that.  Though Germany had a large armaments industry there, the concentration of 4,000 pound blockbuster bombs in the early part of the 27 July raid suggests an “operational experiment” on the behalf of the Bomber Command eggheads and the American National Fire Prevention Association that created the surveys and data for evaluating the relative flammability of targets. The early “thousand-plane” raids in 1941 hit on a formula that made optimum use of the masonry that was used in German construction: blow it to dust and light the dust on fire. In addition, the larger bombs would be better for destroying the infrastructure (like water mains and telephone networks, city streets and fuel stocks) the defenders used to fight fires and evacuate casualties. Some defenders of the Allied air offensive claim that all of this was coincidental, but the record makes it fairly clear that using the ancient Hanseatic city’s very construction and age against it was planned.  It is known that some of the data gleaned from Gomorrah was used again in planning the fire raids on Japan in 1945,  Yes, it all sounds very callous, but it was a war.

And then there’s tequila.  Today, 24 July, is National Tequila Day for reasons unknown to anyone.  Now, I personally can’t physically stomach the stuff (long story that intimates know), but I can appreciate that mezcal wine distilled from the blue agave has done more for the region that it’s made in than any other export.  It is a shining example of what alcoholic beverages were first made for: to extend the commercial trading range and shelf life of agricultural products. The agave plant’s sap itself, undistilled, is of little commercial interest other than as a sweetener. But, turn it into mezcal, call it by the region’s name (Tequila) and suddenly you can sell certain bottles of the stuff for hundreds of dollars on the other side of the world, as it has been since it was first exported in the 1880s.

And you can drown you sorrows in it when your house burns down because your leader can’t keep his mitt off other countries.

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Anne Frank’s Diary and National Red Rose Day

Connections? Read and find out.  I find it quaintly coincidental that anyone should declare a day celebrating the flower that symbolizes romance and love on the same day that a young Jewish girl in the Netherlands should get the autograph album that would become her famous diary.  Or, for that matter, the same day Medgar Evers was killed on the same day in 1963, or that Gregory Peck died in 2003.  It’s also the anniversary of the Virginia v Loving decision that legalized interracial marriage in the US in 1963. Just coincidence…I suppose.

Anneliese Marie “Anne” Frank was born in Germany on 12 June 1929, but spent most of her short life in and around Amsterdam. Stateless in 1941 after German Jews were stripped of the citizenship, she and her family hid out in various places in Amsterdam until August 1944, when the family was discovered and they were shipped off to the camps.  Anne and her sister died of typhus at Bergen-Belsen sometime between February and March 1945. All but her father died somewhere in the camps.

But between her thirteenth birthday on 20 June 1942 and 1 August 1944–three days before she was captured–Anne made entries in her diary nearly every day. It described everyday life for Jews in Amsterdam, for just over two years.  Her first –and only–romance with fellow attic refugee Peter van Pels is described, as is her exploration of her own sexuality (in the 1995 edition)–a series of entries her father left out in earlier editions but that some educrats have take exception to.  But she was a teenage girl stuck in an attic with strangers, that included her family.  The internal tensions she described with her family and the others that she was enclosed with in that attic.  The food they ate–especially how much–and their attitudes towards nearly everything were carefully compiled. After the war, and after the Red Cross had confirmed Anne’s death, Anne’s father, Otto, went back to the attic and found the diary hidden away. Since its publication in 1947 the Diary of Anne Frank has gone through numerous editions under different names, translation into sixty languages, and has withstood accusations of hoax, forgery and worse, but has been authenticated by more than one authority.

A rose, according to WIkipedia,  “is a woody perennial flowering plant of the genus Rosa, in the family Rosaceae, or the flower it bears.”  According to Gertrude Stein, “a rose is a rose by any other name:” by Shakespeare’s lights “a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”  All of that aside for the moment, a rose is a flowering ornamental shrub that thrives nearly everywhere, from Africa and Asia to Europe and the Americas.  Most garden roses (and there are over a hundred different varieties) prefer somewhat temperate climates where they can hibernate for a few months between blooming seasons.  My dear wife struggles mightily with the roses in her garden every spring, and they seem to respond in kind, thriving from year to year.

