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Belmont Club

The Power of Myth

January 1st, 2014 - 4:44 pm

The Wild Hunt

One indication that something very terrible had happened in Singapore in February, 1942 comes from a snippet in Jonathan Parshall’s narrative of the battle of Midway, the Shattered Sword. Referring to the men in Nagumo’s doomed force, Parshall wrote:

These same men remembered running rampant through their beaten foes just a few months before. Allied warships in the waters around Java; merchant ships and pleasure craft packed with civilians trying to flee the impending falls of Singapore and Surabaja-they had cut them all down like wolves among the sheep. Now the tables were turned, and it was the worst feeling in the world. They could expect no mercy.  (p. 354). Kindle Edition.

It was a reference to the terrible massacre of those hat attempted to leave the doomed fortress-city as Yamashita’s men closed in, nowhere better documented on the web than in the Singapore 1942 site. The worst single episode was Black Friday, February 13, 1942 when the last desperate crowds attempted to flee a city that would surrender in a few days.

“The exact size of the so-called ‘Empire Star Convoy’ is unknown and numbers range from six to over thirty, but included the Empire Star, Gorgon, Yoma, Delamore, HMS Scott Harley. The light cruiser HMS Durban, HMS Stronghold and HMS Kedah would escort the convoy. It is estimated that only two or three of the dozens of ships to leave Singapore during 11 – 13 Feb 1942 actually made it to safety.”

They “cut them all down like wolves among the sheep.”

“The Day the British Empire Died of Shame”

What made Singapore so apocalyptic was the sheer panic that gripped the far eastern capital of the empire in its last days. It saw scenes of humiliation which broke the prestige of the “White Man” pretty much for good. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation ran a special report which makes hard reading even today.

The British and Australians were not only beaten by Yamashita, they were beaten like a drum and looked it. The Empire Star, one of the few ships that survived the last convoy from Singapore, was so full of deserters who had forced themselves aboard that they were arrested and paraded through the streets when the ship reached the nearest allied territory, which was Java, itself soon to be overrun by the Japanese tide.

One commentator wrote that if only Percival’s men had fought for Singapore street by street the British empire would survived. Hong Kong and Burma too were lost without a similar loss of prestige. The British empire did not die of a defeat; it died of shame.

The problem was leadership. Percival was unable to perform the one essential task of keeping his men morally unbroken and in the field. The tales of British and Australian troops throwing away their guns and drunkenly awaiting capture become credible when it is realized that of the 40,000 Indian troops captured in Malaya 12,000 switched sides and joined the pro-Japanese Indian National Army.

Different historians have cited other reasons for the INA’s recruits volunteering to serve with the Japanese enemy. These included both the high ideal of patriotism, the inevitable desire not to be interned in the POW camp, as well as ambition. Some cite the destruction and devaluation of the Raj’s prestige and authority in the Malayan debacle and the humiliating surrender at Singapore that first shook the Sepoys’ loyalty to the Raj and more importantly to the notion of supremacy of the Sahib. In addition, a number of authors have cited the disparity in the service conditions (including scopes of progression in the army) and treatment of White and Indian troops within the army as another reason for ill-feelings within the Indian troops.

Men in combat are held together by largely invisible bonds. Indians who had served for years under the British became their jailors literally overnight, convinced by what they had seen Nippon do to sahibs. That was how great Yamashita’s triumph over Percival was.

The irony was that the British and Australian forces were themselves individually brave, as shown by their subsequent fortitude in captivity. It was almost as if the military formations redeemed in captivity what they lost in the field.

Arthur Percival was by all accounts a decent man of some intelligence. But he was new to Malaya,  and his appointment an indication of how bad the British judgments were. He never had a workable strategy for fighting the Japanese and early on he allowed himself to be mentally beaten by offering the same type of road-bound defense and losing each time.

He set up a ‘perfect’ position on the Slim River and Yamashita in a single uninterrupted 16 kilometer advance blew through 3 brigades each as surprised as the last.  By the time Yamashita was poised to cross the causeway into Singapore,  Percival — and his men — had lost confidence in themselves.

Britain was defeated elsewhere: in Hong Kong and Burma. But none of these contributed to the destruction of prestige as much as the Malaya/Singapore campaign. For it was not the fact of defeat that counted as much as the loss of manhood that Singapore represented. The Japanese, played that to hilt. To emphasize their superiority arranged for the white POW latrines to be in full view of the Singaporean population. “Here are your masters now.”


The Anti-Singapore

Jonathan Wainwright’s defense of the Philippines was in many ways the anti-Singapore.  Whereas Singapore and Malaya forever became an unmentionable topic, Bataan became a name to conjure with. Hollywood made movies about it, often wildly inaccurate. MacArthur mentioned it constantly until it took on the dimensions of a latter day Alamo.  Yet it was a military defeat. How it escaped the shame of Singapore and became an icon is interesting to examine.

There are some obvious reasons for the difference. The first was that the Philippines was not part of an American Empire. There was no American Empire.  In 1941 the Philippines was only a few years short of the full independence stipulated under the Tydings-McDuffie act. The act, sponsored by Democrat Millard Tydings and Alabama Representative John McDuffie “was supported by a coalition of … Philippine nationalists and protectionist groups who wanted Filipino immigration restricted for racial and economic reasons, including preservervation of Depression era jobs for natives. Philippine nationalists compromised on these restrictions in exchange for independence.”

Those were the days when the Democrats were frankly anti-immigrant and the only black congressman in Washington was Republican. In a few years short years Franklin Roosevelt would intern all Japanese-Americans. Tydings-McDuffie in fact “reclassified all Filipinos, including those who were living in the United States, as aliens for the purposes of immigration to America. A quota of 50 immigrants per year was established.”

Whereas some Indians joined the INA to fight for independence, that independence was already fait acompli in the Philippines. In fact there were two armies facing the Japanese invasion force in 1941 under American command.  Upon the passage of Tydings-McDuffie, President Manuel Quezon immediately began to create a Philippine Army under “Field Marshal” Douglas MacArthur, who had retired from United States service and was hired by soon-to be independent Republic as a military adviser.

