December 12, 1937  The Road to Pearl Harbor

Interestingly, though the Japanese government held considerable animosity for that of the United States, the people of Japan seemed a different story.  Ambassador Grew was flooded with expressions of sympathy from Japanese citizens, who apologized for their government and expressed affection for the United States.

USS Panay was a flat bottomed river craft, built in Shanghai as part of the Asiatic fleet and charged with protecting American lives and property on the Yangtze River, near Nanking.

crew02Japanese forces invaded China in the summer of 1937, advancing on Nanking as American citizens evacuated the city.  The last of them boarded Panay on December 11:  five officers, 54 enlisted men, four US embassy staff, and 10 civilians.

Japanese air forces received word the morning of December 12, 1937, that Chinese forces were being evacuated on several large steamers and a number of junks, about 12 miles north of the city.

Anchored a short way upstream along with several Chinese oil tankers, Panay came under bombing and strafing attack that morning, sinking mid-river with three men killed.  43 sailors and five civilians were wounded.  Two newsreel cameramen were on board at the time, and captured part of the attack.

The American ambassador to Japan at the time was Joseph C. Grew, a man who was more than old enough to remember how the sinking of the Maine in Havana Harbor brought the US into war with Spain, in 1898.  Grew hoped to avoid a similar outcome following the Panay sinking, though Japanese authorities were less than helpful.

US cryptographers uncovered information shortly after the attack, indicating that aircraft were operating under orders.  The Japanese government continued to insist that the attack had been accidental.

images (13)The matter was officially settled four months later, with an official apology and an indemnity of $2,214,007.36 paid to the US government.

The “accidental attack” narrative appears to be a safe story which both sides pretended to accept, but it seems a little hard to believe.   HMS Ladybird had been fired on that same morning by Japanese shore batteries, and the attack was followed a month later by the “Allison incident”, in which the American consul in Nanking, John M. Allison, was struck in the face by a Japanese soldier.

Added to the fact that American property was being looted by Japanese forces, it seems clear that relations between the two governments at that time, were toxic.

Interestingly, though the Japanese government held considerable animosity for that of the United States, the people of Japan seemed a different story.  Ambassador Grew was flooded with expressions of sympathy from Japanese citizens, who apologized for their government and expressed affection for the United States.

Letters came from citizens of all ages and walks of life, from doctors and professors to school children.  The wives of high ranking Japanese officials apologized to Grew’s wife without the knowledge of their husbands, while ten Japanese men describing themselves as retired US Navy sailors living in Yokohama, sent a check for $87.19.

A typical letter read: “Dear Friend! This is a short letter, but we want to tell you how sorry we are for the mistake our airplane made. We want you to forgive us I am little and do not understand very well, but I know they did not mean it. I feel so sorry for those who were hurt and killed. I am studying here at St. Margarets school which was built by many American friends. I am studying English. But I am only thirteen and cannot write very well. All my school-mates are sorry like myself and wish you to forgive our country. To-morrow is X-Mas, May it be merry, I hope the time will come when everybody can be friends. I wish you a Happy New Year. Good-bye.”

The two governments never did patch things up. What’s been called the “Rape of Nanking”, began the day after the Panay incident.  On December 13, Japanese forces smashed into the city of 600,000, murdering fully half of the inhabitants.  Newsreel footage may be found of live prisoners being used for bayonet practice, being mowed down by machine guns, or doused with accelerant and burnt alive.

The US placed an embargo on September 1940, prohibiting exports of steel, scrap iron, and aviation fuel, in retaliation for the Japanese occupation of northern French Indochina:  modern day Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

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Japan occupied southern Indochina by the summer of 1941, as the US, Great Britain, and the Netherlands retaliated by freezing Japanese assets.

Throughout that summer and fall, Japan tried to negotiate a settlement to lift the embargo on terms which allowed them to keep newly captured territory, while at the same time preparing for war.

General Hideki Tojo, future Prime Minister, secretly set November 29 as the last day on which Japan would accept settlement without war.

Air and naval forces of the Imperial Japanese government attacked the US naval anchorage at Pearl Harbor, about a week later.

December 6, 1240 Golden Horde

Imagine an army of circus riders, equipped with composite bows and a minimum of 60 arrows apiece, each capable of hitting a bird in flight. Each rider has have no fewer than 3-4 small, fast horses, and is able to transfer mounts in mid-gallop in order to keep his horses fresh.  In this way, riders could cover 100 miles and more in a day.  Stirrups allowed them to fire in any direction, including to the rear.

The Eurasian Steppe is a vast region of grasslands and savannas, extending thousands of miles east from the mouth of the Danube, nearly to the Pacific Ocean. There’s no clearly defined southern boundary, as the land becomes increasingly dry as you move south. To the north are the impenetrable forests of Russia and Siberia.

The 12th century steppe was a land of inter-tribal rivalry, immersed in a poverty so profound that many of its inhabitants went about clad in the skins of field mice. Ongoing acts of warfare and revenge were carried out between a kaleidoscope of ever-changing tribal confederations, compounded and egged on by the interference of foreign powers such as the Chinese dynasties of the Song and the Jurchen, to the south.

