We’re full of it

“The difference between the philosopher and the poet is that the former seeks to understand our world through the ladder of reason; the latter, through the seemingly random irrational cascade of images, which have a reason all their own. Both seek truth, but only poets model themselves after the Creator who imaged the world before speaking it into being.” – Sharon Dolin, “Istanbul Diary”

The Great East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere

“Determined to make an example of the capital that would bring the war to an end, the Japanese achieved a climax to the carnage already wrought in the delta below. Fifty thousand soldiers hacked, burned, bayoneted, raped and murdered until they had killed, by hand, according to the evidence witnessed and collected by missionaries and other foreigners of the International Relief Committee, a total of 42,000 civilians in Nanking. Groups of men and women were lined up and machine-gunned or used alive for bayonet practice or tied up, doused with kerosene and set afire while officers looked on. Reports by missionary doctors and other dazed with horror and helplessness filled church publications in America. Much of the photographic evidence that later reached newspapers abroad came from snapshots taken by the Japanese themselves which they gave for developing to ordinary camera shops in Shanghai, whence copies made their way to the correspondents. In the Yangtze delta whole towns were devastated with acres of houses left in smoldering ruins or in rubble from bombing. In deserted streets the only living creatures were dogs unnaturally fattened by feasting on corpses or a few starving humans wandering like ghosts among the debris. The population that survived disappeared from the area in a mass migration. Rice crops rotted in the fields. Along the roads past blackened ruins and burned-out farms, Japanese troops moved, driving stolen donkeys and water buffaloes, artillery wagons tied with pigs and chickens, and carts loaded with loot pulled by peasants lashed between the shafts.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Defeat themselves is what they did

“On September 24 [1937] the Japanese took Paoting, Sung Che-yuan’s headquarters on the Peking-Hankow Railway. The fever of savagery bred by their own campaigns burst out in a week’s rampage of murder, rape and pillage, by 30,000 soldiers. A self-defeating ferocity accompanied them like a hyena of conquest, growing more ravenous by what it fed on. The Japanese knew that a hostile China must ultimately defeat their aim to become leader of Asia. Throughout their years on the mainland nothing so maddened them as the constant reappearance of ‘anti-Japanese’ sentiment. Annually they insisted on the necessity of forcing China to be ‘sincerely’ cooperative. Intending to attach China, they found themselves forced to conquer, arousing increasing hatred with each advance and employing increasing brutality in response. At Paoting in addition to physical terrorism they burned all the schoolbooks in week-long bonfires as well as the library and laboratory equipment of the Hopei Medical College. A decade’s records of crop statistics at the Agriculture Institute, the basis of its program for improved farming methods, were also deliberately destroyed.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Worn like a slicker in a storm

“Familiar with the plight of the Chinese peasant and unfamiliar with Marxism, Stillwell regarded the Communists as a local phenomenon and a natural outcome of oppression. ‘Carrying their burdens of famine and drought, heavy rent and interest, squeezed by middlemen, absentee landlordism,’ he wrote of the farmers, ‘naturally they agitated for a readjustment of land ownership and this made them communists—at least that is the label put on them. Their leaders adopted the methods and slogans of communism but what they were really after was land ownership under reasonable conditions. It is not in the nature of Chinese to be communists.’ “ – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Lines in the sands of their times

“The international horizon was darkening in 1936, with Fascism emboldened and the democracies infirm. In February extremist Japanese officers attempted a coup d’etat by multiple murder of elder statesmen which, though it failed, had a subduing effect on opponents of militarism. In March Hitler occupied the Rhineland unopposed. In May Mussolini annexed Ethiopia; the League’s empty sanctions against Italy were called off and the British fleet, not to be provocative, withdrew from the eastern Mediterranean. . . . In July rebellion of the right, supported by the dictators, brought civil war to Spain. Here resistance, abetted by the Communists, began. The passion of the world’s anti-Fascists focused on Spain, the ‘united front’ became an active force, and though the democracies behind a screen of ‘nonintervention’ tried not to look, sides were being drawn for the coming struggle.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Do something? Anything? Even if it’s the wrong thing?

