Posts Tagged ‘WWII’

The Rehabilitation of Tanya the Evil Part 1: the Empire

April 15, 2017

The English title of this anime: The Saga of Tanya the Evil is, to my way of thought, a misnomer and misleading. It pre-judges the character, and primes the viewer for one interpretation of her actions. The Japanese title Yojo Senki (幼女戦記), Young Girl’s War Record, is more neutral, but not as clickable. The anime is the story of the impact of this girl on a war, and vice-versa. Because of the title, most commentators assume that both Tanya and the Empire are evil. It’s not that simple. Let’s take the Empire first.

At a high level, the world of Tanya is an alternate universe to our own. It is 1925, and Europa is sliding into a war similar to WWI, with some elements of WWII.


My Personal Best of 2015

January 2, 2016

It sometimes seems like everyone on the Internet spent the last week of 2015 writing Best Of lists. I don’t have anything to add to those lists, so I thought I’d write about the best of me. According to my official WordPress report, I published 138 posts this year, and garnered almost 14,000 views, a seventy percent improvement on last year’s total. To celebrate, I thought I’d provide my own personal 10 Best List. That is, the 10 best blog entries I made — sez me. Grouped by category, in more or less chronological order.

Public Affairs
1. Abolish TSA
I got a quick start on the new year by pointing out that TSA’s own numbers indicate that it is incapable of performing its primary mission, and that it should be abolished. Based on Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, this won’t happen.

2. Systems Science and the F-35
This is one of my recurring efforts to use the concepts of Systems Science to inform a discussion of public policy.

3. SpaceX
A color-commentary on the loss of the SpaceX Falcon 9 last June

4. WWII 70th Anniversary Retrospective
As someone who considers themselves an I&W professional (retired), I have always been fascinated by the foundations of WWII, particularly the Pacific War. This is the first of a series on the 70th Anniversary of the start.

5. Memories of my youth
The first entry in my Memories series, about a story I heard from a doctor when I was about ten years old.

6. Cataracts
I had them. They’re gone. The start of a discussion of my personal experience of the experience.

7. Green thumb lessons learned
I keep a garden. In the summer I write more or less weekly about how it’s doing. This entry is worthwhile because it’s an example of one way to learn from notes taken over the course of the growing year.

8. Pumpkin Oats
I like to write about cooking, but I don’t cook a lot (having an old-fashioned sort of wife), and most of the dinners I do cook are one-dish things, eaten standing up over the sink. However, I do cook breakfast daily, and for reasons of health that breakfast is always oatmeal. Herewith, one of my many attempts to make plain old oatmeal, un-plain and new again.

9. Twelve days of Anime: GaruPan and Shirobako
I’m an unabashed anime fan, although not at the level of an otaku — more of an oataku (that’s a cooking joke). This is not an ani-blog, but I do write pretty regularly. This year I decided to accept the challenge to write one item on anime every day for Advent through Christmas. This link is to the last, and I think best, article in the series.

10. The Wind Rises.
Impressions of Miyazaki’s anime about the inventor of the Japanese Zero fighter. It’s not really a biopic.

So that’s it. 365 days of egoboo, 138 posts, 10 best, 1 list. Like the Lessons Learned gardening post, this will give me something to ponder when I decide what topics to address in 2016.

Rehabilitating Chamberlain

September 30, 2015

Seventy-seven years ago today, an agreement was signed at Munich. Modern historians are coming around to the idea that, at the time, given the circumstances, without being influenced by 20/20 hindsight, it was probably the right thing to do. To appropriate the words of Churchill about the first stage of the war, it provided the needed time “till those who hitherto had been half blind were half ready.”

World War II in the Pacific: A 70th Anniversary Retrospective

September 2, 2015


So, now it’s late Summer, 1945, and the Japanese Empire is on its last legs. The Navy has been destroyed, the Army is mostly trapped in China and Burma, their merchant marine has been sunk. The American B-29’s have been fire-bombing almost every city in the country, against almost no resistance from the Japanese Air Force. The time had come to invade the Home Islands.