Mongol Golden Horde

Into this land was born the son of the Mongol chieftain Yesügei, born with a blood clot grasped in his fist. It was a sign, they said, that this child was destined to become a great leader. By 1197, the boy would unite the nomadic tribes of northeast Asia into the largest contiguous empire in history, extending from Korea in the east, through Baghdad and Syria all the way into eastern Europe.  One-fifth of the inhabited land area, of the entire planet.

His name was Temujin. He is known to history as the Great Leader of the Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan.

NatGeo Cover, Afghan girlThe Steppes have long been a genetic crossroad, the physical features of its inhabitants as diverse as any in the world. The word “Rus”, from which we get Russia, was the name given to Viking invaders from earlier centuries. History does not record what Genghis himself looked like, though he’s often depicted with Asian features.  There is evidence suggesting he had red hair and green eyes. Think of that beautiful young Afghan girl, the one with those killer eyes on that National Geographic cover, a few years back.

The Mongols called themselves “Tata”, while others called them after the people of Tartarus, the Hell of Roman mythology. They were the “Tatars” to the people they terrorized: “Demons from Hell”.

The two most prominent weapons in the Mongol arsenal can be found in the words “Horse Archer”.  Imagine an army of circus riders, equipped with composite bows and a minimum of 60 arrows apiece, each capable of hitting a bird in flight. Each rider has have no fewer than 3-4 small, fast horses, and is able to transfer mounts in mid-gallop in order to keep his horses fresh.  In this way, riders could cover 100 miles and more in a day.  Stirrups allowed them to fire in any direction, including to the rear.

Horse Archer

The bow, a laminated composite of wood, horn and sinew, combined the compression of the interior horn lamina with the stretching of animal sinews, glued to the exterior.  The weapon was capable of aimed shots at five times the length of a football field.  Ballistic shots into large groups were common as far as 2½ times that distance. The average draw weight of a first-class English longbow is 70-80 lbs.  The Mongol composite bow ranged from 100 to 160 lbs, depending upon the physical strength of its user.

After the death of Genghis’ eldest son Jochi, who pre-deceased his father, the Great Khan installed his grandson Batu as Khan (Chief of State) of the Kipchak Khanate to the north. In 1235, the Great Khan Ögedei, who had succeeded his father on Genghis’ death in 1229, ordered his nephew Batu and an army of 130,000 of these circus riders to conquer Europe, beginning with the Rus.

Mongol Invasion of the Rus

13th century Russia was more a collection of principalities than it was a single nation. One by one these city-states fell to the army of Batu, known as the “Golden Horde”. Ryazan, Kolomna and Moscow. Vladimir, Rostov, Uglich, Yaroslavl, and a dozen others. Some of the names are familiar today, others were extinguished for all time. All fell to the Golden Horde.  Smolensk alone escaped, having agreed to submit and pay tribute. The city of Kitezh, as the story goes, submerged itself into a lake along with its inhabitants, at the approach of the Horde.  On this day, December 6, 1240, Mongols under Batu Khan occupied & destroyed Kiev, following several days’ struggle.

By the end of 1241, Mongol armies had crushed opposing forces from the Plains of Hungary, to Eastern Persia, to the outskirts of Austria. That December, plans were being laid for the invasion of Germany, Austria and Italy, when news arrived informing the Mongol host of the death of the Great Khan, Ögödei.  Batu wanted to continue, but the Law of Yassa required that all Princes of the Blood return to Karakorum and the Kurultai, the meeting of Mongol Chieftains.

The Abbasid Caliphate of Islam, descended from the uncle of Muhammad Al-Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib and established in 750, was the third Islamic Caliphate since the time of Muhammad. Centered in Baghdad, the Abbasid Caliphate became a center of science, culture, philosophy and invention, during what has come to be known as the Golden Age of Islam.

Since 1241, the Abbassids paid tribute to the Khanate in the form of gold, military support, and, according to rumors, Christian captives of the Crusades. That came to a halt in 1258, when Caliph Al-Musta’sim refused to continue the practice. The Abbassid Caliphate ceased to exist on February 10, following a twelve-day siege by the Mongol army of Hulagu Khan, brother of the Khagan (great kahn) Möngke.

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The Mongols first looted and then destroyed mosques, palaces and hospitals.  The “House of Wisdom”, the grand library of Baghdad, compiled over generations and  comparable in size and scope to the modern-day Library of Congress, the British Library in London or the Nationale Bibliotheque in Paris, was utterly destroyed.  Survivors said that the muddy waters of the Tigris ran black with the ink of the books hurled into its waters, and red from the blood of the slain.

Estimates of the number killed in the fall of Baghdad, range from 90,000 to one million.  Hulagu needed to move his camp to get upwind, so overwhelming was the stench of the dead.

Believing the earth to be offended by the spilling of royal blood, Mongols rolled Caliph Al-Musta’sim himself up in a carpet and trampled him to death, with their horses.

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In 1281, a massive Mongol fleet of some 4,000 ships and 140,000 men set out under Kublai Khan, to invade Japan. This was the second such attempt, the largest naval invasion in history and not to be eclipsed until the 20th century D-Day invasion, of Normandy. As with the previous attempt, a great typhoon came up and destroyed the Mongol fleet. As many as 70,000 men were captured.  The Golden Horde never again attempted the invasion of Japan. To this day, we know this “Divine Wind”, as “Kamikaze”.

