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The Founding of Japan and the Meiji Constitution

On 11 February in the year 660 BCE, it is said that the emperor Jimmu founded the empire of Japan.  Jimmu is said to have been descended from the sun goddess Amaterasu through her grandson Ninigi, and from the storm god Susanoo.  All of this is founded on myth, but far more reliable sources indicate that the Meiji emperor Mutsuhito’s constitution for the restored Japanese state/empire/arsenal was adopted on this date in 1889.

Most readers think “representative democracy” when they read the word “constitution,” but this is not always the case, and certainly it wasn’t for Japan.  The Meiji Constitution was a document that, by intent, ensured the tyranny of the hereditary samurai class by placing veto power for any policy in their hands, and their hands alone.  All the samurai had to do was withdraw their war minister (appointed from the ranks of the Army, samurai all), or later the navy minister (ditto) to force the imperial cabinet (selected from the Diet) to reform the government.  This they would do, repeatedly, when the governments–especially under the reign of Yoshihito, the weak Taisho emperor that followed the Meiji in 1912–did not support another of their unsanctioned outrages such as grabbing German territory in the Pacific at the outset of WWI, invading Manchuria, then China proper, in 1914, 1932 and 1937, respectively.  The process would be repeated during the reign of the Showa emperor Hirohito right up until 1941, when the appointment of General Tojo Hideki as prime minister obviated the need.

Most of the early 20th century was punctuated by assassinations, violent uprisings (food riots were common in japan, averaging two a year for the better part of a thousand years) and attempted coups d’état in Japan that everyone caught in the middle would support any measure that looked like it pointed to stability.  To the samurai, of course, this meant them running things.  And they “ran things” right up to August of 1945, when their emperor had had enough.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan at War 1941-45 examines the political reality of the samurai against a backdrop of a world that moved beyond the need for them.  Available from fine booksellers everywhere.

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HMS Dreadnought Changes Everything ca 1906

On 10 February 1906, HMS Dreadnought was launched amid great fanfare…and consternation.  What’s another coal-fired battleship when the Royal Navy already had scores of them afloat?

To begin, Dreadnought, the brainchild of John “Jackie” Fisher, was not just another battleship, but a revolutionary advance on naval architecture.  at somewhat under 19,000 tons, she was bigger than the Lord Nelson class that was under construction at the time, and had heavier longitudinal bulkheads.  But mere size and bulkheads were not enough.  She carried ten 12 inch/45 caliber guns in five turrets for main armament and over her short service life several quick-firing gun arrangements.  Other battleships before Dreadnought carried as many as five different sizes of “main” armament, making ammunition supply a nightmare and compromising the most important thing a battleship had to do: destroy other battleships.  Before Dreadnought, some commentators doubted that a typical battleship carried enough ammunition to sink their counterparts.  With four Parsons turbine engines (Dreadnought was the first battleship built with turbines), she was fast–at 24 knots, close to the speed of some destroyers. With Krupp cemented steel armor in an 11 inch armor belt, she was built in less than a year, albeit with a great deal of stockpiling and prefabrication.  Dreadnought represented everything that British naval supremacy and industrial might had meant since Trafalgar.

Navalists for years had talked about combining speed with gun power in a warship, but Fisher was the first to finish his.  Japan with the Satsuma class and the Americans with the South Carolina class would closely follow, but it was Germany that became most alarmed.  And therein lay the biggest challenge: Wilhelm II demanded that his Imperial German Navy be a challenge–if not a threat–to British naval supremacy, for reasons that are debated still.  But British policy at the same time demanded that the Royal Navy be as large or larger than the next two navies combined.  This meant that if Germany, Japan, and the United States (other powers had long before given up on the “battleship race”) built fleets of modern battleships in response to Dreadnought, regardless of diplomatic status, the Royal Navy had to build more.

And Dreadnought was only the first.  Every battleship completed afterwards–there would be more than a hundred–were called “dreadnoughts” or “super-dreadnoughts” after the introduction of oil furnaces, and every one before her launching “pre-dreadnoughts.”

Germany soon unveiled a plan to build a fleet of battleships and supporting vessels that in twenty years would exceed the dock space available in all of Europe.  The competition between Germany and Britain, and soon thereafter between the US and Japan, heated up before WWI to meet the demand for more and more ships, guns, engines, fuel sources and armor plate until the shots at Sarajevo in the spring of 1914 sparked the fire that would end–arguably–only in 1945.