MacArthur began to organize a Philippine Army built around an army of reservists, a task which he continued until recalled to US service. It was task begun too late to produce a viable military force. But neverthless by 1941 a separate Army was in existence.

The forces opposing the Japanese invasion in December, 1941 were:

United States Army Forces Far East
Philippine Army
United States Navy
United States Marine Corps

The USN and USMC were relatively few in number, men who had lost their ships and airmen who had lost their planes and a small contingent of Marines. The United States Army Forces Far East  consisted of two units: the Philippine Constabulary and the Philippine Division.  The Philippine Army, which was the most numerous, consisted of 10 half-baked divisions made up of Quezon’s reservists.

The United States Army Forces Far East did not consist of US-born Americans but of Filipinos in long service to the Philippine Deparment: the Philippine Constabulary and the Philippine Division.

The Philippine Scouts were part of the regular army and in 1941 had one caucasian regiment, the 31st Infantry. Of the four brigades in the division 3 were Philippine Scouts — (PS). The Scouts had been in service with the United States Army since the Moro Wars. The entire division was commanded by US Army officers and Filipino West Point graduates. Thus the US Army in the Philippines was fundamentally different in its relation to the Philippines than III Indian Corps, the 8th Australian Division or the British 18th Division was to Malaya and Singapore.

Even in commanders the US was more fortunate than the British. Wainwright had fought in the Moro wars and was thoroughly familiar with the country, as was MacArthur, who had surveyed the Islands earlier in his career and chased bandits through them. Unlike Percival, who was a staff officer recently arrived in Malaya, MacArthur and Wainwright were both competent and knowledgeable of the terrain.

But the principal advantage of the Luzon defense over the Singapore strategy was its conceptual superiority. To put it frankly War Plan Orange was better than the ill-fated Singapore Strategy. War Plan Orange remained the basis of American strategy throughout the Pacific War to victory. The Singapore Strategy was exposed as nonsense from Day One.

Unlike Percival, who attempted a broad, Malaya-wide defense against the Japanese, Wainwright fought a rearguard action against Homma until he could neatly side-slip into Bataan, as per War Plan Orange. Protected by the sea on both flanks, and covered by the 12 inch ship-killing mortars of Corregidor, Wainwright could not be outflanked on Bataan. Nor could Wainwright’s men desert, even had they been so inclined to a tempting big city in the rear.

MacArthur simply declined to fight for Manila, declaring it an “Open City” and put his back to the jungle and the sea. The Japanese had no choice but to grind away against the single American (Philippine Scouts) division and Quezon’s half-trained army. Unlike Percival, who worried about civilian casualties in a prolonged fight for Singapore, Wainright had only the trees and rocks of Bataan to worry about.

The result of this objectively superior strategy was was that the cream of the Japanese Army was forced into a siege battle against “native” troops led by Americans and Filipino West Pointers, albeit augmented regular American support units. At the surrender of Bataan there were 60,000 Filipinos and 15,000 Americans.

Wainwright had stopped the Japanese for months with a motely crew. It maddened the Japanese to no end. Wainwright got far more out of his troops than Percival ever managed in Malaya. They never broke, even at the end. When Bataan fell at last the Japanese could not even gloat in creditable terms.

So instead the IJA led the surenderees on a 70-mile Death March, without food or water. This had the opposite effect of the surrender at Singapore. Rather than causing the civilians to swoon in admiration of the Japanese, as apparently did the Indian troops in Singapore, the cruel spectacle turned the population against them.

The Making of a Legend

Lieutenant Norman Reyes, the US Army broadcaster who read out the announcement that Bataan had fallen, used a canny text written by Salvador Lopez, a man who would become the future dean of the University of the Philippines. Reyes’ text was frankly religious in tone and designed to play to the sympathies of a Roman Catholic population, then observing Holy Week, with which the surrender coincided.

Bataan has fallen…. Men fighting under the banner of unshakable faith are made of something more that flesh, but they are not made of impervious steel. …

All of us know the story of Easter Sunday. It was the triumph of light over darkness, life over death. … We, too, shall rise. After we have paid the full price of our redemption, we shall return to show the scars of sacrifices that all may touch and believe. When the trumpets sound the hour we shall roll aside the stone before the tomb and the tyrant guards shall scatter in confusion. No wall of stone shall then be strong enough to contain us, no human force shall suffice to hold us in subjection, we shall rise in the name of freedom and the East shall be alight with the glory of our liberation.

The USAFFE imbued the defense of Bataan with a mystical, some would say the irrational element. But just as the British Empire foundered on the insubstantial quantity of prestige, so did that elusive quantity, American credibility hang upon the mysterious and intangible. The USAFFE public affairs people knew it and so did MacArthur.

He made Bataan a fetish, describing it not in terms of shame but as as something rapturous. He understood that if were to come back it would have to be on the wings of myth as much as powder and steel. Thus began the transformation of Bataan. Hollywood made movies based on it, starring John Wayne and Robert Taylor.  When I was a child, I had a friend who told me that his grandfather commanded something once, with obvious pride. I did not even know what he was talking about but I asked, “where?” He said, “on Bataan.”

When MacArthur stepped ashore at Leyte his first act was to broadcast a call that was surpassingly strange in content, full of inside references, almost a private message, medieval in its cadence. But to those who knew, it was as if he was simply continuing where Norman Reyes’ broadcast had left off.

People of the Philippines, I have returned.

Rally to me. Let the indomitable spirit of Bataan and Corregidor lead on. As the lines of battle roll forward to bring you within the zone of operations, rise and strike.

Strike at every favorable opportunity.

For your homes and hearths, strike!

For future generations of your sons and daughters, strike!

In the name of your sacred dead, strike!

Let no heart be faint. Let every arm be steeled.

The guidance of divine God points the way. Follow in His Name to the Holy Grail of righteous victory!