Tamerlane
Tamerlane

Berke, grandson of Ghenghis and brother of Batu, converted to Islam, creating a permanent division among the descendants of the Great Khan.

Timur-i-leng, “Timur the Lame”, or “Tamerlane”, professed to be a good Muslim, but had no qualms about destroying the capitals of Islamic learning of his day.  Damascus, Khiva, Baghdad and more he destroyed.  Many, have never entirely recovered.  Best known for the pyramids of skulls he left behind, as many as 19 million fell to the murderous regime, of Tamerlane.

The violence of the age was so vast and horrific that it’s hard to get your head around. WWII, the deadliest conflict in human history, was a time of industrialized mass slaughter.  From the battlefields to the death camps, WWII ended the lives of 40 to 72 million souls, killed in a few short years.  Roughly 3% of the inhabitants of earth.  By comparison, the Mongol conquests killed 30 million over 162 years, mostly one-by-one with edged or pointed weapons. When it was over, 17% of the entire world’s population, had vanished.

The Celtic warrior Calgacus once said of the Roman conquests that “They make a desert, and they call it peace”. It was likewise for the Mongol Empire; a time of peace for those who would submit and pay tribute.  A time when “A maiden bearing a nugget of gold on her head could wander safely throughout the realm.”

Catalan-Atlas-depicting-Marco-Polo-traveling-to-the-East-during-the-Pax-Mongolica
The Catalan Atlas depicts Marco Polo traveling to the East during the ‘Pax Mongolica’.

This “Pax Mongolica” lasted through the reign of the Great Khan and his several successors, making way for the travels of Marco Polo. The 4,000-mile long “Spice Roads”, the overland trade routes between Europe and China, flourished throughout the 14th and 15th centuries under Mongol control.

In the 14th century, the “Black Death” began to change the balance of power on the Eurasian steppe. 100 years later, the fall of Byzantium and marauding bands of Muslim brigands were making the east-west overland trade routes increasingly dangerous. In 1492, the Spanish Crown hired an Italian explorer to find a water route to the east.

Black DeathThe Mongols would never regain the lost high ground of December 1241, as chieftains fell to squabbling over bloodlines.

The Golden Horde ruled over parts of Russia until the time of Ivan IV “Grozny” (The Terrible), in the 1550s.

The Mongol hordes never went away, not entirely. Modern DNA testing reveals that up to 8% of certain populations across the Asian subcontinent, about one-half of one per cent of the world’s population, descends directly from that baby with the blood clot, grasped in his fist.  Genghis Khan.

 

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November 30, 1953 Dien Bien Phu

ICYMI – Under the command of Colonel Christian de Castries, French forces built seven fortified positions to defend the base, each allegedly named after one of his mistresses. 10,800 French troops were committed, with another 16,000 in reserve.

If you speak of France, most of us think of the five-sided country between Spain and Germany. That would be partly correct, but “la Métropole” or “Metropolitan France” today accounts for only 82.2% of the landmass and 95.9% of the population, of la République Française. The overseas departments and territories which make up “la France d’outre-mer”, “Overseas France”, account for the rest.

That overseas percentage would have been higher in the mid-20th century, with many former colonial territories added in, among them Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Japanese occupation of southeast Asia caused the Europeans to leave French Indochina during WWII. Within a year of re-occupation, the French faced virulent opposition from the Nationalist-Communist Viet Minh, led by Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. Theirs was a low level, rural insurgency at first, later becoming a full-scale modern war when Chinese Communists entered the fray in 1949.

First_Indochina_War_COLLAGEWhat historians call the First Indochina War, many contemporaries called “la sale guerre”, or “dirty war”. The government forbade the use of metropolitan recruits, fearing that that would make the war more unpopular than it already was. Instead, French professional soldiers and units of the French Foreign Legion were augmented with colonial troops, including Moroccan, Algerian, Tunisian, Laotian, Cambodian, and Vietnamese ethnic minorities.

Na SanThe war went poorly for the French.  By 1952 they were looking for a way out. Premier René Mayer appointed Henri Navarre to take command of French Union Forces in May of that year, with a single order. Navarre was to create military conditions which would lead to an “honorable political solution”.

In November and December of the previous year, the French army had air lifted soldiers into a fortified position at Na San, adjacent to a key Viet Minh supply line to Laos. Superior French fire power, armor and air resources had driven Vo Nguyen Giap’s forces back with heavy losses, in what French planners called the “hérisson” or “hedgehog” strategy.

Dien_Bien_Phu, baseIn June, Major General René Cogny proposed a “mooring point” at Dien Bien Phu, creating a lightly defended point from which to launch raids. Navarre wanted to replicate the Na San strategy, and ordered that Dien Bien Phu be taken and converted into a heavily fortified base.

“Operation Castor” began on the 20th of November, with three parachute infantry battalions dropping into Dien Bien Phu. The operation was completed with minimal French casualties on November 30, as they continued to land supplies, troops, and engineering equipment into the isolated base.

Under the command of Colonel Christian de Castries, French forces built seven fortified positions to defend the base, each allegedly named after one of his mistresses. 10,800 French troops were committed, with another 16,000 in reserve.

