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Maggie’s Farm reminds us that October 21 was the 210th anniversary of the Battle of Trafalgar. (JMW Turner painting of the battle at the link) I am reminded of a thoughtful document written in 1797 by a Spanish naval official, Don Domingo Perez de Grandallana, on the general subject “why do we keep losing to the British, and what can we do about it?” His thoughts were inspired by his observations while with the Spanish fleet off Cape St Vincent, in a battle which was a significant defeat for Spain, and are relevant to a question which is very relevant to us today:
What attributes of an organization make it possible for that organization to accomplish its mission in an environment of uncertainty, rapid change, and high stress?
Here are de Grandallana’s key points:
An Englishman enters a naval action with the firm conviction that his duty is to hurt his enemies and help his friends and allies without looking out for directions in the midst of the fight; and while he thus clears his mind of all subsidiary distractions, he rests in confidence on the certainty that his comrades, actuated by the same principles as himself, will be bound by the sacred and priceless principle of mutual support.
Accordingly, both he and his fellows fix their minds on acting with zeal and judgement upon the spur of the moment, and with the certainty that they will not be deserted. Experience shows, on the contrary, that a Frenchman or a Spaniard, working under a system which leans to formality and strict order being maintained in battle, has no feeling for mutual support, and goes into battle with hesitation, preoccupied with the anxiety of seeing or hearing the commander-in-chief’s signals for such and such manoeures…
Thus they can never make up their minds to seize any favourable opportunity that may present itself. They are fettered by the strict rule to keep station which is enforced upon then in both navies, and the usual result is that in one place ten of their ships may be firing on four, while in another four of their comrades may be receiving the fire of ten of the enemy. Worst of all they are denied the confidence inspired by mutual support, which is as surely maintained by the English as it is neglected by us, who will not learn from them.
This month marks the 53rd anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the world dangerously close to thermonuclear war.
Several years ago, I read Rockets and People, the totally fascinating memoir of Soviet rocket developer Boris Chertok, which I reviewed here.
Chertok’s career encompassed both military and space-exploration projects, and in late October 1962 he was focused on preparations for launching a Mars probe. On the morning of Oct 27, he was awakened by “a strange uneasiness.” After a quick breakfast, he headed for the missile assembly building, known as the MIK.
At the gatehouse, there was usually a lone soldier on duty who would give my pass a cursory glance. Now suddenly I saw a group of soldiers wielding sub-machine guns, and they thoroughly scrutinized my pass. Finally they admitted me to the facility grounds and there, to my surprise, I again saw sub-machine-gun-wielding soldiers who had climbed up the fire escape to the roof of the MIK. Other groups of soldiers in full combat gear, even wearing gas masks, were running about the periphery of the secure area. When I stopped in at the MIK, I immediately saw that the “duty” R-7A combat missile, which had always been covered and standing up against the wall, which we had always ignored, was uncovered.
Chertok was greeted by his friend Colonel Kirillov, who was in charge of this launch facility. Kirollov did not greet Chertok with his usual genial smile, but with a “somber, melancholy expression.”
Without releasing my hand that I’d extended for our handshake, he quietly said: “Boris Yevseyevich, I have something of urgent importance I must tell you”…We went into his office on the second floor. Here, visibly upset, Kirillov told me: “Last night I was summoned to headquarters to see the chief of the [Tyura-Tam] firing range. The chiefs of the directorates and commanders of the troop units were gathered there. We were told that the firing range must be brought into a state of battle readiness immediately. Due to the events in Cuba, air attacks, bombardment, and even U.S. airborne assaults are possible. All Air Defense Troops assets have already been put into combat readiness. Flights of our transport airplanes are forbidden. All facilities and launch sites have been put under heightened security. Highway transport is drastically restricted. But most important—I received the order to open an envelope that has been stored in a special safe and to act in accordance with its contents. According to the order, I must immediately prepare the duty combat missile at the engineering facility and mate the warhead located in a special depot, roll the missile out to the launch site, position it, test it, fuel it, aim it, and wait for a special launch command. All of this has already been executed at Site No. 31. I have also given all the necessary commands here at Site No. 2. Therefore, the crews have been removed from the Mars shot and shifted over to preparation of the combat missile. The nosecone and warhead will be delivered here in 2 hours.
Get used to it. This is the world as it is without American power setting standards and boundaries. After a 70-year hiatus from history, nothing you think you know applies to this situation. This is the world of 1900 – 800 – 500 B.C. – but with much more destructive weapons, and much faster ways to get around.
Moscow now has a bigger conflict to prosecute, one in which the United States cannot decline to engage. Russia had spent the better part of the last two months paving the way for intervention in the Syrian civil war. Last Monday, that campaign began with a dramatic attack on CIA-armed and trained rebels under the guise of airstrikes on the Islamic State. The United States immediately scrambled to pursue “deconfliction” talks with Moscow, with the singular purpose of establishing military-to-military contacts so that Russian and NATO forces operating in the Syrian theater wouldn’t accidently start shooting at each other. But Russia’s aim is to ignite conflict. Its desire is to prop up the ailing Assad regime and to force NATO assets and its proxies out of Western Syria (and, eventually, out of the country entirely). It is a farce to pursue “deconfliction” when triggering conflict is the whole purpose of this exercise.