So what happened to Dreadnought?  She was the only one of her class built, and throughout her career she was a maintenance challenge.  Apparently she leaked rather severely, and spent much of her career in the waters around Britain.  She was a notorious sucker of coal, needing her bunkers filled at least every four days even in good weather.  She was, however, the only battleship to sink a submarine when in May 1915, she rammed and sank the German U-29.  The only shots he ever fired in anger were at German aircraft headed for England.  She was broken up in 1923.

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Beginnings: Crop Duster a Winner; Japan Attacks Russia and Britain; Bloody Mary is Beheaded; Elizabeth II Becomes Queen

As the badge on today’s post says, Crop Duster: A Novel of WII is an Honorable Mention in the 2014 Writers Digest Self-Published E-Book Awards for Mainstream Fiction.  This is a long-winded way of saying that Crop Duster is regarded at one of the five best of over a hundred submitted books in this category.  It’s also a Notable Book in Shelf Unbound’s Self-Published E-Book Awards for 2014 for Page-Turners. Find out what the judges see is so great about Crop Duster today.  Available in paperback and E-book at fine booksellers everywhere.


On the night of 8 February 1904, Japan attacked the Russian naval base at Port Arthur with torpedoes from four destroyers.  A Russian protected cruiser (Pallada) keeled over and sank, and two battleships (Retvizan and Tsarevich ) were damaged.  An indecisive daylight action the next morning damaged vessels on both sides, but the Japanese had the advantage of being able to sail out of range of the Russian shore batteries, while the Russians were trapped in port by the strong Japanese fleet.

As the opening battle of what would come to be called the Russo-Japanese War, Port Arthur was a template for Japanese conflict initiation for the next fifty years: strong attacks with little warning followed by relentless pressing of the advantages of surprise.  While the Japanese attacks in 1904, 1914, 1932, 1937 and 1941 were expected in a general sense, their location often was not.  The 8 February 1942 invasion of Singapore after two months of attacks all around the Pacific Rim was forewarned, but the British had never expected an attack from landward along the Malay Peninsula.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look At Japan at War, 1941-1945 probes the Japanese mindset reaching back to before the Tokugawas. Available in hardback, paperback and PDF.


Two distantly related events, ironically, are marked in early February.  Mary,Queen of Scots was beheaded on 8 February 1587, an unfortunate victim of a dynastic feud begun in prehistory, for all intents and purposes.  The Stuart throne of Scotland dated from the 14th century (or 12th, for purists) in a country that had the poor luck of being weaker than most of her neighbors but stronger than her closest kin.  Britain had the sense to try to “civilize” the traditionally tribal Scots off and on for centuries, while Scotland allied with France and was used as a cudgel against Ireland in between periods of independence.  Mary’s poor timing that she would reign while Elizabeth I sat in Windsor, but was lucky enough that Elizabeth would be childless, so that her son would inherit the throne of England.

Nearly four centuries later, Elizabeth II,oldest daughter of George VI would be proclaimed queen on 6 February 1952.  She would be the first British monarch for over a century who was not also empress of India. She is at this writing the longest reigning British monarch in history.


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Mill Springs: the Battle for the Ohio Country Begins

At sunrise on 6 February 1862, a small Confederate army under George B. Crittenden attacked a small Federal force under George H. Thomas near Fishing Creek on the Cumberland River in Kentucky, about a week’s march from Nashville, the capitol of Tennessee.  As Civil War battles go this one was fast and microscopic, but it had momentous consequences for the war, all out of proportion to its size and remote location.

The Confederates, in an attack that would be eerily similar to the attack two months later at Pittsburgh Landing, marched through the rain and fog with ancient weapons, poor organization and even worse discipline to surprise the Federals before their breakfast.  Initially successful, the Confederates were stymied by rallying Federals under Thomas himself, and the death of Felix Zollicoffer, Crittenden’s second-ranking officer.  As the Confederates abandoned the battlefield, in their hasted to cross the Cumberland they abandoned precious artillery (about two batteries’ worth) and supplies, as well as their wounded.  The bulk of the fighting, where less than a thousand casualties were incurred, was done by noon.  The battle is best known as Mill Springs if you’re a Yankee, or Logan’s Cross Roads if you’re a Confederate.

Tactically inconsequential, it made both the Richmond and Washington governments pay closer attention to the Ohio country, where fully a quarter of the population lived.  The Confederacy, for their part, sent PGT Beauregard, the victor of Mananas, to assist Confederate commander Albert S. Johnson in the fight to preserve the area.  The Union sent more troops and gunboats to aid Henry W. Halleck, the Federal commander.  Soon, while George B. McClellan whipped the Army of the Potomac into shape, a new general’s star rose in Middle Tennessee: a quiet, unassuming officer named US Grant.