Vo felt that he had made a serious mistake at Na San, rushing his troops in piecemeal against French defenses. This time, he carefully prepared his positions, moving 50,000 men into position around the valley, meticulously stockpiling ammunition and placing his anti-aircraft and heavy artillery, with which he was well supplied.

dien_bien_phu-resupplyThe French staff made their battle plan, based on the assumption that it was impossible for the Viet Minh to place enough artillery on the surrounding high ground, due to the rugged terrain. The communists didn’t possess enough artillery to do serious damage anyway, or so they thought.

French officers quickly learned how mistaken they had been. The first sporadic artillery fire began on January 31, around the time that patrols discovered the enemy’s presence in every direction. Heavy artillery virtually ringed the valley in which they found themselves, and air support was quickly nullified by the enemy’s well placed anti-aircraft fire.

The Viet Minh assault began in earnest on March 13, when several outposts came under furious artillery barrage. Air support became next to impossible, and counter-battery fire was next to useless against Giap’s fortifications.

Lieutenant Colonel Charles Piroth commanded the French artillery at Dien Bien Phu. He was a professional soldier and no lightweight, having had his arm amputated in 1946 with no anesthesia. When it became clear how wrong his assumptions had been, Piroth circled the camp making apologies to his officers, returned to his tent, and killed himself with a hand grenade.

Last moments
Last moments of the Battle of Dien Bien Phu, 1954, as depicted by North Vietnamese artist Huy Toan

“Beatrice” was the first fire base to fall, then “Gabrielle” and “Anne-Marie”. Viet Minh controlled 90% of the airfield by the 22nd of April, making even parachute drops next to impossible. On May 7, Vo ordered an all-out assault of 25,000 troops against the 3,000 remaining in garrison. By nightfall, it was over.  The last words from the last radio man were “The enemy has overrun us. We are blowing up everything. Vive la France!”

Military historian Martin Windrow wrote that Dien Bien Phu was “the first time that a non-European colonial independence movement had evolved through all the stages from guerrilla bands to a conventionally organized and equipped army able to defeat a modern Western occupier in pitched battle”.

The Geneva conference opened the following day, resulting in a Vietnam partitioned into two parts. In the north was the “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” administered by the communists, and the State of Vietnam in the south, under Emperor Bao Dai and Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem. The North was supported by both the People’s Republic of China and the Soviet Union, and continued to terrorize patriots in the north and south alike.

US support for the south increased as the French withdrew theirs.  By the late 50s, the US was sending technical and financial aid in expectation of social and land reform. By 1960, the National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam (NLF, or “Viet Cong”) had taken to murdering Diem-supported village leaders.  President John F. Kennedy responded in 1961, sending 1,364 American advisers into South Vietnam.

The next war in Indochina, had begun.

 

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August 19, 1976  Operation Paul Bunyan

American forces in South Korea were moved to DEFCON 3 on August 19.  Two days later, the show of force response called “Operation Paul Bunyan”, descended like a biblical plague, on the North Korean outpost.

The current impasse with North Korea has died down for the time being, but the Korean peninsula is no stranger to conflict.  16th and 17th century Manchu and Japanese invasions brought about a sense of Korean isolationism, leading many to describe the place as a “Hermit Kingdom”.  The tendency became more pronounced in the 19th century, as Koreans witnessed the colonization of China to the north, and its humiliation in two opium wars.

The July 1866 General Sherman incident resulted in the death of all 20 officers and crew and the destruction of an American armed merchant marine side-wheel steamer, leading to the U.S. Navy’s 1871 expedition to the Kingdom of Joseon (Chosŏn), the Shinmiyangyo.  The expedition would result in the death of about 300 Korean soldiers and three Americans.

General Sherman Incident

US-Korean relations soured in 1905 in the wake of the Russo-Japanese War, when the U.S. recognized Korea as falling into the Japanese “sphere of influence”.

Korean nationalists were dismayed in 1910, with the Japanese annexation of the Korean Peninsula.  Woodrow Wilson’s high-sounding principles of national self-determination bypassed the Hermit Kingdom, leaving Koreans with virtually no role in their own internal administration.

Following the Japanese defeat in WWII, the Korean peninsula was divided into two occupied zones:  the north held by the Soviet Union and the south by the United States. The Cairo declaration of 1943 had called for a unified Korea, its division along the 38th parallel intended to be temporary.   It wasn’t meant to be.  Kim Il-sung came to power in North Korea in 1946, nationalizing key industries and collectivizing land, haranguing his countrymen about the “spirit of self-reliance” he called Juche, (JOO-chay).

kim_il-sung
Propaganda poster depicting “Dear Leader”, Kim Il-sung

South Korea declared statehood in May 1948, under the vehemently anti-communist military strongman, Syngman Rhee.

The 1948-49 withdrawal of Soviet and most American forces left the south holding the weaker hand. Escalating border conflicts led to war when the North, with assurances of support from the Soviet Union and Communist China, invaded South Korea in June 1950.

Within days, the United States secured a United Nations resolution, calling for the defense of South Korea against North Korean aggression.  Sixteen countries sent troops to South Korea’s aid.  90% of them were Americans.

American intervention turned the tide.  US and South Korean forces crossed the North Korean border in November 1951, pressing north toward the Chinese border.  Hundreds of thousands of troops from the People’s Republic of China poured across the border in December, mounting heavy assaults against allied forces and converting what had been a war of movement, into a brutal stalemate and war of attrition.