[. . .]
In a sense, Obama was correct when he insisted that a new Cold War was not in the offing. The Soviets would have been far more cautious about inviting confrontation with the West and fomenting wars in unpredictable caldrons like Syria. Unlike the Soviets who for much of the country’s existence believed that history’s arc bent resolutely in Moscow’s direction, Putin does not believe that time is a commodity he can afford to spend recklessly. The Russian public is restless and dissatisfied, an extraordinarily malleable American president will soon leave office, and financial pressures have compelled the Kremlin to scale back its already unsustainable military expenditures. All these factors make Russia an even more dangerous actor. It would rather risk a major confrontation with the West now than allow this window of opportunity to close unexploited.
The last paragraph is key. The Obama window of national vulnerability closes in January 2017. Putin and other foreign thugs are all calculating how far they can go in exploiting our current submissiveness without risking a prohibitively severe response from Obama’s successor. The cumulative damage to our interests will be enormous and long lasting and we have not seen the end of it.
Posted by Mrs. Davis on 30th September 2015 (All posts by Mrs. Davis)
Tonight Obama must be contemplating how much he feels like Stalin on June 22, 1941. One wishes it won’t take him 10 days to reappear. Until one considers how craven he will be when he does reappear. He’s no Uncle Joe, that’s for sure.
Marc Sasseville and Heather Penney were F-16 pilots with an Air National Guard squadron. Their order was to bring down Flight 93 before the terrorists in control of it could create another disaster on the scale of the World Trade Center…but their aircraft were configured for training, with no live ammunition and no missiles. A video interview with Major Penney here
Joseph Fouché writes about how the Taliban’s destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in March 2001, and the murder of Ahmed Shah Masood on September 9 of that year, prefigured the 9/11 attacks.
The Diplomad posts a speech he gave on 9/14/01, when he was charge d’affaires at a U.S. embassy. You will not hear speeches like that being given by diplomats under the administration of Barack Obama.
On September 11, 2005, Rare Kate didn’t go to church. Follow the link to find out why. In my original post linking this, I said “What if American and British religious leaders had responded the depradations of Naziism in the spirit of this liturgy? Actually, some of them did. The impact on preparedness was certainly malign, and the people who took such positions certainly bear a share of moral resposibility for the deaths and devastation that took place. Ditto for those who are behaving in a similar way today.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, an important leader of the anti-Nazi resistance in Germany (executed in 1945), wrote the following:
Today there are once more saints and villains. Instead of the uniform grayness of the rainy day, we have the black storm cloud and the brilliant lightning flash. Outlines stand out with exaggerated sharpness. Shakespeare’s characters walk among us. The villain and the saint emerge from primeval depths and by their appearannce they tear open the infernal or the divine abyss from which they come and enable us to see for a moment into mysteries of which we had never dreamed.
The refusal on the part of many individuals to face the seriousness of the radical Islamist threat to out civilization stems in significant part, I feel certain, from a desire to avoid the uncomfortable and even dangerous kind of clarity that Bonhoeffer was talking about.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 3rd September 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
While the time pressures of work and family life prevented me from posting this yesterday, Sept 02, 2015, a commemoration of the official surrender of Japan in WW2 is still in order. Like the commemoration of the atomic bombing of Japan, this post will be about how the events leading to the surrender have been covered in American culture. Specifically, it will be a posting of several C-Span network video links to presentations by the leading historians of the period including Craig Symonds, Richard Frank, D.M. Giangreco, and John Kuehn. Afterwards I will give short reviews of each video.
The following symposia video titles & descriptions, plus links, are from C-Span
Historians talked about the turning point in the Pacific theater
during World War II. Craig Symonds argued the Battle of Midway was the
decisive engagement that shifted momentum in the Allies favor, while
Richard Frank asserted that the Guadalcanal campaign thwarted future
Axis plans and resulted in a permanent blow to the Japanese war
machine. A video clip from “Victory at Sea” was played without sound.
After each author made his presentation, they held a discussion and
responded to questions from members of the audience.
“Pacific War Turning Point: Midway or Guadalcanal?” was part of The
Bernard and Irene Schwartz Distinguished Speakers Series WWII & NYC of
The New York Historical Society.
Richard Frank, author of Downfall: The End of the Imperial Japanese Empire,
spoke about the events leading up to Japan’s surrender at the end of World War II. He talked about American and Japanese strategies and operations in the closing months of the war, the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan’s surrender, and the fall of the Japanese Empire.
D.M. Giangreco talked about the American offensive directed at Japan’s
northernmost island, Hokkaido. He also spoke about the Soviet Union’s
involvement, including the influence of logistics and diplomatic
“The Hokkaido Myth: U.S., Soviet, and Japanese Plans for Invasion” was a portion of “Endgame: August 1945 in Asia and the Pacific,” a symposium hosted by the Institute for the Study of Strategy and Politics
John Kuehn talked about Japan’s decision to surrender to Allied forces
in August of 1945.