Invasion was a costly alternative, but we didn’t have any particular reason to believe other options were workable. A blockade might starve them out, but there was no assurance of that. Besides, the result would be to have the Japanese grudgingly admit that they’d lost, to bargain for a less than unconditional surrender, and to leave future generations open to a “stabbed in the back” theory, like Germany after WWI. An invasion was the only way to convince the Japanese that they really had lost the war.

The cost was going to be horrific, on both sides. We estimated there’d be a million Allied casualties, and upwards of five million Japanese casualties. Japanese plans were to defend the Home Islands the way they did Okinawa and Iwo Jima — a defense in depth by soldiers who would have to be dug out and killed one by one. What we didn’t know was the extent to which the civilian population would be involved. Males were inducted into home defense units. Women and school children were shown how to tie a knife to a broomstick and attack allied infantry. Another thing that we didn’t know was Japanese preparations for kamikaze operations.

At the start of the US bombing campaign, the Japanese high command had decided to hide their remaining aircraft in protected shelters and rail tunnels, and to reserve enough aviation gasoline to fly 6000 one-way sorties. What Curtis LeMay thought of as a weakness that allowed him to bomb from low altitude was actually an iron determination to strike as hard a blow at the invasion fleet as possible. And it would be a hard blow. Although we looked on the kamikaze pilots as fanatics, they were actually patriots, doing their final duty. Using kamikaze tactics during the battles for Iwo Jima and Okinawa, the Japanese put more US ships out of the war, with fewer losses to themselves, per ship sunk or damaged, than they did with any of their more conventional campaigns.

In addition, southern Japan does not have that much coastland and hinterland suitable for an amphibious invasion. The Japanese High Command predicted almost exactly when and where we would invade, and had distributed their forces accordingly — an initial foothold on Kyushu Island, followed by an invasion of Honshu, with landings on either side of Tokyo Bay. Much of the land behind the beaches is shown as agricultural (rice paddies), but that doesn’t mean it is level. The paddies are enclosed in dikes, and in many cases are stepped in terraces. From a tactical standpoint, this means that tanks crossing the dikes and terraces will have their vulnerable undersides exposed to the defenders.

But, we had The Bomb. We had choices on how to use it, but little assurance that anything short of destroying a city would convince the holdouts in the Japanese military and government. Using it would be horrific (I know, that’s the third time I’ve used that phrase), but consider that we had already destroyed a greater area of the three largest cities in Japan than we did in all of the cities of Germany. The only difference here would be that we were doing it with one bomb in one instant, rather than waves of bombers over several days. It was a terrible weapon, and we had to demonstrate to the world what a terrible weapon it was. Even then, it still took over a week, and a second bomb, for the Japanese government to actually admit to defeat.  They signed the articles of surrender seventy years ago today.

In The Prisoner and the Bomb, Laurens van der Post, an Afrikaner officer imprisoned in Indonesia, said that the prison camp guards seemed to be working themselves up to something at the end of July and the beginning of August. The prisoners believed there was going to be a massacre. But after the bombs had dropped, the guards attitude changed, becoming almost resigned. The use of the atomic bomb, and the way it was used, finally convinced even the most fanatical holdouts that Japan had been well and truly defeated. And it convinced the world that we had to do something to limit their use.

World War II in the Pacific: A 70th Anniversary Retrospective

September 1, 2015


And so now we come to the attack on Pearl Harbor and America’s entrance into the Pacific War. As I’ve discussed in previous essays on the topic, much of the action was driven by the needs and blunders of the Japanese Army. The Japanese Navy was much less enthusiastic about the project, although they did not try very hard to stop it.

The Japanese logic was straightforward, though misinformed. The US (the world’s largest oil producer) had just cut off their total supply of oil. There was only about two years supply left in-country — two years for the Navy, if everyone else was starved of it. The US demand was simple, total withdrawal from China. The implications, which the US did not consider, were that Japan would become a client state of the US, and give up its aspirations to become a world-class nation. Better to go down fighting than acquiesce to that kind of abject surrender.