Republican Dwight David Eisenhower won decisively in the 1952 Presidential election, a contest which turned heavily on foreign policy.  It wasn’t long before President Eisenhower’s public hints of nuclear escalation brought all sides to the negotiating table.

33,741 Americans lost their lives in the Korean war.  Total casualties including North and South Korea, China and United Nations forces, military and civilian, number some 2.8 million.

north_korea_dmz
View from the south side of the Joint Security Area, Korean DMZ

An armistice was signed on July 27, 1953, a new border drawn between North and South Korea, giving South Korea additional territory and creating a “demilitarized zone” between the two nations.  WWIII had been averted, though the two sides technically remain at war, to this day.

The Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North) and the Republic of Korea (South), has been the focal point of cold war tension, ever since.

The Korean DMZ conflict of 1966–69 culminated in the Blue House Raid of 1968, the attempted assassination of ROK President Park Chung-hee by North Korean commandos.  This period saw a series of skirmishes along the DMZ, resulting in the death of 43 Americans, 299 South Koreans and 397 North Koreans.

blue-house
South Korean Executive Mansion – “Blue House”

Some such episodes are borderline comical, such as the “mine is bigger than yours” tit-for-tat known as the “flagpole war” of the 1980s.  The South Korean government built a 323′ flagpole flying a huge, 287lb ROK flag in Daeseong-dong, 350 meters from the line of demarcation. Not to be outdone, DPRK government officials erected a 525′ flagpole in Kijŏng-dong, flying a 595lb flag of North Korea. As of 2014, the DPRK pole remains the 4th tallest flagpole, in the world.

Flagpole War

Other episodes are distinctly un-funny, such as the 1976 axe murders of two American Army officers.

The Joint Security Area (JSA) lies within the village of Panmunjom, the only piece of the DMZ where North and South Korean guards stand face-to-face.  There the “Bridge of No Return” crosses the border, the Military Demarcation Line running across its center.  Here, POWs were brought from both sides, and given their final ultimatum.  They could stay in the country of their captivity or cross that bridge and return to their homeland.  They could never come back.

Axe_murder_incident_Lt._Pak_Chul
Lieutenant Pak Chul

The bridge was last used for prisoner exchange in 1968, when the crew of USS Pueblo was released and ordered to cross into South Korea.

Visible only during winter months, command Post #3, near the Bridge of No Return, has been called the “loneliest outpost in the world”.  On numerous occasions, North Korean troops have taken advantage of this isolation, attempting to grab United Nations Command personnel and drag them across the bridge into North Korean territory.

On August 18, 1976, five Korean Service Corps (KSC) personnel entered the JSA, escorted by US Army Captain Arthur Bonifas, his ROK counterpart Captain Kim, area platoon leader First Lieutenant Mark Barrett, and 11 American and South Korean enlisted personnel.

15 North Korean soldiers appeared, commanded by Senior Lieutenant Pak Chul, whom UNC soldiers called “Lt. Bulldog” based on his confrontational history.   Lt. Pak ordered the UNC to cease tree trimming, “because Kim Il-sung personally planted it and nourished it and it’s growing under his supervision.”  Captain Bonifas turned his back on the North Koreans, ordering the detail to continue.  That’s when the stuff hit the fan.

Axe Murder Incident

Another 20 North Korean soldiers crossed the bridge, carrying crowbars and clubs.  Lt. Pak removed his watch, wrapped it in a handkerchief, placed it in his pocket, and shouted, “Kill the bastards!”.

When it was over, Captain Bonifas and First Lieutenant Barrett were dead, hacked to death with axes dropped by the tree-trimmers.  All but one of the UNC guards were injured.  Within hours, Kim Jong-il, son of “Dear Leader” Kim Il-sung, described the incident as an unprovoked incident in which American officers attacked North Korean guards.cpt_bonifas

The CIA believed the whole episode to have been pre-planned.  American forces in South Korea were moved to DEFCON 3 on August 19.  Two days later, the show of force response called “Operation Paul Bunyan”, descended like a biblical plague, on the North Korean outpost.

At 7:00am on August 21, 23 American and South Korean vehicles drove into the JSA with chainsaws, 753 troops escorted by two 30-man security platoons, armed with pistols and axe handles.  This was no tree trimming operation.

64 South Korean Special Forces brandished M16 rifles and M79 grenade launchers. Lethally effective elite soldiers, they taunted the North Koreans, daring them to cross the bridge.  Several had Claymore mines strapped to their chests, firing mechanisms at the ready.Lt._Mark_Barrett

20 utility helicopters and seven Cobra attack choppers circled overhead, behind them F-4 Phantom IIs and nuclear-capable B-52 Stratofortresses.

12,000 additional troops were ordered to Korea, including 1,800 Marines from Okinawa.  At Yokota Air Base in Japan, a dozen C-130s stood “nose to tail”, ready to provide back-up.  Air bases from Guam to Idaho were on full alert.  The entire USS Midway carrier task force, stood offshore.

“Minds blown” by this show of force, North Korea responded with 150-200 troops of its own, but did little but look on at the proceedings.

42 minutes later, all that remained of dear leader’s tree was a 20’ stump, deliberately left to aggravate North Korean sensibilities.

