Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Down Among the Dead Men

So on Memorial Day I ended up in the old Civil War cemetery at Poplar Grove.
It's peaceful and pretty and very manicured, very much in the tradition of the more modern military cemeteries, a sort of pocket-Arlington.

Until you look at the rows of stones, and realize that way more than half of them aren't "headstones" at all but simply stone blocks with a number carved on them.
These were the remnants of soldiers that lacked any sort of identity; nothing marked their original grave - or, it it had, was gone by the time the graves registration parties reached it - and nothing was left, if there had been anything, of a tag or scrap of paper with a name on it.

There was just some bone, and scraps of cloth, and probably some less savory remnants, to be gathered up and put back in a hole with a stone with a number on it for the following hundred-plus years. An empty chair at a table, an empty peg on a wall where no coat was hung, an empty house to which the scraps of bone and cloth never returned.
Perhaps even more grim were the separate files where the men of the U.S. Colored Troops were buried, still put apart from the white soldiers, still separate and unequal in death as in life.
All in all a very unsettling sort of day, one that raised more spectres than laid them.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Forgiveness of the Dead

On this day, 64 years ago, Americans gathered at the cemetery at Nettuno, near what had been the terrible charnel-house beachhead of Anzio, to dedicate what would become the Sicily-Rome American Cemetery and to "honor" those killed in the war that had just ended.
You know how I loathe all the flag-waving, pontificating, self-justifying “memorial” dog-and-pony shows that serve only to make the living feel better about themselves and their willingness – or, worse, eagerness – to cheer on others to die for their country if it wasn’t for those dang bone spurs.

The closest to fitting "memorial day" act I’ve ever read of was LTG Truscott’s address that day.

Truscott had commanded the VI Corps at Anzio, and a lot of the dead guys there were from his outfits. And he was a hard man, known to be kind of salty, and was probably more sick of hearing the pious patriotic platitudes than I am.

So when the opening caprioling was done he looked out over the rows of “dignitaries” and reporters and guests, turned, and faced the rows of silent markers behind the rostrum.

Nobody knows exactly what he said – probably because there was either no plan to record his words or because he couldn’t be heard – but based on Bill Mauldin's account the gist was that Truscott didn’t see how there was anything particularly good or heroic about getting killed in your teens or 20s or 30s, and that while generals and politicians would tell you that all your dying was noble and sacrificial that most generals, anyway, kinda suspected that was pretty much bullshit.

He agreed that lots of them had died because somebody, maybe he, had fucked up and if that had happened he was grievously sorry and apologized to them. That he knew that was a big ask, but that he owed it to them to ask their forgiveness anyway.

And that he promised that if, in the coming years, he ever ran into anyone tubthumping a line of guff about the glory of war and heroic death that he, Truscott, would tighten the joker's shot group damn quick smart.

So as far as I’m concerned it'd be great if every damn politician and talking head can stay the hell away and leave those haunted graves to the grass, and the sky, and the dead, and those who knew and loved and lost them.
They won't, because that's not how we do "Memorial Day". But I wish they would.

But I will be in that cemetery today, sharing a drink with my Army brothers. I hope you will, too.

And, as always today, this.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Nagumo's Dilemma

On 27 May 1942 a disastrously understrength 1st Mobile Striking Force set sail on from the Hashirajima Island anchorage in Japan’s Inland Sea.  The IJN had been the first Navy ever to concentrate multiple aircraft carriers into a single tactical formation, a revolutionary innovation back then, which the USN later copied with devastating blowback.  

But this time the IJN brought only four out of the six large carriers associated with the 1st Air Fleet.  The results are well known.  Hundreds of books, articles, and web pages, plus several US and Japanese movies have been devoted to them; including a new $100M blockbuster scheduled for release later this year. 

I won’t try to improve on any of those or retell the story.   But comments regarding carrier warfare on FDChief’s 10 May post ’Arresting Development’ by Andy (regarding Blue Water ISR) and Sven (regarding multi-carrier battle fleets) have been scratching at my brainpan ever since.   So I went back to look at Midway Atoll, specifically the book ’Shattered Sword’ by Tully and Parshall, which tells the tale according to official Japanese sources.  Also FDChief’s excellent post regarding Midway that he posted back in 2008.

But the one source that makes it easy for even a chowderhead like me to follow is the computerized and detailed chronological recreation on YouTube.  Titled 'The Battle of Midway 1942: Told from the Japanese Perspective (1/2)', hopefully part two will be posted soon.  It was put together by frequent YouTube military history contributor Montemayor, who I suspect may be the Anthony Tully that helped research and cowrote 'Shattered Sword'.  It is excellent and the 40 minutes goes by quickly.  It is well worth your time.  But ignore the dramatic music. 