History often turns on moments of remembered drama, moments that become bywords. The Few in Britain. The 57th Regiment in Albuera (“Die hard, 57th. Die hard.”) Percival may have been a decent commander, but he and his command had the misfortune of the stars being against them.  They became a byword, it’s true, but in the wrong way.

If the perceived humiliation at Singapore marked the end of the British empire, the epic of Bataan and the via dolorosa of the Death March laid the foundation for the return of the West to Southeast Asia. For when the West returned to Asia it came on the shoulders on the United States and not the Europeans.

And to do that well they needed not only the power of the Atomic Bomb but the power of myth. In order for the institutions of democracy to credibly re-enter the lists after Japanese militarism and nascent Communism had shown it so vulnerable, it needed a legend to stand upon. If Singapore destroyed the colonial mystique forever, Bataan showed it could be replaced by a creed founded neither on color nor even language but on a shared commitment to freedom.

Two journeys began in 1942: one was the Empire Star convoy and the other, the Death March to Capas.  For many in each Death lay at the end of the road, but only one won through to disappear into the mists of legend.

The American Cemetery Manila

The American Cemetery Manila

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Top Rated Comments   
In hindsight the invasion of the Philippines was not necessary. However in early 1944 when the Chiefs were examining the way forward one shortcoming with Orange was obvious. The Orange plan essentially stipulated a blockade of Japan. But in 1944 opinion was divided over whether than could ever be enough. The Army thought an actual ground invasion was necessary while the Army Air Force thought Japan could be subdued by aerial bombardment.

In the matter of aerial bombardment opinion was then divided between B-29s based in China or in the Marianas. Moreover, the Ryukyus were deemed insufficient to support a land battle for Japan. Hence they opted for both: an approach to the China coast and a Central Pacific drive. Luzon was valuable because it supported the other prong of the two prong offensive that had been US policy from the beginning. Central Pacific was going to the Marianas. Southwest Pacific needed its own terminus.

The real choice wasn't Central Pacific vs Luzon as much as Luzon vs Formosa. (now known as Taiwan) What tipped the balance from Formosa to Luzon was MacArthur's political argument. "The reoccupation of the entire Philippine Archipelago as quickly and early as possible, was, MacArthur said, a national obligation and political necessity. To bypass any or all the islands, he declared, would destroy American honor and prestige throughout the Far East, if not in the rest of the world as well. "

Here the long shadow of Singapore is evident. Apart from the need for two routes to the Japanese mainland, there was the requirement to publicly beat down a full Japanese Army in front of all watching Asiatics. In the event Walter Kruger (a very underrated commander) did a job on Yamashita.

At all events, Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyshu, which would have dwarfed Overlord in Normandy needed Luzon in addition to all else. It "would proceed from the four key Pacific bases-Hawaii, the Marianas, the Philippines, and the Ryukyus-and, protected by the U. S. Pacific Fleet and a solid air umbrella, would converge on southern Kyushu by X Day for a three-pronged landing in the Miyazaki area on the east, at Ariake Bay on the south, and at Kushikino, on the west."

They needed that much basing for that titanic operation. But that was only for openers. Operation Coronet, the invasion of Honshu and the battle for the Tokyo-Kanto plain would have itself dwarfed Operation Olympic. Parenthetically, the Luzon option was also necessary to feint for Olympic and convince the Japanese the invasion force was headed for the China coast instead of Kyushu.

Collectively Olympic and Coronet were known as Operation Downfall. And Downfall needed the Philippines, Ryukyus, Marianas, and Hawaii as bases. This would have been the mother of all battles and gone into 1947. It would have featured Midway class carriers, helicopters, AEW aircraft, F8F Bearcats, F7F Tigercats, giant assault guns and on the Japanese side, thousands of suicide planes, manned rockets bombs and a fight to the death.

In the end the Haywood Hansell failed to bomb Japan into submission and was replaced by Curis LeMay, who introduced the mass firebombing raids. That did not prove sufficient and atomic bombs were used. But the Army Option was always in the wings and that required bases. Some general was asked, "do you want to make a London out of Manila?" He answered, "no, I want to make an England out of Luzon" in reference to basing options.

Later it was discovered the Navy was right after all. Japanese documents suggested that it was the mining of Japanese ports which was the most damaging. The A-bombs were not absolutely necessary as it turned out. The Soviets came in and the mining was choking them dead. Not the bombs nor the invasion of Luzon may have been needed come to think of it. But they didn't know that then, and as now the services were in rivalry and so each wanted its preferred option available.

But MacArthur put his finger on the problem. Western prestige in Asia had taken a pounding. Bataan was a downpayment. What post-war politics needed was to see some Japanese field army systematically taken apart to restore some of the old magic.

It was all for myth really, and even now you might argue that the atomic bombs were most powerful for their memetic payload. It's a sad commentary on human nature, but that's what it is.

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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The ascension of Percival to command was simply the natural result of peacetime military processes whereby officers were promoted on the ability to be amiable, to be part of the clique, to be of good family. 1914 saw the BEF commanded by Sir John French, the Austrians by Potiorek, the French by Lanrezac, the Russians by Samsonov, and the Germans by von Kluck and von Falkenhayn, only the most prominent among a complete list of men who could be said to be as poor a general as a grown man could be. In the first six months of the war these and other generals cost the unnecessary deaths of hundreds of thousands of men on all battlefields. The same was true of WW2, where peacetime French and British generals were faced and bemused by generals like Guderian and Rommel who thought about war in a different way than they did. So it was and so it will always be. No European army has been in a real war since 1945, and if a real war ever occurs men will die unnecessarily until the fight shakes out the incompetent.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Men live by myth. That myth is what binds them. There is truth, there is historical fact, there is reality from the past. But by the time it comes down to each of us it has been amalgamated, simplified, and molded into a mythic shorthand that penetrates into our inmost heart. And gives that heart strength to endure and triumph when rational calculation says all is lost.

We have our myths. We have our faiths and touchstones, religious and secular. The belief that we are governed by our consent, that the law and Constitution simultaneously binds and frees each of us equally, and that those who govern are honest stewards of our secular faith and protectors of our liberties.