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Korean DMZ ‘Incident Tree’

Captain Bonifas and Lieutenant Barrett were posthumously promoted to the ranks of Major and Captain, respectively.  Today, Camp Bonifas is home to the United Nations Command Security Battalion – Joint Security Area, whose mission it is to monitor and enforce the Korean Armistice Agreement of 1953 in the no-man’s land between North and South Korea.

Camp Bonifas is home to a one-hole, “par 3” AstroTurf patch, surrounded on three sides by minefields.  Sports Illustrated has called it “the most dangerous hole in golf”.  There is at least one report of an errant shot exploding a land mine. How nice it is that a sense of humor can survive, even in this wretched place.

Most Dangerous Hole

  August 16, 1945  The Last Emperor

Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s is estimated to have killed 40 to 70 million Chinese.  You’re really playing in the Big Leagues, when they can’t estimate your death toll to anything closer than the nearest 30 million.

At the age of 2 years and 10 months, Puyi was taken from his parents and installed on the Qing Dynasty throne, in the Chinese Imperial Palace in Beijing.  The year was 1908.

It must have been bewildering for this toddler who was terrified by the sound of the ceremonial drums. Grown men would kowtow and avert their eyes in his presence.  His wet nurse, Wen-Chao Wang, was the only familiar face in the Royal Court.  She was the only one who could console him.  She alone was allowed to accompany him to the Forbidden City.

Puyi’s abdication of the throne four years later marked the end of 1,000 years of dynastic rule in China, earning him the sobriquet “The Last Emperor” of China.

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Japanese experts gathered to inspect the scene of the ‘railway sabotage’ on the railway line.

Today, the Tsingtao beer available in Chinese restaurants the world over, is one of the last cultural vestiges of European colonization of China. In the latter half of the 19th century, China became increasingly subjugated through colonization by British, French and German powers.

American President Millard Filmore dispatched Commodore Matthew Perry to Japan in 1852, forcing an opening of that nation’s economy to trade with the West, and commencing a half-century’s period of rapid industrialization in resource-poor Japan. The smaller nation grew in both economic and military power, while China suffered the humiliations of the first and second opium wars, and forced colonization by European interests.

Japan piled on in the First Sino-Japanese War of 1894-95, culminating in the massacre of much of Lüshun City (formerly “Port Arthur”), cession of Chinese territories, and the recognition of an independent Korea.

China declared war on Imperial Germany in August 1917, intending to send combat units to the western front, but never getting around to doing so. The move entitled them to a seat at the Paris Peace Conference, but all that got them was a secret list of 21 demands issued by the Japanese Empire.  Japan emerged from this period with greater influence over the Chinese economy, and increased Japanese control over the resource-rich regions of Northern China and Manchuria.

On September 18, 1931, a small quantity of dynamite was detonated by Japanese Lt. Kawamoto Suemori, near a railroad owned by Japan’s South Manchuria Railway near Mukden, in modern Shenyang.  It was a ruse, a bald pretext for the Japanese invasion of Manchuria in Northern China, and everyone knew it.Mukden_1931_japan_shenyang

The explosion was so weak that it failed to destroy the line and a train passed minutes later, but the script was already written.  The Imperial Japanese Army accused Chinese dissidents of the “Mukden Incident”, launching a full scale invasion.

Japan installed Puyi as Emporer Kangde of the puppet state of “Manchukuo”, all the while suppressing the native Han Chinese in one of the most brutal and genocidal occupations of the 20th century.

Puyi was kept on a short leash by his Japanese handlers, his life mainly consisting of signing laws prepared by Japan, reciting prayers, consulting oracles, and making formal visits throughout his state.

The Second world war was drawing to a close when the Soviet Union declared war on Japan, beginning its invasion of occupied China two days after the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, the day before Nagasaki.  Puyi was captured at an airfield on this day in 1945, and held in a Soviet gulag in Siberia until Mao Tse-Tung’s Communist party came to power in 1949.

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Japanese occupation of Beijing, 1937 – 1945

Puyi spent ten years in the Fushun War Criminals Management Centre in Liaoning province until he was declared “reformed”, moving to Peking in 1959 and taking up residence as an ordinary citizen.Puyi-Manchukuo

Mao’s “Cultural Revolution” of the late 1960s is estimated to have killed 40 to 70 million Chinese.  You’re really playing in the Big Leagues, when they can’t estimate your death toll any closer than the nearest 30 million.

The Last Emperor was an easy target of the “Red Guards”.  He probably wouldn’t have survived the tender ministrations of the communist government, but he died quietly due to complications of Kidney Cancer on October 17, 1967.

The ashes of the last Emperor, a man who had  found himself at the head of over a half-billion people at a time when the world population was only 2 billion, were placed at the Babaoshan Cemetery, the former burial ground of imperial concubines and court eunuchs.

April 18, 1943 Terrible Resolve

Painfully aware of the overwhelming productive capacity of the American economy, Yamamoto sought to neuter the US High Seas fleet in the Pacific, while simultaneously striking at the oil and rubber rich resources of Southeast Asia

Captian Isoroku YamamotoIsoroku Takano was born in Niigata, the son of a middle-ranked samurai of the Nagaoka Domain. His first name “Isoroku”, translating as “56”, refers to his father’s age at the birth of his son. At this time, it was common practice that samurai families without sons would “adopt” suitable young men, in order to carry on the family name, rank, and the income that came with it. The young man so adopted would carry the family name.  So it was that Isoroku Takano became Isoroku Yamamoto in 1916, at the age of 32.

