Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Take No Prisoners

Friends, this week's Newsmaker Show is a feast for the ears!  Brian and O'Neil and I talk about Bill Barr's grilling by Congress, the need for a new special prosecutor, Joe Biden's Ukraine connection, the declining fortunes of Brexit, and more.

Our historical discussion for the week wanders over the horrors of the Boer War, which presaged much of the beastliness of the 20th century, the rank brutality of the Pacific theater of World War Two, and the means by which "ordinary men" are turned into butchers on the battlefield -- and then back into ordinary men.  We even allude to the legend of John Wayne.  Don't miss it!


  1. Dr. Waddy: Its interesting that South African General Smut's statue stands near Churchill's in Parliament Square and I believe I read that General Smuts was once considered (by whom or how creditably I do not know) a possibility for British PM! Don't know how that could have worked. Haven't you always had to be an MP? Can a majority party elect a leader not in Parliament?

  2. Dr. Waddy: Three observations on the gratuitous, monstrous cruelty visited on the defeated and surrendered by the WWII Japanese: First,in having studied Japanese culture as part of my Asian Studies Major I was told by a Prof. who interrogated Japanese POWs that Japan, being so crowded, is a very mannerly, heirarchically organized society. There seems to be a set formula for any situation. But outside Japan, especially for those of little education or experience without that unique land this certainty breaks down and may have engendered an "anything goes" attitude especially in the insane cauldron of war. Second, the late 19th century Japanese leadership, seeing the savaging of China by Western powers, built a large standing army. Superimposed upon its mostly unrefined mass was the code of Bushido, that of the Samurai, an esoteric credo which disdained surrender by fighting men but was also a product of an extended and demanding and sometimes redeeming moral regimen which could not be recreated in the ranks or even in many officers. Intense discipline, featuring savage corporal punishment and unendurable public shaming, was routine. All this might also have been regarded by the Japanese soldier as a go ahead for unrestrained mayhem among the conquered. As to westerners, they had been taught to hate them and when one considers what the west did to East Asia in the 19th century, it is understandable as a warfighting motivation.

    Also, the Japanese were highly offended by Chinese resistance to their invasion; they often manifested outrage when any foreigners displayed "insolent" disrespect for Japanese customs such as face slapping by superiors on "deserving" subordinates. They reserved their most depraved oppression for the Chinese, who, they believed, had shown themselves unable to combat the despised westerners.

    Japanese 16th and 17th century insular dynastic wars were fought with appalling ferocity. WWII American military leaders expressed profound shock at Japanese behavior in battle. I've been to Japan six times and I love the Japanese but I would suggest their WWII savagery was of a kind generated by their so very often otherwise admirable culture.

  3. Dr. Waddy: Also critical, I think to our later wartime comprehension of the Japanese, one which had a direct effect on the A bomb decision, was Okinawa. It saw the first massed, all out use of the Kamikaze and not just planes, even the largest battleship in the world, Yamato, was sacrificed thus. This ruled out a blockade of Japan because the blockading ships would have suffered a test making Okinawa look like a game. The choice then in preventing a resurgence of the resilient Japanese comparable to the German rise after WWI, something all of East Asia dreaded? Invasion with unimaginable Japanese and American slaughter, or what was actually done. An American President could have made no other choice. Japanese wartime conduct mandated it.

    Having experienced the intense charm of Japan, I think I can understand how the occupying Americans grew quickly to like the Japanese and to earn their gratitude for their characteristically American expansiveness and, yes, humanity. Ye Gads, consider what Russian occupation would have been like (and I think the Japanese have done so).

  4. Dr. Waddy: On Brexit: I see in English history a core, a continuing manifestation of "democracy" at various contemporarily plausible stages (eg. Magna Charta, Cromwell) What form might it assume now? I think it essential and should it fail, fear the fundamental collapse of the exemplary, glorious "Island Story" into one of surrender to eventually totalitarian domination.

  5. Hi Jack. Smuts was certainly greatly admired in the British Empire until his shocking defeat in 1948, but I've never heard that he was a contender for P.M. That wouldn't make much sense, as he was neither British nor in Parliament, as you point out. I suppose he could have been made a lord, and lords have generally been considered P.M. material, although less so nowadays.