“A Succession of Miracles: Japan’s Decision to Surrender” was a portion of “Endgame: August 1945 in Asia and the Pacific,” a symposium hosted by the Institute for the Study of Strategy and Politics.
Each of the above presentations was hugely informative. In the “Pacific War Turning Point: Midway or Guadalcanal?” argument, I side with Richard Frank on its impact on Japanese military capability. The Guadalcanal campaign hurt the Japanese far more than the “Decisive battle” of Midway. I recently received a Kindle Copy of Phillips Payson O’Brien’s How the War was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II (Cambridge Military Histories) that convinced me of the importance of Guadalcanal over Midway in terms of killing off the best Japanese naval pilots, most of whom survived Midway.
In the second video on July 14, 2015 Richard Frank basically gives a presentation drawn from his coming trilogy on the “Asia-Pacific War” that highlights the Japanese military preparations to defend Japan, including the mobilization of a 20 million strong civilian-militia to back up the military, and how important the A-bomb was as compared to the Soviet Invasion of Manchuria in getting the Japanese to surrender. Frank also speaks to the King-Nimitz efforts to challenge Olympic and the total casualties up to August 1945 and how many more would have died from starvation had the war lasted even a short time longer. Frank tends to be US Navy centric and did not think much of MacArthur’s Olympic plans.
The third video, by D.M. Giangreco of a presentation titled “The Hokkaido Myth: U.S., Soviet, and Japanese Plans for Invasion”, goes very heavily into Japanese, Soviet & American plans to alternately defend or invade the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. Short form — The Soviets had enough American provided sealift for a light infantry division, but not enough airpower to protect it, and the available Japanese ground forces and Kamikazes would be able to make any Soviet lodgment a Pacific Anzio.
The final video, by John Kuehn, titled “A Succession of Miracles: Japan’s Decision to Surrender” goes deeply into the Japanese high command, civilian leadership and the Showa Emperor’s maneuvering to achieve a surrender. I found it particularly useful in getting a better understanding of the irrationality that dominated Japanese decision making. And the point that Kuehn made that the “Big-Six” represented the Japanese military “Moderate factions” was chilling.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 17th August 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
On August 18, 1945, in a second day running of violations of the Potsdam cease fire, fighters of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked American B-32 Dominator bombers on photo reconnaissance missions over the Tokyo area. During these attacks the last American serviceman to die in combat during World War 2 fell.
This is a painting of the final B-32 photographic mission over Japan after acceptance of the Potsdam terms, and before the formal Japanese surrender in early September 1945.
The prologue sets up why Stephen Harding wrote the book, the first two chapters are biographies of Tony Marchione, how he came to his unit — the 386th Bombardment Group — for the mission, and a thumb nail history of the trouble plagued B-32 Dominator super-bomber’s development and combat history. The B-32 was a back up “Very Heavy Bomber” (VHB) to the B-29 Superfortress that USAF documents would not even admit was a “VHB” design post-war!
Chapters Three through Five are the set-up for and a description of the desperate fighting action that saw Tony Marchione killed by a 20mm shell while giving first aide to two other B-32 crewmen wounded in an earlier fighter attack on his B-32 plane, tail number 578.
Chapter Six focuses on General MacArthur’s wisdom in not launching immediate retaliatory strikes on the Japanese. Thus allowing The Emperor and his loyal retainers to shut down numerous mutinous air units, to include the IJN air bases where the fighters that killed Marchione were based.
Chapter Seven has the grim details of the notification of Tony Marchione’s next of kin and the mechanics of getting his personal effects, and eventually his body, to his small-town Pennsylvania home for final funeral services in 1948.
All in all I found the book satisfying both as story telling and as a foot-noted history. It has my strong buy recommendation.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 12th August 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
It has become something of a tradition for western leftists to commemorate the August 6th and 9th 1945 US A-bomb attacks on Imperial Japan, and to try and make the case that even if the first bomb was needed — which it was not — that the second bomb was what amounted to a war crime because the American government and military knew the Japanese were trying to surrender, but wanted to intimidate the Soviet Union with the A-Bomb.
I have dealt with this annual leftist commemoration ritual with myth-destroying commemorations of my own explaining why leftists are wrong on this. See the following posts:
My Chicago Boyz commemoration is different this year in that it is a list of reviews from popular culture video and books that show how American culture looks at what might have happened — if Japan had continued fighting World War 2 after the nuking of Hiroshima and Nagasaki — and there had to be “The Invasion That Never Was”. Each review will be a text thumbnail of the content, a link, my impression and at the end of all the reviews I’ll share what I see as the problems that all of them share. Problems that amount to a cultural paradigm blind spot that I mentioned in my “Nagasaki, Hiroshima and Saving Hirohito’s Phony Baloney Job” back when I started these annual columns in 2010.