After graduating from the Imperial Japanese Naval Academy, Yamamoto went on to serve in the Russo-Japanese war of 1904, later returning to the Navy Staff College and emerging as Lieutenant Commander in 1916. He attended Harvard University from 1919-1921, learning fluent English. A later tour of duty in the US enabled him to travel extensively, and to study American customs and business practices.

Like most of the Japanese Navy establishment, Yamamoto promoted a strong Naval policy, at odds with the far more aggressive Army establishment. For those officers, particularly those of the Kwantung army, the Navy existed only to ferry invasion forces about the globe.

Yamamoto opposed the invasion of Manchuria in 1931 and the 1937 land war with

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Panay

China. As Deputy Navy Minister, it was Yamamoto who apologized to Ambassador Joseph Grew, following the “accidental” bombing of the USS Panay in 1937. Even when he was the target of assassination threats by pro-war militarists, Yamamoto still opposed the attack on Pearl Harbor, which he believed would “awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve”.

Yamamoto received a steady stream of hate mail and death threats in 1938, as a growing number of army and navy officers spoke publicly against him. Irritated with Yamamoto’s immovable opposition to the tripartite pact with Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, army hardliners dispatched military police to “guard” him. In one of the last acts of his short-lived administration, Navy Minister Mitsumasa Yonai reassigned Yamamoto to sea as Commander-in-Chief of the Combined Fleet, making it harder for assassins to get at him.

USS-Arizona-Sinking-Pearl-Harbor-Newspaper-December-7-1941-AP-Getty-640x480Many believed that Yamamoto’s career was finished when his old adversary Hideki Tōjō ascended to the Prime Ministership in 1941. Yet there was none better to run the combined fleet. When the pro-war faction took control of the Japanese government, he bowed to the will of his superiors. It was Isoroku Yamamoto who was tasked with planning the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Nothing worked against the Japanese war effort as much as time and resources. Painfully aware of the overwhelming productive capacity of the American economy, Yamamoto sought to emasculate the US High Seas fleet in the Pacific, while simultaneously striking at the oil and rubber rich resources of Southeast Asia. To accomplish this first objective, he planned to attack the anchorage at Pearl Harbor, followed by an offensive naval victory which would bring the Americans to the bargaining table. It’s not clear if he believed all that, or merely hoped that it might work out.

Yamamoto got his decisive naval engagement six months after Pearl Harbor, near Midway Island. Intended to be the second surprise that finished the carriers which had escaped destruction on December 7, American code breakers turned the tables. This time it was Japanese commanders who would be surprised.

Battle-Of-Midway-Turns-Tide-Of-Pacific-War-2American carrier based Torpedo bombers were slaughtered in their attack, with 36 out of 42 shot down.  Yet Japanese defenses had been caught off-guard, their carriers busy rearming and refueling planes when American dive-bombers arrived.

midway-copyMidway was a disaster for the Imperial Japanese navy. The carriers Akagi, Kaga, Soryu and Hiryu, the entire strength of the task force, went to the bottom. The Japanese also lost the heavy cruiser Mikuma, along with 344 aircraft and 5,000 sailors. Much has been made of the loss of Japanese aircrews at Midway, but two-thirds of them survived. The greater long term disaster, may have been the loss of all those trained aircraft mechanics and ground crew who went down with their carriers.

The Guadalcanal campaign, fought between August 1942 and February ’43, was the first major allied offensive of the Pacific war and, like Midway, a decisive victory for the allies.

Needing to boost morale after the string of defeats, Yamamoto planned an inspection 2013-Yamamoto-10.1tour throughout the South Pacific. US naval intelligence intercepted and decoded his schedule.  The order for “Operation Vengeance” went down the chain of command from President Roosevelt to Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox to Naval Operations Admiral Ernest King to Admiral Chester Nimitz at Pearl Harbor. Sixteen Lockheed P-38 Lightnings, the only fighters capable of the ranges involved, were dispatched from Guadalcanal on April 17 with the order: “Get Yamamoto”.

Yamamoto’s two Mitsubishi G4M bombers with six Mitsubishi A6M Zeroes in escort were Yamamoto Wreckintercepted over Rabaul on April 18, 1943. Knowing only that his target was “an important high value officer”, 1st Lieutenant Rex Barber opened up on the first Japanese transport until smoke billowed from its left engine. Yamamoto’s body was found in the wreckage the following day with a .50 caliber bullet wound in his shoulder, another in his head. He was dead before he hit the ground.

Isoroku Yamamoto had the unenviable task of planning the attack on Pearl Harbor, but he was an unwilling participant in his own history. “In the first six to twelve months of a war with the United States and Great Britain”, he had said, “I will run wild and win victory upon victory. But then, if the war continues after that, I have no expectation of success”.Yamamoto

March 29, 1973 Vietnam

This is no benign ideology we’re talking about, current estimates of citizens murdered by their own government in the Soviet Union alone, range from 8 to 61 million during the Stalinist period.