The Devil”s Own Day: Shiloh and the American Civil War by John D. Beatty, describes the run up to the momentous April 1862 battle in the pine barrens of Tennessee.  “No study of the war in Middle Tennessee is complete without consideration of Beatty’s ideas,” one critic said.  Available in paper and PDF at fine booksellers everywhere.

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The Long War

On 5 February 1985, in a solemn ceremony of unknown origins and unclear location, the mayors of Rome and Carthage signed a peace treaty ending the Third Punic War.  This conflict was the longest in human history, but had had no practical effects on either city for more than two thousand years.  No doubt the two were prodded into the peaceful and wholly ceremonial action to promote international relations, or a cruse line, or something else without either warlike or other international implications.

The conflict had begun in 151 BCE, and (openly) ended when Carthage fell to the Romans under Scipio Aemilianus after a three year siege that ended in the spring of 146. In the nature of such things, the city was rebuilt by Julius Caesar as a Roman city, and would become a major trading center under the Empire.

Unlike the Third Punic War, the prospect of a “long war” has reared its ugly head in the mass media as a conflict between militant Islam and the rest of the world–principally the industrial West–that would have a very active presence for generations.  Despite the protestations of some on both sides, it has very little chance of a peaceful resolution within the next news cycle or before the next elections.  It seems likely, indeed probable, that it will only end when people in the most influential factions (not necessarily the most powerful) realize the futility of continuing.  And that could take a very long time.

As the American Indians were gradually assimilated (by and large) over the course of 500 years, and the Irish insurgency against Britain waxed and waned over the course of at least as long, some elements will eventually ask how they could possibly prevail.  Both the Indians and the Irish, the Walloons and the Basques, the Armenians and the Maori and countless other small ethnic cultures eventually simply had to stop struggling against the inevitability of demographic defeat everywhere even if they won every battle in their own back yards.  After the fall of Carthage, it was likely that partial assimilation–not armed resistance–became the obvious key to survival.

Not that it would necessarily happen, but it could.  Declared wars, or open warfare, don’t always end in victory parades.  They don’t even always end in clear military success.  But they do always end.  The real challenge is to still be alive when the shooting stops.

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Argonaut: The Beginning of a Bipolar World

On 4 February 1945 the Yalta conference began in at the Crimean  resort town that had been mostly abandoned since the German invasion of Russia in 1941.  Joseph Stalin hosted the only other two world leaders that mattered in early 1945, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt.  Together, it is said, they divided the postwar world between them at Yalta.

The truth is somewhat more prosaic, and somewhat more sad.  FDR was dying, and that was obvious to everyone.  Churchill commanded large forces, but they were fragile and dependent on the US for much.  Stalin’s armies were killing three of every four Germans dying in the war, and he had the will and the might to do pretty much whatever he wanted to do…in Europe.  Asia was a different matter, and if he had to cross an ocean even as small as the Yellow or South China Sea his power diminished tremendously.  Still, he was capable to invading Japan from Korea, and everyone knew it.

It was at Yalta that it was decided that Poland, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, and much of the Balkans would fall under a Soviet “sphere of influence,” an irrelevant concession since the Soviets were already there or would be soon.  FDR was in no position or state to argue about it, and Churchill lacked the power without Roosevelt’s insistence to resist Stalin’s “requests.”

In all, the Yalta conference did more to create a myth of “concessions” in Europe, but left unsettled the issues surrounding Japan, including the future of Korea.  Kim Il-Sung, the grandfather of the current dictator of North Korea, was a Major in the Red Army of the Soviet Union, commanding a nominal battalion of Korean guerrillas at Vyatskoye on the Amur River.  Soviet cooperation in an invasion of Japan was secured at the cost to Stalin of a French occupation zone in Germany.

Poland and China were the losers of the conference, primarily because their futures were decided without their direct participation.  The winners were the Soviet Union…and the undertakers.  The next half century would see how a truly divided world could work.

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“…Und Vin ze Var!” and Other Myths of War

On 3 February 1917, the United States broke off diplomatic relations with Germany in the wake of Germany’s announcement that she would commence unrestricted submarine warfare again.  The notion that Germany would be able to “win” the war against Britain by doing this was popular at the time, but unfounded.  It’s not clear exactly what the Germans expected, but “winning” the European war by then was simply a matter of outliving rivals.  France, Austria-Hungary, Italy, Russia and the Balkan states were completely spent: Britain was conscripting men for the first time in her history; Germany was starving through her first “turnip winter.”  Of all the world powers, only the United States was relatively undamaged by the war, then entering its third year.