If Japan was to become independent in oil (does this have a modern ring to it? has the irony sunk in?), they would have to take it from someone, and the Dutch and British possessions were closest. So it was war with the UK and Holland.

But the UK was a close ally of the US, particularly in the Pacific. If Japan attacked the UK possessions there, the US would surely come into the war to support their ally. So it was war with the US. The Japanese (or at least those Army officers with the most clout) didn’t know that isolationist opinion in the US would have made it difficult to declare war without an overt attack on US forces, so they decided to make one.

Surprise attacks are a long-honored samurai tradition, retained into the modern age. The Russo-Japanese war started with a surprise bombardment of Port Arthur. The Japanese wanted to knock the US back on its heels for a year, while they ran wild across the Western and Central Pacific. Then they’d be able to negotiate from a position of strength. In fact, it was the one thing that would ensure a unified American response.

The combat portion of the Pacific War is shortly told. The IJN carrier strike forces ran roughshod over their enemies for six months, sailing one-third of the way around the globe, destroying ships and facilities from Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, to Colombo, Ceylon. Probably the single greatest naval campaign in history. Their run came to an end at the Battle of Midway, and they never recovered from the loss of ships and aircrews. The first nine months combat used up most of the aircraft carriers on both sides, and there was an eighteen month lull in carrier warfare while both sides rebuilt.

The Army, meanwhile, either retained most of it’s combat troops in China (to defend their gains or protect against a Russian invasion), or committed them to the campaign in Burma, in an attempt to split India off from the Allies. Fewer than twenty army divisions defended the islands between the US and the Home Islands. Because of this, the Army lost what was essentially a slow-motion meeting engagement on Guadalcanal, and was forced back and back by US ground forces, supported by superior naval and air firepower. One of the reasons for their losses was the fact that they had only fought the Chinese for the last quarter century, and had no idea what a modern Western army could do.

Through defeat after defeat, however, they were able to hone an effective, though not successful, defensive strategy. Rather than attempting to stop an invasion at the water’s edge, they opted for a defense in depth, relying on the stubborn determination of the Japanese infantryman to hold every position until the end, and in doing so, bleed the invading force with horrific casualties. They refined this approach at Iwo Jima and Okinawa, and their preparations for an archipelago-wide battle to the death was one of the considerations in our decision to drop the atomic bomb.

World War II in the Pacific: A 70th Anniversary Retrospective

August 31, 2015


Imagine if England had retained the tradition of knights in shining armour into the mid-1800’s. Imagine if the UK had remained as it was in the mid-1400’s, with a weak king and strong barons. Imagine if Queen Victoria was the first English monarch in seven hundred years to actually rule the United Kingdom. Now, jump ahead fifty years, and imagine what British society might be like half a century later. You now have an idea of what Japan was like at the beginning of the last Century.

Japan was always a militaristic society, in a knights in shining armour way. For almost their entire history this militarism was aimed inwards, with more or less continuous Wars of the Roses style fighting between rival clans and warlords using small armies of samurai, or with indian wars in the north, to pacify the Ainu. Unification of the country in the 1600’s under one chief warlord (Shogun) suppressed the fighting, and converted the samurai to a governing civil service (while not decreasing their militaristic ethos). The rise of a national army, in post-Meiji Japan, gave an outlet for those who yearned for more than trusted places in the bureaucracy. By the start of the 20th Century, Japanese society could still be classified as militaristic, but not in a nostalgic way. Large parts of it embraced the militarism that would later lead Europe into two World Wars.

And now we come to the place where hubris evokes nemesis. In the first essay in this series, the Japanese had gained control of agricultural Taiwan and Korea, and had established a sphere of influence in the Liaodong Peninsula. Occupation of resource-rich Manchuria had earned them the censure of the League of Nations, but no economically important countermeasures. It did, however, kick off continuing clashes with Chinese forces, which the Japanese generally won. If they had stopped there, they might have consolidated, grown, and prospered. They didn’t.