But National Red Rose Day?  OK, I get the romance part (I never gave a woman a red rose who didn’t appreciate it in some way–and there have only been two), but a national day?  Oh, why not? Today’s Peanut Butter Cookie Day too, and Jerky Day…and Loving Day, after the Loving decision.

So a rose for the famous diarist on what would have been her 88th birthday. We wish you might have gotten one from some young admirer at least once in your short life.

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Harry Truman and VE Day

The 8th of May has been a very popular day for momentous events.  For one thing, it’s early enough in the traditional Northern Hemisphere’s spring “campaign season” to be able to mark battles like Palo Alto in 1846, and Spotsylvania in 1864, among many others.  But also on this day in 1541 Hernan DeSoto reached the Mississippi River near modern Memphis, Tennessee, and a new celebration for Armistice Day–11 November–was proposed in a London newspaper on this day in 1919.  But today, we’re going to remark on a coincidence too big to miss.

On 8 May 1888, Harry S. Truman was born at Lamar, Missouri (the “S” was chosen to honor both his grandfathers).  Living most of his youth on various farms in central Missouri, he didn’t attend a conventional school until he was eight. Truman worked various non-agricultural jobs around Independence and Kansas City, including haberdasher.  He finished high school in Independence but never finished college.  Even though he was legally blind he joined the Missouri National Guard in 1905.  In WWI he rose to the rank of captain in Battery D, 129th Artillery in the hard-luck 35th Infantry Division.  Even after the war, Truman officially stayed in the Army Reserves until he was retired a Colonel in 1953.

After WWI Truman became active in Missouri politics until 1934, when he won election to the US Senate with the backing of the notorious Pendergast political machine.  Despite the stink of corruption that wafted around him, Truman kept winning elections, freinds, and a reputation for integrity and plain-speaking. While investigating waste and fraud in the War Department during WWII he is thought to have saved billions of taxpayer dollars–and enough notoriety to get him on the cover of Time Magazine. Truman was popular…and electable.

When Truman was approached by party officials at the 1944 Chicago Democratic Convention to stand as FDR’s Vice President, it was realized at the time that Roosevelt’s health was deteriorating, and that a replacement for the sitting VP–the unpopular Henry A. Wallace–had to be found. FDR was elected to a fourth term with Truman as his running mate in November, but less than three months after he was sworn in as VP, Roosevelt died and Truman took the oath as president.

April 1945 was an awkward time for a two-term senator from a rural state to become the Commander in Chief of the most powerful force of military projection the world had yet seen. Nearly four million Americans were in uniform in over a hundred countries, and only fifteen sovereign states worldwide had not gone to war by that fateful spring.

Though the end of the war in Europe was in sight, the war against Japan did not appear to be abating.The Soviets were hammering Berlin from the suburbs while they shook hands and swapped uniforms with the Americans on the Elbe; Vienna was on fire; concentration camps containing stark testimony of the enormity of the Nazi’s crimes were being found daily; Tokyo or some major city in Japan was being razed every fifth night; on a high spot in the ocean called Okinawa nearly 70,000 American soldiers and Marines had begun a campaign that was planned to last a month but was to go on for nearly three.

By the end of April the carnage in Europe reached it’s horrible crescendo.  Hitler killed himself on 30 April; German forces in Italy surrendered effective 2 May; the Berlin surrendered on 3 May.  On the evening of 8 May, 1945–Harry Truman’s 61st birthday–the German authorities signed an Instrument of Surrender at Karlshorst, a Berlin suburb. “The mission of this command was concluded…” Dwight Eisenhower telegraphed his Commander in Chief that evening.  One wonders if Ike knew (or if Truman remembered) that Eisenhower’s older brother Arthur worked and lived with Truman in Kansas City before they both became famous.