Germany certainly hoped for victory, but in this more innocent time “victory” didn’t mean conquering one’s enemies and destroying their capacity and their will for war as it would in 1945.  What it meant was another negotiated settlement between leaders in morning coats and top hats; a dignified congress of gentlemen discussing matters before retiring and dressing for dinner.  There were to be no unseemly marches of mere soldiers past hastily built reviewing stands as the Americans had in 1865, and no shocking assassinations of emperors as the Mexicans had in 1866 to their Hapsburg Emperor Maximilian I that France had so generously placed on the throne.

But on 3 February 1945, Operation Thunderclap would augur just such portents in Germany.  A thousand US bombers hit Berlin over the course of about three hours, plagued by German fighters and pummeled by flak.  While Germany was dying and everyone seemed to know it but Hitler, she was still vary dangerous.

Thunderclap wasn’t the first thousand plane raid.  That distinction belongs to Operation Millennium in 1942, when the RAF hit Cologne in the heart of the Ruhr with not quite a thousand bombers (though they did send over a thousand, not quite a thousand reached the target).  The point of these large raids, as the fictional Otto Thielmann would discover in Crop Duster: A Novel of WWII as he watched Cologne go up in flames, was that it took very large volumes of unguided iron bombs to do what the prewar bomber advocates had insisted would take very little.  Technology of the time didn’t allow the kind of theoretical precision that men like Harris and Eaker had promised.  But, Cologne also showed that large groups of aircraft could overwhelm Germany’s defenses.  Such strikes couldn’t win, but they could enable victory.

Finally, in the height of irony, on 3 February 1924 Woodrow Wilson finally succumbed to the series of strokes that had weakened him for somewhat over a decade.  The conflict for which he would be forever identified was long over, though the aftermath and rebound had only begun, but Wilson died after lingering for nearly a year as a complete invalid, and nearly five years as a somewhat feeble old man.  While his wartime decision-making will be forever tainted by politics, his record as a reformer and wartime president must also be weighed and colored by his chronic illnesses.

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America Ascendant and Germany Descendant

On 2 February 1848 the Mexican-American War came to an official end, though for all practical purposes it had ended weeks before.  Winfield Scott, the only American General-In Chief to take field command (a whole other story, that) was the most celebrated soldier since Andrew Jackson.  An entirely self-educated officer who was first commissioned at age 22 as a captain of artillery (1808), “Old Fuss and Feathers” had led the American invasion of the Mexican Plateau in the first such expedition since Cortes.  What was remarkable was that European observers were all convinced that the European-trained Mexicans would handily defeat the Americans, whose last outing against European-style armies was in 1815.

Scott’s army never lost a battle, nor left a battlefield in retreat.  Six different American forces invaded Mexican territory from 1846-48 ranging in size from company to Scott’s small army, and none were unsuccessful.  “A little more grape, Captain Bragg” became a buzz phrase for a generation before the Civil War.  Mexico, beset by internal division, class warfare, and political uncertainty since its independence in 1822, would gradually settle into a twilight state between revolution and civil war that would obtain until the European invasion in 1862, and return until the Cristero War ended in 1929.


And then there was Stalingrad.  Though German Sixth Army officially surrendered on 31 January 1942, it would be two days until the last pockets of resistance were destroyed.  Between the Axis Allies and the Soviets, somewhere near two million soldiers and at least as many civilians died in the carnage and bitter weather at the City of Stalin.  Films like Stalingrad (1943) and Enemy At the Gates (2001) depict desolation, privation, random death and injury only to well-fed Germans and Russians, but the truth was that both sides were nearly on starvation rations even before the November 1942 offensive cut off the Germans and their allies.

Stalingrad changed the entire face of WWII in Russia, and arguably lost the war for Germany.  Between the loss of Guadalcanal by Japan earlier in the week, the brawl that was the American’s return to combat in North Africa in the next month, the British offensive into Libya and then Tunisia, the cracks in the Axis empires were becoming bigger, if not deeper.  It was clear that, if the Allies would fight long enough, both the German and Japanese monsters could be tamed.

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Bleeding Kansas Becomes a State and Guadalcanal is Saved–Again

After half the slave-holding states had left the Union, Kansas was admitted to the Union 29 January 1861.  After a years-long struggle over the slavery issue, the vote was anticlimactic…and practically inevitable.  Texas would be the last slave-holding state admitted to the Union 29 December 1845.