French Indo-China, the area now known as Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, was governed as a French Colonial territory since the late 19th century. The region came to be occupied by the Imperial Japanese after the fall of France, at the onset of WWII.  There arose a nationalist-communist army during this period, dedicated to throwing out the Japanese occupier.  It called itself the “League for the Independence of Vietnam”, or “Viet Minh”.

France re-occupied the region following the Japanese defeat in WWII, but soon faced the same opposition from the  army of Ho Chi Minh and Vo Nguyen Giap. What began as a low level, rural insurgency, later became a full-scale modern war when Communist China entered the fray in 1949.

The disastrous defeat of French forces at Dien Bien Phu in 1953 led to French withdrawal dien_bien_phu-resupplyfrom Vietnam, the Geneva Convention partitioning the country into the communist “Democratic Republic of Vietnam” in the north, and the State of Vietnam in the south, led by Emperor Bao Dai and Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem.

Communist forces of the north continued to terrorize Vietnamese patriots in the north and south, with aid and support from communist China and the Soviet Union.

The student of history understands that nothing happens in a vacuum.  US foreign policy is no exception. International Communism had attempted to assert itself since the Paris Commune rebellion of 1871, and found its first major success with the collapse of czarist Russia in 1917.

Domino effectUS policy makers feared a “domino” effect, and with good cause. The 15 core nations of the Soviet bloc were soon followed by Eastern Europe, as Poland, Bulgaria, Romania, Hungary and Czechoslovakia fell into the Soviet sphere of influence. Germany was partitioned into Communist and free enterprise spheres after WWII, followed by China, North Korea and so on across Southeast Asia.

This is no benign ideology we’re talking about, current estimates of citizens murdered by their own government in the Soviet Union alone, range from 8 to 61 million during the Stalinist period.Paddy

Agree or disagree with policy makers of the time, that’s your business, but they followed a logical thought process. US aid and support for South Vietnam increased as a way to “stem the tide” of international communism, at the same time that French support was pulling back. By the late 50s, the US was sending technical and financial aid in expectation of social and land reform. By 1960, the “National Front for the Liberation of South Vietnam” (“NLF”, or “Viet Cong”) had taken to murdering Diem supported village leaders. JFK responded by sending 1,364 American advisers into South Vietnam in 1961.

Vietnam War CiviliansThe war in Vietnam pitted as many as 1.8 million allied forces from South Vietnam, the United States, Thailand, Australia, the Philippines, Spain, South Korea and New Zealand, against about a half million from North Vietnam, China, the Soviet Union and North Korea. Begun on November 1, 1955, the conflict lasted 19 years, 5 months and a day. On March 29, 1973, two months after signing the Paris Peace accords, the last US combat troops left South Vietnam as Hanoi freed the remaining POWs held in North Vietnam.

Even then it wasn’t over. Communist forces violated cease-fire agreements before they were signed. Some 7,000 US civilian Department of Defense employees stayed behind to aid South Vietnam in conducting an ongoing and ultimately futile war against communist North Vietnam.Three_soldiers

The last, humiliating scenes of the war played themselves out on the roof of the US Embassy in Saigon on April 29 and 30, 1975, as those who could boarded helicopters, while communist forces closed around the South Vietnamese capital.

In the end, US public opinion would not sustain what too many saw as an endless war.  We continue to feel the political repercussions, to this day. I was ten at the time of the Tet Offensive in 1968. I remember feeling horrified at the way some of my fellow Americans conducted themselves. I came to feel at that time as I do to this day, that anyone who has a problem with our country’s war policy, needs to take it up with a politician.  Not a member of the military,

.The “Killing Fields” of Cambodia followed between 1975-‘79, when the “Khmer Rouge”, self-described as “The one authentic people capable of building true communism”, murdered or caused the deaths of an estimated 1.4 to 2.2 million of their own people, out of a population of 7 million. All to build their perfect, agrarian, “Worker’s Paradise”.

Imagine feeling so desperate, so fearful of the alien ideology invading your country, that you convert all your worldly possessions and those of your family to a single diamond, bite down on that stone until it embedded in your shattered teeth, and fled with your family to open ocean in a small boat.  All in the faint and desperate hope, of getting out of that place.  That is but one story among the more than three million “boat people”.  Three million from a combined population of 56 million, fleeing the Communist onslaught in hopes of temporary asylum in other countries in Southeast Asia or China.Vietnamese_boat_people

They were the Sino-Vietnamese Hoa, and Cambodians fleeing the Khmer Rouge.  Ethnic Laotians, Iu Mien, Hmong and other highland peoples of Laos.  The 30 or so Degar (Montagnard) tribes in the Central Highlands, so many of whom had been our steadfast allies in the late war.  Over 2.5 million of them were resettled, more than half to the United States.  The other half went mostly to Canada, Europe and South Pacific nations.   A half-million were repatriated, voluntarily or involuntarily.  Hundreds of thousands vanished in their attempt to flee.

The humanitarian disaster that was the Indochina refugee crisis was particularly acute between 1979-’80, but reverberations continued into the 21st century.  The last boat people were repatriated from Malaysia in 2005.  Thailand deported 4,000 Hmong refugees in 2009.

There were 57,939 names inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall, the day it opened in 1982. Over the years, the names of military personnel who succumbed to wounds sustained in the war, were added to the wall. As of Memorial Day 2015, there are 58,307.

Things they carried