When we think of all the coincidences in daily life, this one–VE Day on Truman’s birthday– hangs on for a while.

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Budapest, Dresden, Hal Moore, and National Clean Out Your Computer Day


Mid-February, and even though tomorrow is St Valentine’s Day, we’re talking about WWII because this is the 13th of February.  Oh, there was Galileo before the Inquisition in 1633, and William and Mary of Nassau being proclaimed joint sovereigns of England in 1689, and the beginning of ASCAP in 1914, and the birth of Chuck Yeager in 1923, and Andrey Chernienko was named Premier of the Soviet Union in 1984.  But today we talk about massacres in war, and brave men, and clean computers.

The Germans managed to cobble together some 180,000 men under Karl Pfeffer Wildenbruch, a competent policeman untested in heavy combat against the Soviets.

By late 1945, the German Army was entirely on the defensive.  In an effort to slow the Soviet drives into Germany, and above all to prevent them from linking with the Anglo-Americans, the Germans planned to hold several urban areas in Eastern Europe and to knock the Soviet mobile offensives off-balance.  One of these cities was Budapest, the capital city of Hungary that had been a German ally until October 1944. The Germans managed to cobble together some 180,000 men under Karl Pfeffer Wildenbruch, a competent policeman untested in heavy combat against the Soviets. The Soviets, on the other hand, were to capture Budapest quickly before Stalin met with Churchill and Roosevelt at Yalta.  To do this, Rodion Malinovski commanded something over half a million men. The fighting over Budapest started in October, 1944.  The last road out was cut on 26 December. The remnants of the German Luftwaffe could barely support itself, but tried valiantly to supply Budapest until the last airfield fell 27 December.  The Germans tried three separate offensives in January 1945 to break out or relieve the siege, and all failed.  On 11 February a last breakout attempt resulted in tens of thousands of German and Hungarian casualties and the capture of Wildenbruch.  On 13 February, the last of the German garrison in Budapest surrendered about 60,000 or so German and Hungarian troops (with an unknown number of civilians added as padding).  Predictably, while the German/Hungarian casualties amounted to 130,000 in the fifty-day siege, the Soviet/Romanian casualties were somewhat more.

Official German casualty figures for Dresden at the time add up to somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000, but the Germans purposely inflated the numbers to 200,000 for propaganda purposes…

While the siege of Budapest is not well known in the West, the bombing campaign of Dresden is.  Starting on 13 February 1945, the RAF and the USAAF struck the “Florence of the Elbe” three times in three days.  In all over 1,300 heavy bombers dropped some 3,900 tons of high explosive and incendiary bombs on the city, destroying 2 and a half square miles of the city (in contrast, the March 9-10 1945 firebombing of Tokyo destroyed a little over 15 square miles in a single raid).  Official German casualty figures for Dresden at the time add up to somewhere between 22,000 and 25,000, but the Germans purposely inflated the numbers to 200,000 for propaganda purposes, and Holocaust-denier David Irving has put them as high as 500,000 in his 1963 book The Destruction of Dresden.  American author Kurt Vonnegut, who was a prisoner of war in Dresden during the bombing and wrote about his experience in his 1969 novel Slaughterhouse Five, declared that 130,000 casualties were either buried or incinerated. However, a 2010 study commissioned by the Dresden city council found that no more than 25,000 people were killed in the three raids.

Though I never met Moore, I did meet a survivor of the Ia Drang fight who was hurt and had to be evacuated.  As he remembered it, Moore personally carried one leg of his litter.  Sometimes, that’s as close as we can come to greatness.  