The expansion of the slave-bound political economy of the pre-1865 American South was the biggest issue of the period between the Mexican War and the firing on Fort Sumter.  It was less the plight of the slaves that most Northern politicians was concerned with as much as the reliance on their cheap labor that might have affected the rapid industrial expansion.  It wasn’t equal civil rights on the minds of most abolitionists as much as it was the idea of one sort of people holding another sort in bondage.  In Kansas, where raids of one faction were paid back by raids of another over the course of several months in 1859, John Brown and his biblical murder philosophy held sway with the Younger brothers and some very young James boys in pillage, raid and murder.  In the end, the faction that could control the Federal troops would win.

But the irony of Kansas and its admission as a “free” state was that, perhaps unintentionally, it would be the first state to organize African-Americans into state and then Federal units: the 1st Kansas Infantry (Colored) was formed in August 1862, predating the 54th Massachusetts by nine months, and saw their first combat that October, nearly a year before the 54th Massachusetts saw combat.


In contrast to Kansas, Japanese and American forces dueled off Rennell Island on the night of 29-30 January 1943, the last of a dozen naval battles fought around the island of Guadalcanal.  Although the Americans believed the Japanese were reinforcing their already exhausted troops on Guadalcanal, the fact was they were withdrawing them.  The Japanese, for once in a position to anticipate American actions, attacked an American escort group and crippled the Northampton class heavy cruiser USS Chicago (CA-29).  Much of the rest of the battle centered around keeping the vessel afloat, but after six torpedo hits she finally sank on 30 January.  Destroyer USS De Haven (DD-469) was also lost, the first Fletcher class destroyer to be lost in WWII.

The Japanese are said to have “won” the Rennell Island fight, but they only won it insofar as they were able to evacuate the pitiful remnant of their troops on Guadalcanal.  Unlike the British “victory” of Dunkirk, most of the Japanese were in such band shape that they never saw service again.  Combined with a similar experience at Kiska, it was the last time the Japanese performed a large-scale evacuation of an island that had been invaded.  From late 1943 on, Japanese garrisons were not to expect to be withdrawn in the face of enemy opposition.

What Were They Thinking: A Fresh Look at Japan At War 1941-1945 by John D. Beatty and Lee A Rochwerger is an examination of Japanese strategic thinking, available in hardback, paper and PDF from fine booksellers everywhere.

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The End of The Great Harry

Henry VIII, King of England and head of its church, died on 28 January 1547.  Though he was certainly mourned as any monarch was, some parts of the world found reason to celebrate.  As king for three decades and then some years, Harry had overseen a great overhauling not just of the Church in England but the idea of the rule of law.  No crown sat easy on any royal head in Britain, but ultimate authority in the Middle Ages seemed to rest in two places: the throne of St Peter in Rome and whatever monarch happened to rule.

Martin Luther nailed his theses on the door at Wittenburg in 1517, when Harry was still an impressionable young king anxious to father an heir to the throne.  After his father’s tenuous claim to the throne after the death of the last Lancaster, Richard III, and the death of his elder brother while Harry was still a boy, there was great trepidation over the succession.  England had been wracked by civil wars off an on for centuries, and could ill afford another dynastic struggle.

When his first wife failed to produce a male heir Henry wanted to divorce her, but there was no clean way to do it.  The Church discouraged divorce to the point of excommunication; Catherine of Aragon, his wife, was a princess of Spain that was enraged at the idea.  But too, England needed money.  Churches paid no taxes and were wealthy.  Confiscating their wealth in the name of the Crown made sense, only if one wanted also to enrage the Holy See and every other Catholic prince in Europe, especially the Holy Roman Empire, whose Emperor was Catherine’s nephew.  If it were only that simple.

But every prince in Europe wanted to do what Henry eventually did: take full control of the destiny and the incomes of their nations without the Pope or some local bishop telling them how to run things and taking their tax money.  In his struggle with the rest of the world, Harry formed the basis for church/state understanding and cooperation without one dictating to the other.

Too, the Anne Boleyn crisis began a movement in England called the “Patriots,” a movement that supported the monarch because he was the monarch, not because of who he was married to.  During the Stuart period a century later, Patriots would back whoever sat on the throne, and later became a movement that was the nucleus for the American Tories of the 18th Century, as well as the original Patriots who imagined that George III was being usurped by the English Parliament and addressed their Declaration of Independence to him.  In American history books beginning in the 19th century, the Tory Patriots are all but forgotten.