In 1937 the Japanese army in China, which by now was pretty much out of control, exploited, or manufactured, several incidents, that lead to an all out war with the Kuomintang (KMT) government, and a parallel guerrilla war coordinated by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). At the start of the war, the Japanese army totaled 17 divisions. By the time of Pearl Harbor, approximately 35 out of 51 divisions, and 38 out of 39 independent brigades were committed in China. Japan managed to occupy a number of the major cities — Shanghai, Nanjing, Wuhan — but had less luck pacifying the country in between.

The start of the Second Sino-Japanese War threatened Western business interests in China. That, combined with the associated Japanese atrocities against Chinese civilians, well reported by the US Christian missionaries in-country, provided the basis for US support for the KMT. Initially, there were no overt actions against Japan directly. Diplomatic objections were raised. Loans were made available to buy military equipment and supplies for the Chinese army, much of which was delivered through Haiphong, in French Indochina, and thence via rail to Yunnan. So far, the Japanese were still ahead in the game. This lasted for three years.

We now begin a series of escalatory tit-for-tats, each of which, on its own and viewed narrowly, was perfectly logical. The problem was, the Japanese army was bogged down in China. They were looking at a scaled up version of what the US faced in VietNam — a patriotic people, fighting on their own ground, with continuing resupply from an untouchable sanctuary. Ultimately, it would lose somewhere between one and two million casualties there. Probably half of those were suffered by late 1940. The solution was, of course, to close off the resupply. By September of that year French Indochina was in the hands of the neutral Vichy government, and the Japanese tried to get them to close the rail line through diplomatic pressure. They refused, and the Japanese staged an amphibious landing south of Haiphong, as well as moving ground troops across the border at Lang Son, closing the railway. The US reaction was to halt all sales of scrap iron (75% of Japan’s supply), machine tools, and aviation gasoline, one step short of a total trade embargo. This lead the Japanese to make plans to obtain their own oil, by seizing the British oil fields in Borneo, and the Dutch oil fields in Indonesia. They took the next step in July of 1941, by occupying the southern half of French Indochina, putting their aircraft in range of Dutch and UK targets. The US froze all Japanese assets, and instituted a complete trade embargo, including all exports of oil to Japan. The final stage was set.

Throughout all of this, the US demonstrated an almost complete lack of understanding of the Japanese goals and values. In fact, US actions continuously confirmed the Japanese understanding of the West. Immigration restrictions were informally imposed on the Japanese in 1907, and formalized in the Immigration Act of 1924. As early as 1895 the European powers had ganged up on Japan to roll back major provisions of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, which ended the First Sino-Japanese War. The Washington Naval Treaty of 1922 limited Japan to the short end of a 5:5:3 ratio in battleships. And now the US was adopting a hard line withdraw from China and then we’ll talk approach. The Japanese were faced with unconditional surrender and acceptance of a second class existence as a client state of a nation that despised them, or a war that might allow them to achieve at least some of their goals, or that might end in ruin for the nation. What’s a proud samurai to do?

World War II in the Pacific: A 70th Anniversary Retrospective

August 25, 2015


“World War II” is a collective term, encompassing a number of different conflicts that took place just prior to the mid-20th Century, in a number of different places, involving a number of different combatants, over a number of different durations.

For the US, the war started, with Japan, in 1941. For the UK, the war started in 1939, against Germany. For the USSR, the Great Patriotic War started in 1940, against Germany, with the follow-on Soviet-Japanese War limited to August, 1945. And for the Japanese, the Greater East Asia War began with the Second Sino-Japanese war, between Japan and China, in 1937 and later spread to the Pacific War, between Japan and the US and its allies, from 1941 to 1945.