Not every general gets to be better known for what he did as a colonel.  Custer was one of that exclusive club; Hal Moore was another.  Moore died last Friday, 10 April 2017 at the age of 94. Moore’s career before and after Ia Drang was notable only for its relative routine: he had no one of influence to help his career, and as a Kentuckian no particular hindrances, either.  He graduated West Point a year early in 1945 because the Army needed replacement officers.  Branched to the Infantry, he served in the 11th Airborne and 82nd Airborne divisions, and the 7th Infantry in Korea.  In 1965, Moore was in command of the 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. In November of that year, 2/7th Cav was in the Ia Drang valley of the Central Highlands of Vietnam, short-stopping two North Vietnamese Army regiments in a long fight over Pleiku, operating out of a place called Drop Zone X-Ray.  While Moore and his men were credited with “winning” the fight at the time and Moore won a DSC, the fight convinced Ho Chi Minh that he could win. After Ia Drang and a series of career progressions, Moore retired from the Army a Lieutenant General in 1977.  He wrote three books, the best known being We Were Soldiers Once, and Young with Joseph Galloway published in 1992.  The 2002 Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers was based on the book.  Though I never met Moore, I did meet a survivor of the Ia Drang fight who was hurt and had to be evacuated.  As he remembered it, Moore personally carried one leg of his litter.  Sometimes, that’s as close as we can come to greatness.

Nonetheless, a clean computer is a laudable, if relatively unachievable, goal.  

Then, there’s Clean Your Computer Day, which is the second Monday in February.  The day was originally sponsored in 2000 by the Institute for Business Technology, a for-profit trade school in Santa Clara, California. IBT probably once had some computer training, but at this writing they concentrate on other skilled trades, including HVAC technician, massage therapy, and various medical office jobs.  Nonetheless, a clean computer is a laudable, if relatively unachievable, goal.  I have two computers that I have to keep clean, and all that scrubbing and dusting does get tedious…and that bitbucket…always full.  Does anyone know of a way to keep the RAM from getting so dirty and full of fleas…wait…there it is again…come back here, you ignorant herbivore…there’s no ewes over there…!

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Fort Henry, Ronald Reagan, Death of George VI, and National Lame Ducks

There’s a bit of research that goes into these blogs; some weeks more than others.  This week I could have talked about a lot of things maybe more important (to you) than others, like the Franco-American Alliance signed 6 February 1778, the Dalton Gang trying their first (unsucessful) train robbery in 1891, the arrival in New York of someone calling herself Anastasia Romanov in 1928 (whoever she was, she wasn’t the youngest daughter of Nicholas and Alexandra), or the ascension of Elizabeth II to the English throne in 1952. But today we’re talking about the Civil War in the Ohio Country, future presidents, dead kings, and officeholders no longer beholding to the voters known in the vernacular as lame ducks.

Taking 15,000 troops and seven gunboats … under Andrew Foote, Grant actually arrived after the fort had fallen to the Navy after a short bombardment: with the magazine underwater, it was hard to fight for more than a few minutes.

One of the more remarkable things about Fort Henry on the Tennessee River in the winter of 1862 was that Confederacy didn’t want it, and the builders had been warned against putting it there, but their enemy found it a valuable target.  They were there because the Confederacy, against common sense, had violated the neutrality of Kentucky and sent troops as far north as Columbus. Situated on a low, flat shingle that flooded regularly but nonetheless had a clear field of fire for about two miles, Fort Henry was manned by as many as 3,4000 raw flintlock armed Confederate troops commanded by Lloyd Tilghman, an engineer with little military experience.  Fort Henry also a 10 inch Columbiad and a 24-pounder rifle, in addition to a number of 32-pounder smoothbores.  Ulysses S. Grant, commanding the Federal troops in the area, decided on a deep thrust up the Tennessee (the river flowed south to north there) to Fort Henry to avoid having to storm the Columbus bastion. Taking 15,000 troops and seven gunboats (four ironclads and three timberclads) under Andrew Foote, Grant actually arrived after the fort had fallen to the Navy after a short bombardment: with the magazine underwater, it was hard to fight for more than a few minutes. Grant’s and Foote’s relatively bloodless victory on 6 February 1862 (there were less than fifty Union casualties, less than a hundred Confederate) was hailed in the Northern press as a signal victory when there had been very few, and was a surprise to nearly everyone in the North.  It opened the river to the Navy, that raided as far south as Muscle Shoals, Alabama. It also enabled Grant to attack Fort Donelson on the Cumberland, which fell ten days later. The fall of Henry and Donelson completely undermined the Confederate position in Kentucky, and compelled its evacuation, setting the scene for the battle at Pittsburg Landing in April.