I have only one question on the above sources.  Call it a snivel.  These sources and all others I am aware of claim the major motive for Japan was to lure the USN carriers into a trap at Midway.  I have no doubt that would have been in Yamamoto’s mind as a hopeful side benefit.  But it seems to me that the primary reasons were:

1]  Occupy Midway and establish a base for their long range (>4000 nautical miles) Kawanishi flying boats to warn of any future possible Doolittle Raids - and to deny its use by USN PBY reconnaissance assets.

2]  Establish a submarine base there putting their I-boats within 110 nautical miles of Pearl and 3000 nautical miles from Frisco.  By the way, America's COMSUBPAC did set up a base there soon after the battle for refitting their submarine patrols.  That base allowed them to refuel, re-arm, resupply, and repair four subs simultaneously.  Plus being that much closer gave them extended patrol time in Japanese waters.

3]  Protect flank of their carrier attack on Dutch Harbor and the invasion force headed to Attu and Kiska.  Why they mounted that campaign has been a subject of debate among historians.  It’s probable though that Tojo believed it would prevent any attempt to invade Japan’s home islands by way of the Aleutian chain.  It was only 660 nautical miles from Attu to the IJN base and to the many Japanese Army bases and airfields at Paramushiro Island off the tip of Kamchatka. General Buckner of Alaskan Command reinforced this belief when he started building airfields immediately after the Pearl Harbor attack.  Plus he gave an interview to the press where he stated that the shortest way to Japan was via Alaska.

But those are just my brainfarts from an armchair, a long way from the Central Pacific in both time and space.  I’m sure the historians had better insight into Japanese intentions.

Good to see that currently Midway Atoll and her surrounding waters are a National Wildlife Refuge and Hawaii State Marine Reserve protecting thousands of endemic and endangered species.  It is on the northwestern end of the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument named after a Hawaiian Goddess of Creation.  It covers a surface area of more than 1.5 million square kilometers, about the size of the Gulf of Mexico and 50% larger than the North Sea and the Baltic Sea combined.  It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been designated as a Particularly Sensitive Sea Area (PSSA) by the International Maritime Organization.  I'm a big fan of these lyrical Hawaiian place-names.  They remind me of Llanfairpwllgwyngyll in Wales where me Aunt Gwynn was born.


Pics cortesy of the USN, the History Channel, Rene Francillon, and NOAA.

Monday, May 13, 2019

Somebody's been smoking Hemp For Victory...

THIS stuff is what drives me nuts about the current American pash for tongue-bathing soldiers.
When speaking of the Americans who are going to take it in the shorts because of the trade wars with the PRC that are fun and easy to win Senator Tom Cotton (R - Arkansas) consoled them that:
"There will be some sacrifices on the part of Americans, I grant you that, but I also would say that sacrifice is pretty minimal compared to the sacrifices that our soldiers make overseas that are fallen heroes that are laid to rest in Arlington make."
Except those farmers and manufacturers and Sears customers getting hit with these costs didn't ask to be dragged into a pissing contest with the PRC over Fitbit parts any more than those GIs asked to be walking the streets of Kabul trying to remake Afghanistan into Belgium.

To equate these trade wars with the "blood of heroes"?

It's despicable on it's face, but, worse, it makes taking issue with the trade wars to a level of Dolchstoß comparable to betraying the Noble Soldiers. It's a version of Godwin's Law, a rhetorical trick designed to put a stop to debate.

Worse, it's deeply dishonest, if for no other reason than those "fallen heroes" didn't "fall" as "sacrifices" in a war declared by the People in Congress, or to any sort of existential threat to the United States, or, for that matter, for any sort overarching national interest, but in a bog-standard squalid little imperial expedition in the global hustings that has been ginned up largely by lies, misdirection, fear, and pants-pissing panic.

I love my Army brothers, but the guys holding down a slot in Asia or Africa today aren't holding back global fascism, or facing the might of a hostile superpower. They're doing the dirty business of empire. If my country wants them to do that business that's one thing. But if Tom Cotton - or my country - wants to drag me and every other American into a trade war in Asia and justify it by comparing it to that service?

He and it need to come to me first and make a case for that trade war and that service, not simply assume that they're worth blood and/or treasure and demand I respect that because some poor bastards are getting hosed wasting a year-and-a-half in fucking Helmand Province playing whack-a-muj.

Because if you gave me the choice between:

1) "Sacrificing" in a boneheaded trade war with China because I "support the troops", or
2) Skipping the trade war AND ending the expeditionary wars in Asia and Africa and bringing those troopers home?

I'd go with Door #2.

It'd be bad enough if We the People really were Army-mad, but in a nation where barely anyone bothers to give up a couple of years to the tree suit it REALLY drives me nuts when I run across this faux-militarism stuff.