I’m not going to talk about WWII in Europe. The European War is much more straightforward, one might even say traditional. The ruler of a country (Hitler) embarked upon a program of conquest through a war of choice. With a different ruler, one can argue, Germany would most likely not have gone to war. From that standpoint the European War serves to validate the Great Man theory of history. On the other hand, the Pacific War is fascinating because it can be attributed to the inevitable clash of cultures and national objectives, the Blind Forces of History. No one man pushed the Japanese into what one author calls the war they could never win. It was the Japanese (and American) view of themselves (and the world), that caused it.

As I said in an earlier essay, most Americans have this vague  notion that Japan woke up one morning and decided to attack Pearl Harbor.  I mean, it was a dull Sunday, and they still didn’t have cable TV, right? Of course it was more complex than that.

Around the world, the late 19th and early 20th Centuries saw a burst of New Imperialism, mostly on the part of European nations and the US. In the Scramble for Africa, the UK, France, Germany and Italy carved up those parts of the continent not already colonized. At the same time, the defeat of China in the Opium Wars allowed the UK, France, Germany, and Russia to establish spheres of influence there. Japan got some concessions out of it, but was treated as a decidedly minor partner. The US was not as imperialist as the other countries, possibly because it was still busy colonizing the lands between St Louis and San Francisco, but it still managed to come into possession of Puerto Rico and the Philippines, and of course earlier it had used the armed might of its Black Ships to force Japan to open up to the West.

The lesson was clear:  If you didn’t want to be a colony, you had to be a modern, industrialized nation.  And to become an industrialized nation, you had to have resources, either your own or from your colonies. 

Japan, a backward and resource-poor nation, learned that lesson well, at the hands of Oliver Hazard Perry. As soon as they felt up to it, they set about becoming both modern and industrialized, which meant acquiring colonies.

Between 1894 and 1910 they fought one war with China and another with Russia, as well as engineering several short-of-war incidents*, in order to transform Korea from a Chinese vassal state to a Japanese colony. Along the way they succeeded in getting China to grant them control of the Liaodong peninsula but the major European powers ganged up on them and forced them to give it back. This was one more example, if they needed one, that European nations still looked down on all Asians, and that Japan would not get any respect from Europeans unless they forced it out of them.

The Russo-Japanese war was a disaster for Japan. They won every battle. They drove the Russian field armies back and back, from one well-prepared defensive position to another. They bottled the Russian Pacific Fleet and another Russian army into the area around Port Arthur, at the end of the Liaodong peninsula, and forced a surrender after a year-long siege. Five months later the final disaster occurred — the Battle of Tsushima. There, the Japanese fleet utterly destroyed the Russian Baltic Fleet, and brought an end to the war.

Why was this highly successful war an ultimate disaster? Because the Japanese military came to believe they were the equal of any of the Western powers, that the army that destroyed the Tsarist  armies, 4,000 rail miles from their home bases, and the navy that destroyed the Tsarist navy, 18,000 nautical miles from its home ports, in 1905, could prevail against Britain and the US in the 1940’s.

The Japanese came to believe that they were destined to become the dominant power in Asia, superseding both China and the West. No-one believed this more than the Japanese Army. They, more than any other group came to see this as what Americans would call their Manifest Destiny. Not only was Japan now technically and industrially equivalent to the West, they felt they were also morally superior as well.

At home, the Army terrorized all who stood in their way. Assassination was a time-honored solution to problems of opposition**, and they, or their supporters, murdered recalcitrant generals, admirals, and politicians, even Prime Ministers. Abroad, with Russia cowed, the Army-dominated government continued their efforts to subdue China. As Allied participants in WWI they gained control of former German colonies across the Pacific, and in China they unsuccessfully attempted to push out their Western allies as part of their 21 Demands.

In 1931 the Japanese army engineered the Mukden incident, and used it to justify seizing all of Manchuria and establishing the vassal state of Manchukuo, a 100% Japanese creation, three times the size of the Japanese home islands (with over ten times the arable land), known today primarily for its exports of postage stamps.

But in 1937 the Japanese Army committed a fatal error, one that lead ultimately to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They started a land war in Asia.


*As with the US over the last fifty years, the Japanese used at least 17 incidents — violent events in China, some staged, some false flag operations — as excuses to increase military intervention there.