Reagan’s political life included two terms as president of SAG, a term as Governor of California, and two as President of the United States.  

A week’s march away and two generations later, Ronald Wilson Reagan was born in Tampico, Illinois on 6 February 1911. Growing up in small, hardscrabble towns throughout Illinois, Reagan graduated from Eureka College, a tiny liberal arts school where he studied economics and sociology, receiving a BA with a C average in economics.  A radio announcer and sportscaster early in his career, he traveled to California as an announcer for the Chicago Cubs and got a contract to make movies in 1937, the same year he got a reserve commission in the cavalry branch of the US Army (it could be done by correspondence then). Called to active duty in 1942, Reagan transferred to the Army Air Forces and the First Motion Picture Unit, where he made training and indoctrination films for most of the rest of the war (a personal note: I saw one of his films in basic training in 1973: can’t remember what it was about, but I did remember it was him). After the war his career in labor and politics began with his election as SAG president in 1947.  Reagan’s political life included two terms as president of SAG, a term as Governor of California, and two as President of the United States. Known by intimates as “Dutch” and “the Gipper,” Reagan’s remarkable career ended in 1989 when he left the White House.  He died in Bel Air, California on 5 June, 2004.

Though he publicly supported Neville Chamberlain, privately George VI felt the government’s appeasement of Hitler would only lead to disaster, which it did in 1939.

There was once a king who wasn’t supposed to be, but then became one of the best rulers his country ever knew.  Albert Frederick Arthur George of Windsor was the second son of George V, and wasn’t supposed to be a king at all.  His brother, Edward Albert Christian George Andrew Patrick David, was fourteen months older and indeed became king on the death of their father.  Bertie (his family nickname) had a famous stammer, and was not groomed for the responsibility of being, among other things, Emperor of India, even though he was the heir presumptive before then because Edward would not find a suitable wife.  Then Edward fell hopelessly in love an American…a double divorcee no less, and abdicated because he could not marry Wallis Simpson and remain king. (It’s complicated, but it was legally true.) So Albert became King George VI on 11 December 1936. Though he publicly supported Neville Chamberlain, privately George VI felt the government’s appeasement of Hitler would only lead to disaster, which it did in 1939. Though he sent the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret away briefly, the King and Queen stayed in London during the worst of the Blitz, becoming symbols of national defiance and earning the endearment of many.  After the war he saw the Empire dissolve into constituent Commonwealth states, and was the last Emperor of India.  Ravaged by lung cancer, George VI died on 6 February 1952.

The expression “lame duck” originates not with politicians, but with 18th century English businessmen who couldn’t pay their debts.

And then, of course, 6 February is commemorated as National Lame Duck Day, the day that Amendment XX of the Constitution was ratified and became law in 1933.  The expression “lame duck” originates not with politicians, but with 18th century English businessmen who couldn’t pay their debts. The modern usage, which dates from the 19th century, refers to elected officials who, for whatever reason, are no longer accountable to their constituents because they can’t be reelected, or lost their last election and are still sitting in office.  Until Amendment XX became law, members of Congress who were lame ducks sometimes had over a year (it’s complicated: look it up) to do whatever mischief they wanted to do (mostly paying political debts that were unpopular back home).  After it, they had three months.  It also fixed the presidential inaugural date from 4 March to 20 January, and the swearing in of Congress from 4 March to 3 January.  At least, it was an attempt to survey the swamp.