The first review is of the old History Channel series “Secrets of War Declassified” Episode 2 of 20: “Japan: The Invasion That Never Was”. This Charlton Heston narrated video is available through both Amazon.com and its current content-rights owner, Mills Creek Entertainment, at this link.
The video gives a reasonable back story to a 1990s cable channel audience on the historical military and political forces leading to the alternative decisions of invasion or to drop the atomic bombs by President Truman. It is told predominantly from the American professional academic military historian point of view, which while I agree with generally, leaves out much of the Chinese, Russian and British Commonwealth perspective on these events. This was reasonable editorial choice, as there is only so much you can put in a 51 minute video for an American cable channel audience. Overall the video has aged well in terms of production values from its original History Channel airing and the rich-voiced Charlton Heston narration make it a must-own for those interested in the era.
Full Episode is also on Youtube and a link is embedded above.
I see that the 70th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki this last weekend brought the usual hand-wringing and heart-string twanging on the part of the news media, and another round of the endless discussion over whether it was justified or not, with the same old patient answering of what the alternative would have been. I’ve really nothing more to add to that particular discussion, save noting that the stocks of Purple Heart medals struck and stockpiled in anticipation of American casualties in a full-frontal invasion of Japan have only in the last fifteen years been diminished to the point where a new order for them had to be initiated – this, after Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Kosovo, Gulf War 1, and Iraq.
Chicago Boyz community member Robert Schwartz has some thoughts about the Obama administration’s Iran deal:
By now I think everybody, who is not sunk into Obama idolatry, agrees that Obama’s deal with the Iranian Regime fails in numerous dimensions. Some day it will be used in business school classes as an object lesson in poor negotiating technique.
Be that as it may, The Deal has been set, and the only remaining issue is whether the Congress of the United States will vote to disapprove it, and be able to override a veto of that resolution. The announcement of opposition by three prominent Congressmen, Reps. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), and the very negative polling results for the Deal, show that this is a possibility.
One of the many tragedies of the World War II era was a heartbreakingly fratricidal affair known as the Battle of Mers-el-Kebir.
I’ve written before about the defeat of France in 1940 and the political, social, and military factors behind this disaster. Following the resignation of Paul Reynaud on June 16, the premiership was assumed by the First World War hero Philippe Petain, who immediately asked the Germans for an armistice. With an eye toward revenge, Hitler chose the Forest of Compiegne…the same place where the armistice ending the earlier war had been executed…as the venue for the signing of the documents. Indeed, he insisted that the ceremonies take place in the very same railroad car that had been employed 22 years earlier.
The armistice provided that Germany would occupy and directly control about 3/5 of France, while the remainder of the country, together with its colonies, would remain nominally “free” under the Petain government. (One particularly noxious provision of the agreement required that France hand over all individuals who had been granted political asylum–especially German nationals.)
Winston Churchill and other British leaders were quite concerned about the future role of the powerful French fleet…although French admiral Darlan had assured Churchill that the fleet would not be allowed to fall into German hands, it was far from clear that it was safe to base the future of Britain–and of the world–on this assurance. Churchill resolved that the risks of leaving the French fleet in Vichy hands were too high, and that it was necessary that this fleet join the British cause, be neutralized, be scuttled, or be destroyed.
The strongest concentration of French warships, encompassing four battleships and six destroyers, was the squadron at Mers-el-Kebir in French Algeria. On July 3, a powerful British force under the command of Admiral James Somerville confronted the French fleet with an ultimatum. The French commander, Admiral Jean-Bruno Gensoul, was given the following alternatives:
(a) Sail with us and continue the fight until victory against the Germans.
(b) Sail with reduced crews under our control to a British port. The reduced crews would be repatriated at the earliest moment.
If either of these courses is adopted by you we will restore your ships to France at the conclusion of the war or pay full compensation if they are damaged meanwhile.
(c) Alternatively if you feel bound to stipulate that your ships should not be used against the Germans unless they break the Armistice, then sail them with us with reduced crews to some French port in the West Indies — Martinique for instance — where they can be demilitarised to our satisfaction, or perhaps be entrusted to the United States and remain safe until the end of the war, the crews being repatriated.
If you refuse these fair offers, I must with profound regret, require you to sink your ships within 6 hours.
Finally, failing the above, I have the orders from His Majesty’s Government to use whatever force may be necessary to prevent your ships from falling into German hands.
The duty of delivering this ultimatum was assigned to the French-speaking Captain Cedric Holland, commander of the aircraft carrier Ark Royal.
Robert Philpott, a trainee gunnery officer on the battleship Hood: ”Really it was all very peaceful. Nobody was doing any firing; there was a fairly happy mood on board. We all firmly believed that the ships would come out and join us. We know the French sailors were just anxious to get on with the war. So we didn’t think there would be a great problem.”
André Jaffre, an 18-year-old gunner on the battleship Bregagne: ”Our officer scrutinizes the horizon, then looks for his binoculars and smiles. What is it, captain? The British have arrived! Really? Yes. We were happy! We thought they’d come to get us to continue fighting against the Nazis.”