The British Raj fell, not because they were overwhelmed, but because they gave plain proof that they did not deserve power, not being willing to honorably strive to preserve it. In the Philippines, the Filipino government and troops, and those of the United States showed that they were beaten; but that they were not conquered. They fought and died with integrity and honor, enabling a final victory.

We live in a time when our inmost myths come crashing down. Our government regards the people as a foe. The Constitution is ignored. And the law is the whim of those who are politically connected, regardless of statute, custom, or court.

As the people of Singapore looked to the British Imperial forces, as the Filipino people looked to their government, their soldiers, and their American allies; the American people look to what is supposed to be the political opposition party to defend the law and Constitution, and that inmost belief that makes us Americans.

And in the "opposition" they see a Raj that is impotent, and a Vichy class that seeks to accommodate with the forces of evil, in return for personal benefit.

When myths are murdered in their sleep by those who claim to be their guardian, when legitimacy flees in disgust, when the mandate of Heaven is withdrawn; the People must seek new leaders, new champions.

There are those who have sworn the Oath, and who mean it.

It is a new year by western reckoning, just shy of it by Chinese. In the Jewish calendar, it began a few months ago. The new year brings both promise and dangers. Danger we see around us and in our path. The promise is harder to see. The Jewish Seder ends with the expression of that promise, "Next year in Jerusalem".

Where shall we meet next year? Perhaps atop Redoubt #10, perhaps in a re-education camp. The choice is ours.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (90)
All Comments   (90)
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. . . 12 inch ship-killing mortars of Corregidor

FWIW, Fort De Soto, FL, mounts the only surviving 12-inch Sea Coast Mortars outside of Corregidor. If you're ever around Tampa Bay, go see them.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The sources I have on the Malaya/Singapore campaign are too general, and are more focused on the broader Pacific War during that period. Does anybody have a good recommendation as to a sound military history of the Malaya/Singapore campaign?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
This has been both my favorite posting by Wretchard and my favorite comment section. Personally, I am very sick of people blaming Obama for all the world's ills, reminding me for all the world like love-betrayed teenage stalkers, when in reality, the next gigantic "island hopping" campaign is right around the corner regardless of who is or who isn't in power. And it will literally bypass the Arab/Muslim world and herald a future of unlimited and cheap energy and the most glorious era of American history yet.

Just as one poster mentioned, the fracking revolution happened notwithstanding the Obama presidency, so will the next gigantic technological leaps occur and be impervious to any politics, for or against. Remember, the atomic bomb was built under a liberal Democrat president, and in most ways happened in spite of Roosevelt. As the Japanese quickly noticed, we were instantaneously 100 years ahead of them. Technology paradigm shifts historically occur regardless of the political zeitgeist.

The next technological wave will leave all of us dumbstruck, and the politicians clueless and reeling from their revealed incompetence. We are already 50 years ahead of the rest of the world, and that insurmountable lead will quickly assume gargantuan proportions that the rest of the world will never close.

Whether the next energy source comes from new kinds of thorium reactors, or solar energy, or fusion I do not know. It is probably stupid to try to pick the winner. What I KNOW is that those new technologies are on the verge of coming into play at the speed of light. The Singularity, with the advent of Artificial Intelligence, is right around the corner, and my analysis is this Singularity can only occur in America.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I disagree. IMHO, just as likely a focus for the Singularity is Japan. Japan already looks like an enclave of technologically advanced aliens. Their transport system, communications network and educational system are already so far ahead of the system in the USA it isn't funny. Miles ahead of the UK, too.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
And then there are the Koreans.
(who have been known to refer to the Japanese as 'The Lazy Asians').
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You really believe that Japan is going to be first with Artificial Intelligence? Please explain.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
BD previously: "It is probably stupid to try to pick the winner."

There you go, picking a winner with Artificial Intelligence. It is as likely to be reusable space launch rockets (under development in the US). Or things we have completely missed. Futurists did not do a good job of predicting the personal computers, the web, or cell phones.

Your original post was pretty good, though.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
You're right, anyone who tries to predict is almost always laughably pessimistic:

Especially when it comes to energy matters and matters of technological evolution.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
On the news tonight they said that the Obama Admin was canceling a number of number of efforts designed to promote democracy in the Arab world. Maybe they now have a more realistic view of what they can expect out of the Arabs.

But speaking of the power of “myth”, I think that one reason that democracy succeeded so well in Germany and Japan is that we set such an impressive example. Not only were those two powerful, proud, and racist nations beaten, they were beaten quite convincingly, in the “Alles Kaput” fashion. And they knew who did it, too. The evidence was all around them, viewed by even the civilians during the war and reinforced during the occupation.

A USAF pilot who flew B-50’s – a later model B-29 – in Japan years after the war described how he had some Japanese workmen come do some repairs at his house. They saw the B-50 model he had on display and he took pains to explain that it was not a B-29, lest there be some bad feelings. He need not have worried. They were as impressed as hell. B-Ju-Ni-Ki! They still shook their heads in wonder. A people who could build something like that and send thousands of them halfway around the world were to be admired, not despised.

And they knew as well that we protected them against the Soviets, too. And that the Marshall Plan was helping them to rebuild. They knew that Democracy represented Power, power far greater than theirs, greater than the Bushido Code and the Aryan Race.

The best thing the Obama Admin could have done to promote democracy would have been to defeat the Arabs, knock off Saddam, then Assad, and Iran. And maybe blown Afghanistan to dust. And then sit on all of them the way we did with Germany and Japan. In other words, establish a myth and reinforce it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
>>>n the news tonight they said that the Obama Admin was canceling a number of number of efforts designed to promote democracy in the Arab world. <<<

To be frank, given what we have seen to date, there is the extremely high probability that he considers the concept of promoting democracy in any form in the Arab world to be irtidād; and that is behind the cancellation. He may believe that the time for Taqiyya is now past.