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Mount Austen, Papua, Tripoli and National Handwriting Day

Well, there’s a lot to say for 23 January.  The Ming dynasty of China began in 1368; Charles I was sold to the Parliamentarians by the Scots in 1647: Georgetown, Virginia was founded in 1789; Elizabeth Blackwell earned her MD in 1849, the first American woman to do so;  Kim Philby defected in 1962; and USS Pueblo was seized by the North Koreans in 1968.  But today, only 1943 in WWII, and National Handwriting Day…for what that’s worth.

The Japanese had dug in along Mount Austen’s many hills, forming a maze of bunkers, dugouts and caves they dubbed the Gifu.

As mountains go, Mount Austen isn’t much of one.  At 461 meters (1514 feet) it would qualify as a hill in most places, but it really wasn’t even that, but a series of hills and ridges that the Japanese called Bear Height, and the locals called Mount Mambulu.  But for the Solomons Islands, it’s the highest point for thousands of miles.  And in 1943, it was an anchor for the Japanese defensive line on that tropical rock that both Japan and the United States decided had to be fought over.  On their arrival on 7 August 1942, the American forces were resisted by a comparative handful of Japanese troops, which gradually built up into a force of about 20,000 by year’s end commanded by Hyakutake Harukichi.  The American 1st Marine Division was relieved on Guadalcanal at the end of December, and was replaced by two Army infantry divisions, a Marine division, an independent Army infantry regiment and assorted support units, the lot commanded by  Alexander Patch, adding up to about 50,000.  From August through November 1942, the Americans and Japanese fought savage battles over Henderson Field, the Matanikau and Tenaru Rivers, and scores of other places that nearly always ended in Japanese defeat. By the end of December the Japanese had decided to evacuate Guadalcanal, but in the nature of things in the Pacific War that was easier said than done, and wouldn’t be officially transmitted until 15 January 1943, the middle of the fight over the Mount Austen hill mass. The Japanese had dug in along Mount Austen’s many hills, forming a maze of bunkers, dugouts and caves they dubbed the Gifu. Gradually, painfully, the Americans dug the Japanese out of their excellent defensive positions as the Japanese gradually pulled back to the south.  By 23 January 1943, Mount Austen was secure.  After losing some 3,300 men in its defense to the Americans less than 300, it was fairly clear that the Japanese were either losing or giving up Guadalcanal.

After months of fighting … on 23 January 1943 the Papua Peninsula was more or less secured … after scores of company and battalion-sized fights over roadblocks, swamps, individual buildings and other minor terrain features that, in toto, reminds the student of WWII of a  tropical Stalingrad, with less rubble.

In the Southwest Pacific Area, the Domain of Douglas MacArthur (Guadalcanal was in the South Pacific Area, the Domain of Robert Ghormley until William Halsey took over) the Papua peninsula of New Guinea was fought over by American, Australian and other Commonwealth troops beginning in February 1942.  The Japanese were after Port Moresby on the southern coast of the peninsula.  From two different directions they tried to get there.  The first, an amphibious landing, ended with the battle of Coral Sea in May 1942, where the Japanese fleet was turned back.  The second was an overland campaign across the Kokoda Track, which ended in failure in September 1942. As the Australians pushed back along the Kokoda, the Americans and Australians pushed north and west from Milne Bay.  After months of fighting the jungle as well as the Japanese, on 23 January 1943 the Papua Peninsula was more or less secured with the fall of Buna on the north coast, after scores of company and battalion-sized fights over roadblocks, swamps, individual buildings and other minor terrain features that, in toto, reminds the student of WWII of a tropical Stalingrad, with less rubble.

The Torch landings on 8 November 1942 had been anticipated, but when the French defected and Morocco became an Allied base, the Axis position in North Africa was doomed.