Gensoul contacted his superior, Admiral Darlan. Both men were incensed by the British ultimatum: Gensoul was also personally offended that the British had sent a mere captain to negotiate with him, and Darlan was offended that Churchill did not trust his promise about keeping the French fleet out of German hands. Darlan sent a message–intercepted by the British–directing French reinforcements to Mers-al-Kebir, and the British could observe the French ships preparing for action. All this was reported to Churchill, who sent a brief message: Settle matters quickly. Somerville signaled the French flagship that if agreement were not reached within 30 minutes, he would open fire.
It appears that one of the the options in the British ultimatum–the option of removing the fleet to American waters–was not transmitted by Gensoul to Admiral Darlan. Whether or not this would have made a difference, we cannot know.
As Captain Holland saluted the Tricolor preparatory to stepping back into his motor launch, there were tears in his eyes. Almost immediately, Admiral Somerville gave the order to fire to open fire.
This video is a bit less than 20 minutes long. It has been making the rounds on Facebook and other social network sites, so it is possible you have seen it already. If you have not, you should. It is incredible.
Numbers surrounding the Second World War are always ripe for debate, of course, and if you view the comment thread on Vimeo you will see that the debates have already started. The only revisionI would make to the video does not concern the Second World War at all, but the An-Lushan Rebellion (755-753) fought a thousand years before it. This rebellion is often included in lists of the world’s deadliest wars and it shows up when Mr. Halloran compares the Second World War’s death toll to that of earlier conflicts of equal consequence.
While it was surely a destructive event, I do not think there is proper evidence to prove that it was that destructive. The 36 million casualties number comes from Tang Dynasty censuses that showed the population of China just before and just after the rebellion, with 36 million being the difference. Many of those 36 million people surely died in the rebellion, but many more fled and moved to safer, more remote locales. The number should be properly understood not as the number of civilians killed, but as a measure for how badly the Tang government’s ability to monitor and control the Chinese population it governed had been damaged. It was a war from which the Tang would never recover.
In this sense, it was a very different kind of conflict than the Second World War, a war whose legacy is now seen mostly in the realm of memory. The An-Lushan Rebellion was (from a Chinese perspective) a war that ravaged the known world and involved almost all of the important military powers of its day. While bright emperors like Xianzong (r. 805-820) would try to pull the Tang back together in the decades after the rebellion, the dynasty’s decline was terminal. The forces unleashed by the war eventually led to the complete disintegration of Tang power. This kind of collapse was not seen after the Second World War. The power that suffered the most was to emerge from the conflict as the world’s second strongest. But it was not just the Soviet Union that showed remarkable resilience–humanity as a whole weathered the destruction of two continents and the death of 70 million people barely worse for wear. This is a truly remarkable feat–perhaps one only possible in today’s Exponential Age. The Tang never recovered from the An-Lushan rebellion; Central Asia never blossomed like it did before the Mongol conquests; no new Roman empire rose from the ashes of the old. But the Second World War was not a precursor to a new dark age. Under the old rules of static civilization–where wealth was not created, but taken–catastrophes of this scale required centuries of recovery before old heights could be reclaimed. The history of the post-war world dramatically illustrates that this is no longer the case.
By this date in 1940, the Battle of France was clearly lost. British troops had been evacuated at Dunkirk by June 4. Large numbers of French soldiers had been killed or captured, the French Air Force had been largely crippled, German armored units were marauding across wide areas of France. Columns of refugees were blocking the roads, seriously interfering with military operations. The French government had evacuated Paris for Bordeaux, and on June 16 the combative Paul Reynaud resigned as premier, to be replaced by the aged Philippe Petain.
And by June 18, the cadets of the French Cavalry School at Saumur, in obedience to the orders of their Commandant, had taken position to defend the bridgeheads across the Loire. It was a military operation that had been the subject of war-game exercises at the school for years, but few had imagined it would ever be carried out in earnest. The 800 cadets and instructors were joined by 200 Algerian riflemen, by various units in the vicinity, and by volunteers whose units had disintegrated but who wished to continue fighting. Arrayed against this small and ill-equipped force would be the German First Cavalry Division—more than 10,000 men, well-equipped with tanks and artillery.
The German attack started just before midnight on June 18. The cadets and their associated units held out until late on June 20. French casualties were 79 killed and 47 wounded–one of those killed was the composer Jehan Alain. German casualties are estimated at 200-300.
The German commander, General Kurt Feldt, was very impressed by the tenacity of the French defense, and so indicated in his report. On July 2, someone in the German command structure–probably Feldt–decided that out of respect for their courage and sacrifice in the battle, the cadets would be allowed to leave the school and transit into the Unoccupied Zone, rather than being interned as prisoners of war. He advised them to get going quickly, before someone in higher authority could countermand his order.
The most comprehensive English-language source on the Battle of Saumur is the book For Honour Alone, by Roy Macnab.
Neptunus Lex: The liberation of France started when each, individual man on those landing craft as the ramp came down – each paratroop in his transport when the light turned green – made the individual decision to step off with the only life he had and face the fire.