Subotai Bahadur
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One thing that puzzles me about the Philippines is how weak it is. None of its neighbors is quite as weak, not Taiwan, not Malaysia, not Indonesia, not Vietnam. Its economy and social structure seem to have more in common with other former Spanish colonies such as Mexico, Honduras, or Peru.

If manly toughness and superior military tactics were the measure of empires, the Philippines would be a major power in Asia. However, a superior military also requires a superior economy. The Philippines does not have a superior economy, and is unlikely to have one anytime soon.

If China seeks to invade the Philippines, the next three years would be the time to do it. The Philippines is not only militarily vulnerable, but it seems to be bereft of meaningful alliances. Despite the fecklessness of the Obama administration, most of the fault belongs to Filipino political leaders.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One should not forget how the Philippines capitulated to hostage takers in 2004. If the Philippines regards an alliance with the United States as expendable to save the life of Angelo de la Cruz, why should the United States risk the lives of any American soldier to defend the Philippines from China?

(They weren't burning the Chinese flag or the al-Qaeda flag; they were burning ours.)

I have a high regard for Filipino fighting men. The Filipino ruling class has shown itself to have all of the backbone of a wet noodle.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The Filipino ruling class looks out only for itself. They are interesting in ruling, but not governing. The military tradition of the Philippines has historically been between the lower and middle classes and the US. This began with the Scouts and went on until recently, via the US Navy.

To illustrate: at Christmastime in Cambridge, Mass there were two Filipino community celebrations, neatly divided between the "doctor set". Doctors, lawyers and businessmen who were graduated from Harvard and MIT and the "Coast Guard set"; Filipino EMs who were in the Coast Guard or the Navy.

It's a neat division.

Emigration to the US is largely a middle class thing. It's a way for the lower and middle classes to escape the stifling dominance of the ruling class. Now the class divisions have moderated of late, due to the overseas worker experience. One tenth of the population works abroad and they have Seen the Elephant. No more will they be dominated by the Big Family Names.

Eventually this will change the very nature of Philippine society. But not yet. What some analysts who have asked me about it fear most is the takeover of the Philippines by the Chinese through bribery. And I replied that they would met, peso for peso, by the Japanese, who were pretty good at bribery too.

Today Asia is descending into a Cold War between China and Japan and I have no doubts that it is being played out in the boardrooms and backrooms of the capital. I think history is on the move again in the Pacific. But I cannot see where it will go.
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
"The Filipino ruling class looks out only for itself."

Exactly like the American ruling class.

To the detriment of both nations.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Seems to be the Default Setting for Ruling Classes the world around.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
trick of democracy has always been to enable the ruling classes to compete--as they would anyway for power -- in such a way as to benefit the rest of society.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
One of the reasons why South America has had so many military regimes is because military men were better educated – and had more political legitimacy – than either the old families or the elected politicians the old families controlled. This suggests to me that the Iberian model of “governance” promotes classes of professional whiners; the power of military regimes and caudillos (which are not quite the same thing) is a reflection less of their own inherent legitimacy than the inherent illegitimacy of great landowners who felt no sense of social obligation toward their servants.

My principal gripe with elitist colleges is how they teach social climbing and social exclusion, but they don't teach the nature of legitimacy, social obligation, or noblesse oblige. One does not need to be rich to practice noblesse oblige, and far from being a reflection of power, it is a source of it. The politics of the United States – and many other nations – is dominated by people who choose the “left hand path”, or direct route, to power. In the United States, it usually means taking political science and then law. Yet, there is a difference between establishing legitimacy and accumulating its tokens. Those who accumulate tokens of legitimacy don't accumulate legitimacy; they accumulate tokens.

The Philippines aren't much like Poland in 1939. They are more like Norway in 1940 – a peripheral theater of war whose weakness draws in outside empires to fight one another on its territory.

The worst case scenario for the Philippines isn't a bribery game where its politicians can sell themselves to the highest bidder, complacently playing the Chinese against the Japanese. For a ruling class hell bent upon corruption, that would be heaven on earth. Rather, Filipinos face the prospect of finding themselves on the sidelines watching a war fought on their own territory by China and Japan. The prospect of both China and Japan invading the Philippines with neither side interested in keeping their battlefields neat and tidy, not to mention al-Qaeda joining in the fun – those are the wages of weakness in Asia. And in the long run, those are the wages of weakness anywhere.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The first time the Chinese jabbed at the Japanese in 2005--Japanese investments in China went straight down. But things quickly cooled off and Japanese investments in China went straight up again. In the last year, as China has jabbed at Japan, Japanese investments in China have gone straight down. If China keeps up the tension, then first Japanese investments in China will stay down. Then other players around the world will scale back their investments in China because of the uncertainty. I'm sure the Chinese will look at the numbers carefully.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Many insightful threads have been started in this discussion. I'm going to comment from one point.

Gawnit said:

"Your point of bypassing the Philippines is a credible one and has been bantered about for many a year now. Simply put, we went back for honors sake."

This has long been my suspicion. However, this would indicate that America's military leaders were idiots for slaughtering so many young American men for "honor".

Soldiers should die for victory and thereby achieve honor.

Douglas MacArthur felt his personal honor had been compromised after the Philippines fell to Japan. I suspect that MacArthur was enough of a sociopath that sacrificing thousands of American lives to restore his own personal honor was a sacrifice that he was prepared to make.

The problem with this line of thinking is that MacArthur had to convince the rest of America's top general officers to adopt his strategy. History records that Admiral Nimitz originally opposed the invasion of the Philippines and instead advocated the invasion of Formosa/Taiwan. History has also shown that Admiral Nimitz was correct but MacArthur's strategy was adopted instead.

So why was Nimitz' correct strategy rejected and MacArthur's strategy accepted?

I think Wretchard hit the nail on the head when he said:

"... Operation Olympic, the invasion of Kyshu, which would have dwarfed Overlord in Normandy needed Luzon in addition to all else."