**In the clan conflicts of the late 1500s, which lead up to the unification of Japan, eight major figures fell to assassination, including Oda Nobunaga, and his brother, and the father, and grandfather of Tokugawa Ieyasu.

On this date in Parliament, 1940

June 18, 2015
The original notes

The original notes

Winston Churchill gave a speech.

Air Spy

June 6, 2011

Here is a BBC infomercial for a recent program(me) on the use of “3D”, AKA stereo, imagery by Photo Interpreters (PIs) in Operation Crossbow, the effort to find and destroy Hitler’s V-weapons.


What makes this interesting to me, is that I trained on a stereoscope exactly like the one shown (I still have it), and I knew PIs who knew Constance Babington Smith (“Babs”), the original “Air Spy” on Crossbow. (more…)

S.E. Morison and the History of US Naval Operations in WWII

March 18, 2011

At the start of WWII, Samuel Eliot Morison was a professor of history at Harvard. He convinced President Roosevelt that the naval war should be documented by historians on site from the start. The result was the highly readable History of United States Naval Operations in World War II, fourteen volumes, almost 5000 pages, of active, informative prose, with a fifteenth volume as an index and general reference. Originally published in the 1950’s, it is currently being reissued in paperback form.

Night Battle off Guadalcanal

I had a chance to reread the entire series last summer. Even now, fifty years after its initial publication, it still reads well. Morison doesn’t pull any punches. This isn’t one of those ‘official’ histories, where everybody gets mentioned, and nobody is incompetent. In the Solomons Campaign, in particular (where the Navy’s pullout left the Marines, including my father, without adequate support for months), he details the errors that led to a situation where we could only put surface ships in the area at night, and where we lost a number of the surface actions — before learning how to win. I learned a lot from reading the full set in one sitting, as it were. (more…)

Last US WWI Vet Dies

February 28, 2011

The Washington Post, reports that Frank W. Buckles, the last surviving Doughboy, died at the age of 110 on Sunday. What I find amazing is not his long life, per se, but the fact that he was also a civilian prisoner of the Japanese in WWII. I knew a military POW, a US Army enlisted man captured in the Philippines. He was in his mid forties when I knew him, and he looked 80 — shrunken, shriveled, nearly toothless. Of course, he was a Bataan Death March survivor, but that was a mere instant in time compared with the next three years of deprivation. By all reports, the conditions that Buckles had to deal with were only slightly less horrific. The fact that Buckles could survive that, and still make it to 110 is the real miracle.

The British Resistance Movement in WWII

January 29, 2011

The what?

Unbeknownst to most people, the UK was one of the first countries to have an organized, armed resistance movement to fight the Nazis in WWII. They were known as Auxiliary Units , headquartered at Coleshill House. They were groups of civilians detailed to stay behind and carry on the fight even if Britain were invaded and overrun and the government forced to flee to Canada.

Information about them was very hard to find in the pre-Internet era, because very few records were kept — they didn’t want the Germans to find out about them. Now, of course, they have their own Wikipedia page. In some cases they masqueraded as Home Guard units, in others they were just groups of people who were given special training. They kept stocks of weapons and explosives, and were prepared to conduct sabotage operations against German units and infrastructure. Since in some ways they didn’t officially exist, there was no way for them to disband, and their sleeper cells lay dormant for decades after the war.

When we lived in England, in the early ’70’s, there would periodically be a news item about a former AU member contacting the army or police and saying “I am 90 years old now, and can no longer do proper maintenence on the 100 kilos of explosives and the collection of automatic weapons that have spent the last thirty years buried under my garden shed. What should I do with them?” Just another example of how people from that time felt they had a pact between themselves and the government, and were willing to keep secrets very nearly unto death. More recently, of course, government have violated those pacts, and squandered that good will.

Recently, archaeologists have started surveys at the AU headquarters at Coleshill House to see if they could uncover any physical evidence.

Updated to include mention and link to the Wikipedia entry.