This post is the second in a series. It was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on the 26th of May, 2015. I strongly recommended readers start withthe first post in this series, which introduces the purpose and methods of this essay. That post focused on what is published in English on Chinese strategic thought. This post focuses on what has been written about Chinese strategic practice–that is, the military, diplomatic, and political history of China’s past.
A map depicting the most famous military campaign in East Asian history, decided at the Battle of Red Cliffs (208 AD) in modern-day Hubei. Source: Wikimedia
In the West, the study of traditional China has been the domain of the Sinologists. For reasons that are entirely natural but also too complex and lengthy to explain here, this has meant that historians studying traditional China have focused their efforts on the history of Chinese philosophy, aesthetics, literature, and religion, as well as the closely related fields of archeology, linguistics, and philology. The muchlamented decline of political, diplomatic, and military history across the American educational system had little perceivable effect here, for there was not much political, diplomatic, or military history to begin with.  It should not be a surprise that many of the most important books on Chinese military and diplomatic relations have not been written by historians, but by political scientists. The interest political scientists might have in these topics is obvious, for theirs is a field devoted to the scientific and theoretical exploration of politics and international relations. The real mystery is why it took so long for political scientists to start writing about traditional East Asian international relations in the first place (most of the important books are less than a decade old). The answer to that question is not too hard to find if one looks at the books being written. The new crop of scholars writing these books hail from the international relations (IR) side of the science, and are part of a growing critique of the grand IR theories the discipline traditionally used to make sense of international affairs.  These theories were for the most part developed and tested in reference to traditional European great power politics. One of the central barbs of these critiques is that we cannot know if the grand theories of generations past describe truly universal laws or simply describe patterns unique to European history if these theories have not been tested on case studies outside of the last few hundred years of European politics. In response, scholars have searched for case studies outside of Europe with which they can test these theories or find the data needed to develop new ones entirely. East Asia, a region filled with bureaucratic states thousands of years before their development in the West, was a natural place to start. The problem these researchers repeatedly ran into was that their fellow political scientists were not familiar enough with East Asian history to follow their arguments and there were no good primers on the topic to refer them to. So theses scholars ended up writing the historical narratives others would need to read before they could assess their theoretical arguments. Thus Victoria Tinbor Hui‘s chapter on the Warring States (453-221 BC) in War and State Formation in Ancient China and Early Modern Europe is one of the best narrative accounts of Warring States great power politics; Wang Yuan-kang‘s Harmony and War: Confucian Culture and Chinese Power Politics contains one of the only accounts of Song Dynasty (old style: Sung, 960-1279 AD) foreign relations and one of the most fluid narratives of the Ming Dynasty‘s (1368-1644) adventures abroad; and David Kang‘s East Asia Before the West: Five Centuries of Trade and Tribute has the most coherent discussion of the Chinese “tributary system” written in the last five decades. Historians have lauded these books for the amount of historical research that was poured into them , and I second their appraisal. As a field IR should take Asia more seriously and it should engage with historical sources more thoroughly than is common practice. However, I cannot help but lament the circumstances that pushed IR scholars to adopt these methods. Hopefully historians feel some shame over the sorry state of the field and how difficult it is for outsiders to approach their research. One example will suffice to prove the point. I mentioned that Wang Yuan-kai’s War and Harmony has one of the few complete accounts of the Song Dynasty’s international relations. As far as scholarship goes, the amount of material devoted to this topic is middle-of-the-road: there are some periods where scholarship is more plentiful–say, the Late Ming, or the Qing (Ch’ing, 1644-1912), and there are some other periods where the scholarship is much more scarce–say, anything about the Tang (T’ang, 610-907 AD) or Han (206 BC-220 AD) dynasties. It is an interesting period to work with, for it is one of the few times in Chinese history when China was faced with external enemies whose military power was undeniably stronger than her own. It was the time of some of the most famous military figures and most horrible military disasters in Chinese history. It also saw some of the most historically influential debates about how to manage civil-military relations and the relationship between economic prosperity and military power.Read the rest of this entry »
Eamon de Valera’s April 1945 missive to Churchill, Roosevelt and Stalin:
After the cease fire, you must begin a peace process (even if, at first, you lack cooperation from your opponents). The first steps in that peace process are: to recognize the Axis Powers’ governments (even if not democratic) to allow all parties to return to their borders as they existed prior to the outbreak of these past regrettable hostilities and finally, to allow international trade to flow freely so that hungry innocents may be fed, clothed, and receive medicine. It is true that this might allow (some of) your enemies to rearm. But my own experts assure me that this possibility is minor. Inconsequential, abstract, and theoretical future risks such as potential rearmament cannot overcome the pressing, real, and current demands of suffering humanity and international law.
(A parody by Seth Barrett Tillman. Read the whole thing here, or in the Claremont Review of Books, where it appears towards the bottom of the Correspondence page here.)
Mao Zedong writing On Protracted Warfare (Yan’an, 1938) Source: Wikimedia.