The error in my earlier analysis was that I saw events through the prism of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The American general staff were focused on the end game of Japan's surrender and unaware of the atomic bomb. For reasons beyond my understanding, the American general staff felt that actual invasion of Japan was required to achieve Japan's surrender. Given that perspective, as good generals, their first question would have been:

How do we manage the logistics for Japan's invasion?

I suspect, that's how MacArthur argued it. However Nimitz could have counter-argued that Taiwan was a closer logistic base than the Philippines. MacArthur would then counter-counter argue, that America had an existing infrastructure in the Philippines and English was spoken there. Using Taiwan as a logistics base would have required the complete pacification of Taiwan which would have required considerable effort. Once Japan's power was broken in the Philippines, the Philippines' pacification quickly followed since it had previously been American territory (Taiwan had long been Japanese territory).

Ironically the whole "invasion of Japan" line-of-argument was irrelevant. Japan could have been subdued with nuclear weapons and/or mining Japan's sea ports and/or starving Japan into submission.

For years, I have heard that the atomic bomb saved hundreds of thousands of American lives. There is no doubt that this was true because thousands of American soldiers were being transported to the Pacific Theater in anticipation of Japan's invasion (most of these soldiers never saw combat). However again, I'm confused. Why invade Japan when the island nation could have simply been starved into submission? Mining the harbors and fire bombing Japan's cities with conventional weapons was sufficient. Thousands of American soldiers lives were compromised because we were about to adopt a bad strategy of invading Japan. The atomic bomb did save hundreds of thousands of lives but those were Japanese lives. Those Japanese lives saved would have starved or burned to death while under American siege.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The atomic bomb saved millions of JAPANESE lives, many more than US. These lives would have been lost regardless the technique(s) used to end the war.

The key was to end the damn thing...immediately.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Wretchard also said:

"Quezon never quite understood how ruthless the Japanese were until about 1940. Until then he seemed to believe that the Japanese would not invade a country without a reason. So he started to back away from his army-building plan in hopes that he would not "provoke" Nippon. But as well now Nippon invaded Korea, China, Vietnam and Thailand without any reason."

Many of Japan's actions prior to World War II were profoundly stupid. Like Hitler in Europe, Japan was initially "on a roll". The conquest of Korea, Manchuria and eastern China was strategically brilliant. As Wretchard correctly said, the Philippines was the "Poland of the Pacific". Japan's aggression was initially driven by its need for natural resources. The conquest of Indonesia's oil fields and the strategic island of Singapore were obligatory for Japan's envisioned empire. Achieving those ends required conquest of the Philippines. Conquering the Philippines then an American territory required going to war against the United States. Unless carefully planned, going to war against the United States was an act of suicide. Like so many other nations, Japan judged the United States by what it saw from Hollywood and our news media, e.g. morally decadent moonbats preaching pacifism, isolationism, socialism, etc.. Japan did not realize that the American heartland saw Hollywood and the moonbats as an embarrassment. The Nazis and later on the Soviets fell into the same trap.

Japan could have achieved victory but the path to victory required the rapid neutralization of the United States. Japan should have focused everything on victory at MIdway Island followed by rapid conquest of Hawaii. After conquering Hawaii, Japan should have immediately focused on conquering the islands off of southern California and Baja California. Catalina Island is to southern California what Okinawa is to Japan. A Japanese air base established on Catalina Island could have leveled American munitions factories in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. The huge oil fields around Bakersfield could have been set on fire and the American fleet in San Diego destroyed by repeated air attacks.

Conquering the United States was never an option for Japan (we are indigestible). However if we had been hit hard enough early in the war then the cowards and moonbats who originally were clamoring for isolationism would have been demanding a truce with Japan at unfavorable terms. Roosevelt probably would have refused but there were plenty of other American politicians including Roosevelt's own vice president Wendell Willkie who would have seen political opportunity in accepting a truce with Japan.

With a little bit more cunning, Japan might have won WW-II.
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Uhm, pardon me for being pedantic, but if Japan had attempted to establish air bases on Catalina Island it would have been essentially the same as if the United States had attempted to establish an air base on Ie Shima (a small island near Okinawa) in 1942.

Poorly, that is. Logistics. Ie Shima was too far away from America in 1942, just like Catalina Island was too far away from Imperial Japan, forever as it turned out.

I've always thought it a more interesting counterfactual for an Imperial Japan victory if they had simply ignored the United States and invaded British possessions and Indonesia only.

That seems more cunning to me than awaking a sleeping giant, etc.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It is interesting to contemplate a Japanese invasion of Catalina Island it being only “22 miles across the sea”, incidentally within range of the 16 inch harbor defense guns at Fort MacArthur and a significant portion of the Pacific fleet in Los Angeles harbor. The 155’s at Angels Gate, Point Fermin had a range of 12.1 miles and supported defense of what the USN must have regarded as their pond. At least one freighter was torpedoed off of the point.

The little airstrip that passes for Catalina airport is only 3000 feet long and has a big hump on it so that you do not see most the runway on approach. It is a little disconcerting flying in and out of. The island was basically taken over by the Navy, Army, and the Coast Guard during WWII so the Japanese wouldn’t have found it very hospitable.
1 year ago
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At the time, people were so convinced that the Japanese were going to occupy Catalina Island that they moved the tomb of William Wrigley, Jr. from Catalina island to the mainland were it remains to his day, refer to:,_Jr.

Likewise, as Annoy Mouse correctly said, Catalina Island was turned into an armed camp after its original civilian population was evacuated. In anticipation of an aerial attack (from where?), some of the armaments factories in Los Angeles county had their roofs camouflaged to look like residential areas.

Both Catalina Island and San Clemente island have small runways.

Had the Japanese occupied those islands, those runways could have been enlarged. Likewise, the isthmus of Catalina island could have served as a sea port to receive munitions as could Avalon harbor. Someone high up in America's military command did the analysis and realized that Catalina Island was a serious danger. Fortunately, the Japanese high command never connected the dots.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I think you have confused Wendell Willkie who ran against FDR with Henry Wallace, the crypto-communist who was FDR's Vice President at the time.
1 year ago
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I stand corrected!