On the other side of the world, Commonwealth forces were fighting in a much different climate: the Western Desert.  After Erwin Rommel’s line broke at El Alamein on 4 November 1942, German and Italian forces rolled back as the had before, but this time there was an Anglo-American army on the other end of Africa.  The Torch landings on 8 November 1942 had been anticipated, but when the French defected and Morocco became an Allied base, the Axis position in North Africa was doomed.  By early 1943, the German 90th Light Division was at about half strength but was grimly holding on on the coast road from Egypt west to Tripoli.  Pushing west were the British 51st Division and 7th Armored Division.  Outflanked again and again, the 90th Light left Tripoli on 23 January 1943, a third minor but vital Axis loss on the same day.

The loss of so many men would be nearly impossible for the Nazis to hide, while the samurai leadership could publicly ignore the 25,000 lives that the late 1942-early 1943 campaigns would cost.

After Guadalcanal and Papua, the Allied defense of Australia was fairly secure.  Japan’s big striking force had been decimated, their surface naval force was being frittered away in futile resupply efforts, and their land forces were being bled of leadership and vitality.  At the same time, the Germans in the Mediterranean Basin seemed to be floundering as North Africa was rapidly lost in late 1942 and early 1943.  But more ominously, the German Sixth Army at Stalingrad was nearly finished, as the last flight out of the Cauldron was on 23 January, 1943.  The loss of so many men would be nearly impossible for the Nazis to hide, while the samurai leadership could publicly ignore the 25,000 lives that the late 1942-early 1943 campaigns would cost.

And finally, National Handwriting Day.  Now, you may ask, who in the name of all that’s holy would ever even think of a “handwriting day?”  Well, apparently there’s this outfit called the Writing Instrument Manufacturer’s Association  (I can’t make this stuff up) which, in 1977, declared the anniversary of John Hancock’s birthday (born Braintree, Massachusetts on 23 January 1737) to be National Handwriting Day.  Now, with the current hubbub about schools not teaching cursive anymore, such an observance may be timely.  Frankly, as bad as my handwriting has always been, it’s remarkable that I got as much as I did done as I did (which wasn’t much, but I got by) before the computer could hide my poor penmanship.


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USS Cairo, USS Panay, SS Normandie, Hovercraft and Keeping Friends after the Election

So today we’re at sea…or at least on the water.  Yes, we know all about Washington DC being established as the US capitol  on 12 December 1800, and the donation of so much swampland in Manhattan for the UN in 1946, even the birth of Stand Watie in 1806 and the Maastricht Treaty in 1991.  Today, we’re afloat.

In June, at Memphis,  Cairo was a part of the largest naval battle fought on the Mississippi.

The lead vessel in the City class ironclad gunboats built on the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in the Civil War, USS Cairo was built by the Eads firm in Mound City, Illinois. Cairo displaced about 512 tons and was armed with 3 8-inch Dahlgren guns throughout her service, with a number of different rifled smoothbore guns (13 when she was commissioned in January 1862; 12 in November).  Cairo participated in the occupation of Clarksville, Tennessee on the Tennessee river in February 1962, in the occupation of Nashville later in the month, and was on the Mississippi by April, escorting mortar rafts at Fort Pillow. In June, at Memphis,  Cairo was a part of the largest naval battle fought on the Mississippi. In November, Cairo became a part of the Yazoo Pass expedition, an ill-fated attempt to outflank Vicksburg.  On 12 December, 1862, Cairo was sunk by a command-detonated mine, the first warship to ever be sunk by such a device.  Rediscovered in 1956, Cairo was raised in 1965 and is on display at Vicksburg.

In 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Panay was increasingly called on to evacuate Americans in the path of the oncoming Japanese.