This essay was originally published at The Scholar’s Stage on 26 May, 2015. Because of its length it has been divided into two posts, both lengthy in their own right. This–the first of these two posts–is republished here at Chicago Boyz with little alteration. The second half of the essay shall be posted here later this week.
Despite these errors, I have a great deal of sympathy for those who pen them. They face a nearly insurmountable problem: many of the thinkers, strategists, and conflicts most important to the Chinese strategic tradition have next to nothing in English written about them. Critical works have yet to be translated, translated works have yet to be analyzed, histories of important wars and figures have yet to be written, and what has been written is often scattered in obscure books and journals accessible only to experienced Sinologists. English speakers simply do not have access to the information they need to study the Chinese strategic tradition.
This needs to change. It needs to change both for the sake of strategic theory as a discipline, which has essentially ignored the insights and observations gleaned from 3,000 years of study and experience, and for understanding the intentions of our rivals and allies in East Asia, who draw upon this tradition to decide their own political and strategic priorities. But in order to make these necessary changes we need a clear picture of where we are now. This essay attempts to provide this picture. It is not a bibliographic essay per say, for I will freely admit that I have not read all of the books and research articles I will mention below. Some titles I have only read in part; others I have not read at all. However, the goal of this post is not to review the results and conclusions of all these works, but to outline where research has been done and where more research is needed. For this purpose awareness suffices when more intimate knowledge is lacking.
Mastering 3,000 years of intellectual and military history is a gargantuan task. But in order to find the answers to some of the questions inherent in the study the Chinese strategic tradition, it must be done. I make no such claim of mastery. My expertise is uneven; I am most familiar with both the strategic thought and the actual events of the China’s classical period (Warring States through the Three Kingdoms era, c. 475 BC-280 AD), and am probably weakest when discussing the first two decades of the 20th century, a time critical to the development of the tradition but difficult to master because of the number of political actors involved, the complexity of their relations, and the great intellectual variety of the era. Despite these weaknesses I know enough to chart out the broad outlines of current scholarship, a charge most specialists in strategic theory cannot attempt and most Sinologists would not desire. These biases and proclivities have kept the two disciplines far apart; there is an urgent need for these two scholarly bodies to draw together. If this essay–which is addressed primarily to the first group but should be accessible to second–helps in some small way to bring this to pass I shall consider it a grand success.
This essay shall have three parts divided over two posts. The final section is a list of recommendations on how to establish and develop the study of the Chinese strategic tradition as an academic sub-field, as well as some thoughts on where individual Anglophone scholars might focus their research. The two earlier sections will review what has been published in English about the Chinese strategic tradition already. The term “the Chinese strategic tradition” is usually used in reference to the thinkers and the theorists of Chinese history, not the commanders and ministers who actually implemented policy. In the West this is almost always how the topic is discussed. Texts like Sun-tzu’s Art of War (hereafter, the Sunzi) are dissected with little reference to the way its thought was consciously implemented by those who studied it most carefully. This is a mistake. Most of the pressing questions in this field can only be answered by looking at how Chinese soldiers and statesmen actually behaved, and most of the errors common to Western punditry can be sourced to this tendency to ignore actual events in favor of theory.  In the case of ancient histories–whose account of events were highly stylized and moralizing–this distinction blurs. However, for the sake of organization I shall maintain the distinction between strategic thought (a subset of intellectual history) and strategic practice (a subset of diplomatic, political, and military history), covering each in turn. Read the rest of this entry »
It seems clear that many Americans are less concerned than they should be about the threat of radical aggressive Islam…ranging from intimidation of cartoonists in the US and Europe to direct military aggression in the Middle East. This seems to be particularly true among the well-educated (or at least well-credentialed) and affluent. I’ve commented on this situation in several previous posts, for example, The Perfect Enemy; today I’d like to throw out for discussion some of the factors that I think are largely driving this head-in-the-sand phenomenon. They range from fairly rational (but flawed, IMO) thought processes to ignorance to obvious logical errors to malevolence and outright crazy thinking.
1) Some people really don’t understand the full range of what’s going on. Those of us who follow politics and international affairs pretty closely can easily lose sight of just what an information desert exists for those whose only info source is the mainstream media…it is very unlikely, for example, that the NBC and CNN-watcher is aware of the full range of anti-free-speech intimidation conducted under the banner of Islam, in the US as well as in Europe.
2) Some people do have an idea about what’s going on, but tend to repress thinking about the threat because while they on some level perceive its awfulness they do not think anything can really be done about it…probably often, this threat is lumped together with seemingly-unstoppable malign trends, such as an ever-worsening economy and a deteriorating culture.