Drbatman is quite correct. I did indeed confuse Wendell Willkie for Henry Wallace.
1 year ago
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Speaking of the A-bomb, the USA is in the process of producing shock and awe among the international deep pocket set by means of fracking oil and gas.

There are more shocks coming.

Viet Nam crashed and burned in 1975. 15 years later the Soviet Union fell in 1990. The fall of the soviet union represented a strategic victory in the context of which viet nam was a tactical defeat.

I think that Afghanistan may well be on its way to being a tactical defeat—but I think the oil trends have shifted to where we are on our way to a strategic victory—by means of lower oil prices and oil independence.

Just like what happened with the cold war —I think 15 years from now the price of oil will be totally crushed—leading to a strategic victory in the war on terror.

But the collapse of the price of oil won't come by means of oil production increases alone.

The collapse of the price of oil will come as also a steep reduction in the demand for oil.

What's the best way to do that?

The big thing that is doable, popular and a game changer within 5-10 years in nuclear tech is portable thorium lftr reactors. These would collapse the cost of electricity to 1/4-1/10 current lowest cost coal electricity.

This would also, I think bring in the age of electric cars and kill the demand for internal combustion engine cars, bring in an age of tremendous worldwide prosperity, create the capital base for a big push into space, collapse the price of oil, bankrupt the gulf states and kill any economic reason for the Chinese to take by force territory in the south china sea and elsewhere along their periphery.

Portable LFTR thorium reactors producing dirt cheap electricity will have another profound side effect.

Much of the cost of desalination is the cost of electricity. (the other costs are amortized capital costs and maintenance—but super efficient resilient and cheap membranes are coming soon as well as interesting ways to monetize the salt left over by desalination.)

LFTR Thorium reactors will make it possible to produce and transport desalinized water cheaply enough for agricultural applications. In effect, they’ll be able to turn the world’s deserts green for agriculture. That means Saudi Arabia goes green as does the middle east, north Africa, Mexico and half the USA all of Australia and a third of China.

Food and energy issues will be solved for the next two centuries. (But no more than two centuries.)

For the republicans to win in 2016, they need a real technological vision thing on the order of Ronald Reagan’s star wars.

What is that technology? Basically desalination cheap enough to make desert farming profitable. Desalination cheap enough to double the habitable size of the USA, and triple the habitable size of Mexico and double the size of the habitable earth.

Vote for me. I’ll turn the deserts green.

Any republican candidate saying that with the conviction with which Ronald Reagan promoted star wars— will get the attention of California New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Texas, Latino voters all over the USA, Mexican voters and Mexico—and much of the rest of the world.

The amazing thing is that its going to happen whether a presidentiial candidate articulates a vision or not. Strategic vision is now emanating from the USA but its not coming from the government. Its coming from the culture itself.

But a republican candidate who can recognize and articulate what's happening anyway can create the winning strategy and vision for 2016.
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1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment

You are way too rational. The same nation that twice elected Obama president is not going to see the wisdom of going over to a thorium based economy. We should have gone to a thorium economy in the 1970s after the first oil shocks. Unfortunately, the Saudis were smart and always dropped the price of crude oil low enough that the research and development costs for alternative energy could not be justified. The current rise of fracking energy from shale (an old technology) and the economic viability of tar sands in Alberta are a consequence of Saudi Arabia running out of oil.

Huh? Saudi Arabia running out of oil? When did that happen? Refer to:

The whole Saudi economy and way of life was based upon all wealth coming out of the ground and all real work being done by foreign guest workers. Unfortunately for the Saudis, the oil is running out and the foreign workers are being sent home. This is a major game changer. Soon everything changes.

Also, a technical point: I'm too lazy to do this but you can do it. Calculate the energy content in 10 gallons of gasoline and compare that to the energy content in a Toyota Prius battery The difference is huge. Electric cars are a no starter so long as hydrocarbon fuels are available.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Calculate the energy content in 10 gallons of gasoline and compare that to the energy content in a Toyota Prius battery The difference is huge.
True. The big break through for the Tesla S class car is that it can go about 1.5 times the distance as a Prius. Prius can do 100 miles on a charge. The Tesla can do 250 miles on a charge. That's not enough for anything but local driving and the price is still too high. Tesla promises to have an electric car on the market by 2016 that can do the same number of miles -- 250 miles on a charge--as the Tesla S Class. But the cost of the car will move to 30K from 75k. That's a big deal. If Tesla succeeds --then sales will move into the 100's of thousand units from the current 10's of thousands of units. That's still a drop in the bucket.
Electric cars are a no starter so long as hydrocarbon fuels are available.

If you amend this to say that "current technology" Electric cars are a non starter so long as hydrocarbon fuels are available...then I would agree.

However, technology changes. There are trends one watches. The current trend for electric cars --like everything else--is for better faster cheaper electric cars.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The same nation that twice elected Obama president is not going to see the wisdom of going over to a thorium based economy. ..................
The revolution in the oil patch is happening despite everything the Obama Administration is doing to kill it...(of course they will try to take credit for it.) I have been watching the thorium story for about three years. Each year the story goes further up the information food chain and more players enter into the game. A big conference was held on thorium at CERN a couple months back
One large european multinational nuclear giants Areva signed on to further research there

Bill Gates company has quietly announced that they are going to further research thorium reactors.

Both the center right forbes the center left economist have talked approvingly of thorium lftr reactors.

This is stuff from just the last six months or so.

I agree that the federal government is incompetent, unreliable, lacking vision. But the thorium business-- like the fracking business --is not coming from the government. As I mentioned before, both the fracking business and the thorium business are coming from the vision and ingenuity of the American people themselves.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
An interesting area of research is supercritical CO2 turbines for power generation, including nuclear. They dramatically increase the thermal efficiency of the power plant. Get 50% more power per BTU input. Plus they are smaller and lighter.