Built on the other side of the world for the US Navy, USS Panay (PR-5) was built at the Kiangnan Dockyard and Engineering Works, Shanghai for Yangtze River service and launched in November 1927.  Panay (named for an island in the Philippines) was armed with a single 3-in main gun and a number of small arms: her only mission was the protection of American citizens, missions and property along the river against the lawless elements that roamed China during her civil war. In 1937, after the Marco Polo Bridge Incident, Panay was increasingly called on to evacuate Americans in the path of the oncoming Japanese. On 12 December 1937, Panay and a number of other non-Chinese vessels carrying evacuees were attacked by Japanese aircraft above Nanking. Unknown to the Japanese at the time, a number of newsreel photographers on Panay shot the entire incident, right up until the little gunboat sank. The “Panay Incident” became an international sensation, and an embarrassment to the Japanese. Though reparations were paid in the amount of $2.2 million, relations between the US and Japan deteriorated.

A very fast ship that could cross the Atlantic in less than four days carrying more than 1,400 passengers, neither the French nor anyone else wanted Normandie to fall into German hands: the threat of surface raiders alone was compelling enough.

Before 1941, many of the largest European ocean liners had docked in neutral countries.  SS Normandie, an 86,000 ton French liner belonging to the Compagnie Générale Transatlantique out of Le Havre, had been interned in New York on 3 September 1939. A very fast ship that could cross the Atlantic in less than four days carrying more than 1,400 passengers, neither the French nor anyone else wanted Normandie to fall into German hands: the threat of surface raiders alone was compelling enough.  Though her crew stayed aboard and her captain still commanded, she was going nowhere.  On 12 December 1941, five days after Pearl Harbor, the US Navy seized Normandie.  Conversion into a troopship named USS Lafayette commenced almost immediately, but a fire gutted and capsized her at the dockyard.  She was raised and scrapped in 1946.

Though they are considered aircraft by some, the first successful hovercraft (able to travel on water or land) prototype was demonstrated on 12 December 1955 by Christopher Cockerell.

The use of air cushions to make vehicles “float” had its origins in the 1870s, but powerplants were lacking for construction. An “air cushion boat” was built and demonstrated in Austria during WWI, but it died of lack of interest. Though they are considered aircraft by some, the first successful hovercraft (able to travel on water or land) prototype was demonstrated on 12 December 1955 by Christopher Cockerell. At the time the entire concept of a vehicle that traveled on a cushion of air was deemed classified in Britain, so funding had to come from either the Ministry of Defense or nowhere else. But the RAF called it a boat, and the RN called it an airplane, and the British Army simply wasn’t interested.  The idea languished for a short time until MoD realized that if no one in the defense establishment was interested, then it could hardly be a secret.

…there is still reason to find common ground in mutual disgust of the bobbleheads that the political establishment–even those beyond the usual Ds and Rs–seem to be putting up for the sake of friendship.

I have had exchanges with some of my oldest friends (some going back to the days of Nixon) over the consequences of the November election. Though I realize that our politics don’t always align, that doesn’t mean that we can’t find common ground somewhere, at least in shared experience over a lifetime. In all these cases when my interlocutor expresses anguish or anger over the defeat of Clinton,  I found myself condemning all the candidates at being unworthy of our votes as a means of keeping peace: the exercise of a franchise that the world envies, and all too many people either ignore or find to be too tedious to be used.  Putting a pox on all their houses in this way has been surprisingly effective.  None of my more left-leaning friends or even relatives have found any reason to defend either the Greens or the Democrats, other than that, well, they didn’t have Trump on the ticket.  Similarly, no one has any great love for the Republicans, or have considered the Libertarians anything more than a distraction. As much as I believe the American electoral system has been corrupted by both money, favoritism and blatant media biases among other abuses, there is still reason to find common ground in mutual disgust of the bobbleheads that the political establishment–even those beyond the usual Ds and Rs–seem to be putting up for the sake of friendship. Then again, the minute media scrutiny that anyone in the spotlight is subject to is not for everyone.  I do wish that the major media would pay more attention to policy statements than to sound bites; past sins of word, thought and deed; recent gaffes and irrelevant current peccadilloes. Maybe someone, somewhere in some position of influence has never had a speeding ticket, never said anything that would potentially offend a future audience, or changed their minds on any issue, ever. Maybe, but not likely.