In Arthur Koestler’s 1950 novel The Age of Longing, a young American woman living in France–who has belatedly come to understand the likelihood of an imminent Soviet invasion–corners a French security official and asks him why so many people are in denial about the forthcoming attack. His response:
“No, Mademoiselle, don’t be misled by appearances. France and what else is left of Europe may look like a huge dormitory to you, but I assure you nobody in it is really asleep. Have you ever spent a night in a mental ward? During the Occupation, a doctor who belonged to our group got me into one when the police were after me. It was a ward of more or less hopeless cases, most of whom were marked down for drastic neurosurgical operations. When the male nurse made his round, I thought everybody was asleep. Later I found out that they were only pretending, and that everybody was busy, behind closed eyes, trying to cope after his own fashion with what was coming to him. Some were pursuing their delusions with a happy smile, like our famous Pontieux (a philosopher modelled on Sartre–ed). Others were working on their pathetic plans of escape, naively hoping that with a little dissimulation, or bribery, or self-abasement, they could get around the tough male nurses, the locked doors, the operating table. Others were busy explaining to themselves that it wouldn’t hurt, and that to have holes drilled into one’s skull and parts of one’s brain taken out was the nicest thing that could happen to one. And still, others, the quiet schizos who were the majority, almost succeede in making themselves believe that nothing would happen, that it was all a matter of exaggerated rumours, and that tomorrow would be like yesterday. These looked as if they were really asleep. Only an occasional nervous twitch of their lips or eyes betrayed the strain of disbelieving what they knew to be inevitable…No, Mademoiselle nobody was really asleep.”
But in our case, as noted above, there are quite a few people who really are asleep.
3) Some people believe that all religions are essentially equivalent…generally they will argue that all religions are basically equally awful and that Evangelical Christians (for example) are as dangerous as radical Muslims and that it is only a matter of time until their dangerous tendencies explode into widespread violence. But sometimes they will argue that religion is inherently good and that hence, acts of terrorism cannot be motivated by religious belief but must be driven by something else.
4) Some argue that terrorism, while deplorable and tragic, isn’t really that dangerous in the scale of things, and that your risk of being killed or crippled from slipping while getting out of the bathtub (for example) is greater than your chance of being killed or crippled in a terrorist attack. This view is often coupled with the view that fear of terrorism is being stoked for political and/or bureaucratic reasons: for example, increased surveillance of citizens. There is great suspicion that the oil industry and the “military-industrial complex” are encouraging warfare for their own economic purposes.
‘When the crocus blossoms,’ hiss the women in Berlin,
‘He will press the button, and the battle will begin.
When the crocus blossoms, up the German knights will go,
And flame and fume and filthiness will terminate the foe…
When the crocus blossoms, not a neutral will remain.’
(A P Herbert, Spring Song, quoted in To Lose a Battle, by Alistair Horne)
On May 10, 1940, German forces launched an attack against Belgium, France, the Netherlands, and Luxembourg. Few people among the Allies imagined that France would collapse in only six weeks: Churchill, for example, had a high opinion of the fighting qualities of the French army. But collapse is what happened, of course, and we are still all living with the consequences. General Andre Beaufre, who in 1940 was a young Captain on the French staff, wrote in 1967:
The collapse of the French Army is the most important event of the twentieth century.
If it’s an exaggeration, it’s not much of one. If France had held up to the German assault as effectively as it was expected to do, World War II would probably have never reached the nightmare levels that it in fact did reach. The Hitler regime might well have fallen. The Holocaust would never have happened. Most likely, there would have been no Communist takeover of Eastern Europe.
This campaign has never received much attention in America; it tends to be regarded as something that happened before the “real” war started. Indeed, many denizens of the Anglosphere seem to believe that the French basically gave up without a fight–which is a considerable exaggeration given the French casualties of around 90,000 killed and 200,000 wounded. But I think the fall of France deserves serious study, and that some of the root causes of the defeat are scarily relevant to today’s world.
First, I will very briefly summarize the campaign from a military standpoint, and will then shift focus to the social and political factors involved in the defeat.
Posted by Trent Telenko on 8th May 2015 (All posts by Trent Telenko)
Back on July 25, 2014 I posted a column here called “Future History Friday — China’s Coming “Days of Future Past” where I stated that China’s hyper-aggressiveness with its neighbors would make Japan act like a “normal nation,” increase its military defenses of the Southern Ryukyus and make military alliances with its neighbors to contain China. Today, a “flaming datum” of that prediction arrived. Japan has just announced steps to bring those “Days of Future Past” closer for China. The Japanese are moving to militarily garrison Miyako and Ishigaki with ground troops and mobile anti-ship missile batteries.
JGSDF Type88 Anti-ship cruise missile in truck mobile launcher. Batteries of which are to be deployed to the Southern Ryukyus islands. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons
Miyako and Ishigaki were air bases for Imperial Japanese Army and Navy Kamikaze planes based on Formosa — modern day Taiwan — during the March – June 1945 Battle for Okinawa. Today, they are being prepared to support any operations Japan’s Self-Defense Forces are ordered to do by the Japanese government…including communications to and air support of Taiwan in case of a Mainland Chinese Invasion.
A Google map of Miyako and Ishigaki islands, part of the Okinawa Prefecture. In March – June 1945 they were forward bases for Kamikazes attacking the US Navy. Today they are become the site of Japanese Self-Defense Force Type 88 Surface-to-Ship Missile Batteries, as well as Japanese ground troops to secure them.