Those would make very interesting power plants for naval vessels. With a combined cycle s-CO2 as the base load with a gas turbine (e.g. GE LM2500) for peaking driving an electric propulsion plant for an all electric ship. Add Laser Phalanx mounts for protection and you'd have a kick ass weapon system.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
The SunShot CSP R&D programPDF seeks to accelerate progress toward the cost target of $0.06 per kilowatt-hour through novel and revolutionary research into CSP technologies. Learn about other DOE competitive awards for concentrating solar power research that are in progress.
This work is much further along than the thorium work. That said, the thorium work is aiming for $0.01 per kilowatt-hour. We'll see what actually shakes out.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Your link is intriguing. Carnot efficiency is dependent upon the temperature difference of the energy source and the cooling system (this is why low temperature energy concepts like ocean thermal gradients are a non-starter). A working fluid like super critical CO2 would enable a much larger temperature difference. However with any technology, "the devil is in the detail". For a turbine to work you need bearings. Bearings need to be lubricated. Supercritical CO2 is an very efficient solvent against hydrocarbons (it's used as a dry cleaning agent). If the turbine's bearings can not be lubricated then the turbine has a very short lifespan or requires frequent tear-down maintenance. Fiddly trivial like lubrication can turn a seemingly "good idea" into a money eating dead end. I hope it works....

Super critical "fluids" are interesting. The standard PV=nRT equation of state does not work for super critical fluids. It requires extra smarts to understand super critical fluids. Gee-wiz bit of trivia: The surface of Venus is covered in an ocean of super critical carbon dioxide. Check the numbers for yourself if you do not believe me. Imagine trying to design a spacecraft that could function in that environment.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
My Father, gone now, was a VERY big fan of President Truman.
He had just completed his P47 fighter pilot training.
He was on leave to see my Mother and me.
Before shipping out to the Pacific.
During his leave, President Truman ordered the nuke drops.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
It was very hard to read of the evacuation of Singapore, but once again bolstered my already strong conviction that America is the only moral country on earth. And that extends unambiguously to the sudden way The Japanese Empire was put to death.

All too often, the vaporization of Hiroshima and the horrific destruction of Nagasaki are discussed in terms of their efficacy on the decisionmaking of the Japanese on whether to accept the terms of unconditional surrender unilaterally decreed at Potsdam. The jury is out on this issue, the arguments are strong on both sides. I will leave that discussion to the military professionals.

What I will NOT leave to the professionals is the absolutely certain moral effect of the nukings of those two cities, and consequently America's absolutely moral decision to use those weapons. Military professionals emphatically do not own the field as far as purely moral questions go. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were perfectly moral expressions of outrage and were justified as strictly punitive measures against the barbaric and evil Japanese, as punishment for their repeated acts of savage and nihilistic aggression.

And until military professionals get their minds around this duality, they have no business fighting wars: America's unrestrained goodness coupled with the moral imperative of wreaking unrestrained punishment against evildoers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Morals had nothing to do with it. It is true that during the course of the Pacific war the members of US Military found itself caring less and less about the moral aspects of killing Japanese. From the Death March to the slaughtered comfort women found in places such as New Guinea to the battle of Manila, to the kamikazes, in the view of the average US soldier the Japanese proved themselves to be people who cared nothing about life, not even their own. But that hardly factored into the decision to use the nukes.

The alternatives to the nuclear attacks were expanded conventional air attacks (the 8th AF was on the way to the Pacific, too) plus blockade plus attacks on the largely untouched Home Islands transportation infrastructure - or all of that plus a ground invasion, beginning with turning Kyushu into a staging base. Either of these alternatives would have all but ensured the virtual extermination of the Japanese race, especially if the invasion did not proceed very quickly. Starvation alone would have done the job.

When he heard about the strange attack that had occurred on Hiroshima the man who designed the Zero fighter called a friend of his, one of Japan's leading physicists. The man replied "We can't be certain at this point but it sounds like it might be an atomic bomb." He was thunderstruck. Before 7 Dec 1941 leading Japanese experts met to discuss what the USA might develop in the way of weapons. The possibility of an atomic bomb was raised and the conclusion was that kind of technology was at least 100 years away. They had to come to grips that the USA was 100 years ahead of them.

In reality the Japanese had not made the errors in analysis that led the German atomic bomb program astray and were trying to develop a bomb on their own. Their industrial efforts they planned would have essentially duplicated the Manhattan Project, but failed utterly due to basic technical reasons.

By modern moral standards we should have went home right after the B-29 attacks did so much damage to Japan. And in Europe, we should have never crossed the Rhine. And then would have had to finish the job 10 or 20 years later.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
When I spoke of morals, I spoke of the morality of inflicting the instantaneous destruction of two cities via Little Boy and Fat Man. Both cities were at best dubious military targets, and were left untouched by conventional bombing for a reason. Truman openly boasted of the unrestrained punishment angle several times in his speech, as payback for Pearl Harbor.

THAT was moral.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
I have read that the Japanese were much farther along on WMD development than the Germans. But had given up on the Atomic path. Concentrating instead on Chemical and Bio in their Military labs in Harbin (Manchuria). With LOTS of testing on live humans (Chinese and POWs). In fact the Post War Soviet WMD program took a giant step forward with their capture of those labs. Along with their personnel and records. Much like the U.S. did with the German Rocketeers.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
RWE3 wrote, "in the view of the average US soldier the Japanese proved themselves to be people who cared nothing about life, not even their own." Sounds a lot like militant Islam to me. Three conjectures anyone?
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
Juxtapose or even just suppose.

An America under assault, but who owns the myths today?

They have been seized. And a Judeo-Christian rallying cry may well bring scorn and derision.

Pride and honor in resistance would be described as "bitter clingers". Movies may be made in Michael Moore and Oliver Stone. Starring Sean Penn or Matt Damon.

Lacking belief in oneself is the runt of the litter, when it comes to belief system vices in the grip of treason. Self-loathing, slanderized blame, shame and guilt, belief in traitorism, tyranny and totalitarianism.

The Death March has again begun its cadence. But, this time, there will be no brave Filipino population to avenge it.
1 year ago
1 year ago Link To Comment
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