    It surprises me not at all that the Japanese soldiery was capable of great savagery towards its enemies -- it seems that savagery was encouraged rather than punished -- but the Japanese willingness to die rather than surrender certainly does seem peculiar, from a Western perspective. As you say, "shame" is a powerful motivator for the Japanese. The only student I have ever known to cry in my presence was a Japanese student who was ashamed that she did not contribute more to a group project! I wish a few Americans took their studies so seriously...

    You're right that events on Okinawa (the mass suicides of civilians) and in the waters nearby (the kamikazes) must have sent chills up our collective American spine as we contemplated an invasion... As far as a blockade goes, though, we already had one, for all intents and purposes. Our subs had hunted the Japanese merchant marine to extinction. Starving the "Japs" into submission was perhaps a viable option.

    I agree that British democracy faces another crucial test. There's nothing the internationalist elite would like more, I think, than to make Western democracy a mere rubber stamp to confirm their dominance. Prior to 2016, everything was going to plan too. At least with Brexit and Trump, the "deplorables"/silent majority is making a stink -- even if the elite still insists on holding its nose.

  6. Dr. Waddy:Maybe it was possible that any citizen of the then Commonwealth was eligible for office in the King or Queen's government? The House of Lords might well have been the only way. I'm going to follow up on this; maybe someone simply said he thought Smuts would make a good PM. But the way I remember reading it, he was seriously considered during the really bad times in 1940.

    Your opinion about the success of American subs in the Pacific is a very effective counterargument to my assertion about the improbability of an extended blockade. Subs would have been far less vulnerable to the Kamikaze. But, was Japan incapable of feeding itself? They were expert at fishing and intensive agriculture and as a very insular nation for centuries, probably had fed themselves.Perhaps their population had expanded beyond that supportable by their internal resources. Surely the subs would have ended Japanese ability to project their power, as long as they were kept on station. How long would the American public have supported that though? There would have been alot of sub sinkings.

  7. Dr. Waddy: Wikipedia maintains that Churchill's Private Secretary broached the idea of Smuts being "appointed" UK PM should Churchill be incapacitated, to George VI, who liked the idea. One would think the proposal would have to have had Churchill's ok. Maybe the monarch can, in theory, ask anyone to form a government.

  8. Dr. Waddy: I referred to Smuts to note an historical irony, since Smuts was a Boer commander and, initially, to suggest that perhaps the Boer war was not a precursor of 20th century horrors. However, the undeniable truth of the concentration camps and the British scorched earth policy well supports your observation. What a remarkable career he had; I've got to read more about him.

  9. Jack, Smuts was an extraordinary man. Profoundly admirable in myriad ways, but also with a philosophical, internationalist, vaguely progressive bent that made him ill-suited to post-war South Africa. During the war, he was in the War Cabinet and was popular as an elder statesman. More than anyone else, he was responsible for South Africa's grudging belligerence, and that was probably worth a Field Marshal's baton in itself. I find it hard to imagine him as anything but a caretaker P.M., though. Who knows. Anything is possible in the midst of a World War.

    Good point that the Boer War didn't preclude Boer heroes like Smuts from becoming Empire men. Nor, though, did the horrors of WWII preclude Kurt Waldheim from becoming UN Secretary-General. The human capacity for magnanimity always impresses me!

    I don't believe our sub campaign against Japan was all that costly -- to us. Aerial supremacy comes in handy. Could Japan have fed itself? In a fashion, I imagine it could have, but not well.

  10. Dr. Waddy: I read just now that Churchill, who regarded himself a great man, thought Smuts his equal in many leadership qualities and his better in some. Perhaps he believed that it took a proven powerful intellect to fully appreciate the indispensability of Great Britain to the West and to be willing to defend it to the last. Smuts' support for South African faithfulness to the Commonwealth assured the Allies that the Axis, despite threatening the Suez Canal, would not control the tip of Africa. Perhaps there was concern that an unimpeded Japanese navy might enter the Atlantic.

    Yeah, suppression of Japanese antisubmarine airpower might have been possible from Korea or China, in which case the carriers and their escorts could have been held out of Kamikaze range.

  11. Jack, I'm not convinced that southern Africa was ever destined to be a theater of interest in WWII, but undoubtedly South Africa's support was valuable to Britain at times. You're right -- for Churchill to admire Smuts that highly says a lot! I wonder if he was speaking in earnest. After all, buttering up a crucial ally would also be vintage Churchill...

  12. Dr. Waddy: You ain't kidding on that. Look how he cozied up to Stalin, who he knew to be beyond humanity, for the sake of the cause.