“[Stillwell] had been struck by the Taoist motto on the virtues on inaction which he had copied down from an example in the Great Audience Hall of the Forbidden City. Only the first two characters for Wu Wei, or ‘Do nothing,’ were given there, leaving the Chinese viewer to add mentally, ‘and all things will be done.’ Deciding that ‘Do nothing’ exemplified the Chinese character, Stillwell concluded, ‘They are constitutionally averse to influencing events.’ Though there were increasing exceptions to this proposition, his finding represented a fact of life in the Orient that made for infinite impatience among Westerners, as Kipling noted when he wrote the epitaph, ‘A fool lies here who tried to hustle the East.’ By contrast, Europeans and their American descendants had been driven by the impulse to change the unsatisfactory, to act, to move away from oppression, to find the frontier, to cross the sea. They were optimists who believed in the efficacy of action. The people of China, on the other hand, had stayed in one place, enclosed by a series of walls, around house and village or city. Tied to the soil, living under the authority of the family, growing their food among the graves of their ancestors, they were perpetuators of a system in which harmony was more important than struggle.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

It seemed like a good idea at the time

“After the seizure of Mukden the Japanese Army, regardless of divided councils at home, pushed ahead to attack Chinchow, Chang Hsueh-liang’s provincial capital just north of the Great Wall. They captured the city in January 1932, driving the Young Marshal out of Manchuria. The ‘independence’ of the new state of ‘Manchukuo’ was proclaimed in February and Henry Pu-yi, last relic of the Manchu dynasty, was installed as Regent in March. The Japanese Government, under the necessity of accommodating to the stranglehold of the Army and Navy ministers, was dragged forward by faits accomplis and by the blackmail of violent nationalism. Because it was anxious not to give the League of Nations or the signatories of the Nine-Power Treaty a reason to declare that a state of war existed between Japan and China, Tokyo attempted to legalize each forward move on the mainland as ‘self-defense’ and ‘self-determination’ by the people of Manchuria.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Xenophobia reaps its harvest

“Stillwell decided to give the crowd no time to test its intentions. As the train pulled into P’u Kow, on the Yangtze opposite Nanking, he and Chao jumped off before it came to a stop, and pushing past astonished people, ran for the river feeling pursuit at their heels but not daring to look behind them. They scrambled aboard a ferry and on the other side walked slowly past suspicious glances in search of lodging. Money persuaded a fearful innkeeper to give them a room where, exhausted and dehydrated, they drank teapot after teapot. Stillwell was embarrassed to find his hand trembling when he held out his cup for more. Tension did not let down, for word of the foreign devil’s presence brought a crowd gathering in the street and Stillwell once more imagined capturing or lynching. Worry, bedbugs and fleas allowed him little sleep. In the morning came another trial of the streets, but without interference they reached the station and boarded the train for Shanghai. The journey was hot and tense. On arriving, their eyes met a huge poster on the wall showing a fat and repulsive foreigner prone on the ground with Chinese soldiers sticking bayonets into him, blood spurting out and a caption exhorting all patriots to kill the foreign swine.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Fighting through the time-warp

“Consider the battles of Magdhaba and Rafa, in which the British defeated the Turks. In each case the British commander made the decision to break off the fight. In each case before the order could reach the front line the victory was won. At Magdhaba it appears that a large portion of the credit should go to General Cox, who commanded the 1st Australian Light Horse. When he received the order to retire he turned on the staff officer who brought it and shouted, ‘Take that damned thing away and let me see it for the first time in half an hour.’ Half an hour later victory was assured.” – George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle

All else being equal

“Time and again, numbers have been overcome by courage and resolution. Sudden changes in a situation, so startling as to appear miraculous, have frequently been brought about by the action of small parties. There is an excellent reason for this. The trials of battle are severe; troops are strained to the breaking point. At the crisis, any small incident may prove enough to turn the tide one way or the other. The enemy invariably has difficulties of which we are ignorant; to us, his situation may appear favorable while to him it may seem desperate. Only a slight extra effort on our part may be decisive. Armies are not composed of map-problem units, but of human beings with all the hopes and fears that flesh is heir to. Some are natural leaders who can be relied upon to the limit. Some will become conveniently lost in battle. A large proportion will go with the majority, wherever the majority happens to be going, whether it be to the front or to the rear. Men in battle respond readily to any external stimulus—strong leadership or demoralizing influences. Thus we sometimes see companies of 170 or 180 men reduced to fifty or sixty a few minutes after battle has begun. Such a company has not been reduced two-thirds by casualties; it has suffered, perhaps, but not in such heroic proportions. Every army contains men who will straggle at the first chance and at the first alarm flee to the rear, sowing disorder, and sometimes panic, in their wake. They tell harrowing tales of being the only survivors of actions in which they were not present, of lacking ammunition when they have not squeezed a trigger, and of having had no food for days. A unit can be seriously weakened by the loss of a few strong characters. Such a unit, worn down by the ordeals of battle, is often not a match for a smaller but more determined force. We then have a battlefield miracle. It is not the physical loss inflicted by the smaller force, although this may be appreciable, but the moral effect, which is decisive.” – George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle

Play him like a violin

“In war, the soldier is the instrument with which leaders must work. They must learn to play on his emotions—his loyalty, his courage, his vanity, his sense of humor, his esprit de corps, his weakness, his strength, his confidence, his trust. Although in the heat of battle there is no longer time to prepare soldiers for the violent impressions of war, there are, however, two simple means by which a leader may lessen tension: He can do something himself that will give the men a feeling of security; or he can order his men to do something that requires activity and attention.” – George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle

One could even argue that it’s true

“Dislike or outright hatred of insurance companies is not a recent phenomenon. In may ways, this industry could qualify as the business most people love to hate. Statutes governing the insurance industry have existed since the 1800s, but the second half of the twentieth century saw the largest growth in insurance legislation. Much of the early insurance regulation was a direct response to outright corruption on the part of some insurance companies. For instance, a company might collect life insurance premium payments from an insured for years and then refuse to pay when she dies, leaving her spouse and children in financial straits. Part of this resentment of insurance companies was based on the perception that these large, faceless corporations cared more for profits than their responsibilities to their insured customers. One could argue that this sentiment is still prevalent.” – Neal R. Bevans, Tort Law for Paralegals

Madame est servie

“One evening [Stillwell] dined at the mess of Colonel Cantau, a bald, fat officer of sixty who wore enlisted man’s cap, rows of decorations, hazed the servants, ate well and ‘doesn’t give a damn.’ It being a meatless Friday, the meal consisted of two kinds of omelet, fish and rice, vegetable salad, white and red wine, champagne, two cordials and cheese. The orderly was made to salute and announce, ‘Madame est servie.’ When Stillwell asked why Madame, the Colonel asked in turn, ‘Are you married?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Where is your wife?’ ‘In the United States.’ ‘No, she is in your heart; therefore she is here. That is why I have him announce, “Madame est servie.” ’ ” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

Not quite chess with Death, but in the spirit

“One of the German companies, led by its Austrian guide, moved forward under cover of darkness and eventually reached a large shed. Here it was halted and the men slept until morning. When dawn broke the company commander found that this shed was located about 200 meters from an Austrian battery and therefore was very likely to suffer from Russian artillery fire. He had just sized up this situation when he looked up and saw a Russian observation balloon hovering to his front. In spite of the all-too-apparent danger, he felt that the situation as a whole demanded that the presence of the Germans remain a secret. He therefore decided to keep his men hidden in the shed until the balloon went down. Almost immediately the Russians began to shell the Austrian battery. One out of every three or four rounds fell short, striking near the shed. The company commander noticed that his men were becoming increasingly nervous. Some of them on excuses of one sort or another, tried to obtain permission to leave the shed. When the captain did not allow this, the men lapsed into a sullen silence; not a word was spoken. Minute by minute the tension grew. The company commander saw that action of some sort was necessary. Therefore, he called the company barber, sat down with his back to the Russian fire, and directed the barber to cut his hair. He had the most unpleasant haircut of his life, but the effect on the men, however, was splendid. They felt that if their company commander could sit down quietly and let his hair be cut the situation could not be as bad as they had imagined. Conversation started up; soon a few jokes were  cracked and before long some of the men began to play cards.” – George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle

. . . and then he decides to look

“A soldier pinned to the ground by hostile fire, with no form of activity to divert his thought from the whistling death about him, soon develops an overwhelming sense of inferiority. He feels alone and deserted. He feels unable to protect himself. With nothing to do but wait and with nothing to think about but the immediate danger that surrounds him, his nerves rapidly reach the breaking point.” – George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle

The age of innocence

“In April 1917 the United States, with an army of 133,000 men, entered the war in which the belligerents had more that six million men engaged on the Western Front alone. The European national forces were organized into armies each containing three to five corps, each corps usually consisting of two divisions. The American army had no organized military unit higher than a regiment. Although the divisional structure existed on paper, no American soldiers since the Civil War had taken the field as a division, with all the coordination of infantry and artillery, of staff and field, of intelligence and operations, that that requires. All this had to be learned and put into practice. A national army fleshed out to ten times the size of its existing regimental skeleton had to be created, which meant recruited, officered, trained, equipped, shipped overseas, assembled, supplied, coordinated in its arms and branches, and further trained before it could fight. For this task the General Staff had made no arrangements or any general plan of mobilization.” – Barbara Tuchman, Stillwell and the American Experience in China

The value of the negative corpus

“There are no two ways about it—patrols are the eyes of the small infantry unit. Sometimes these patrols will discover just where the enemy is and just what he is doing. This, of course, is information of the highest value. But more often than not, they will bring in only negative information; they will report that the enemy is not in such-and-such a place and is not doing this, that, or the other thing. To the intelligent leader, information of this type is frequently of the greatest importance and he will impress that fact on his patrols. As for the leader himself, he must never lose sight of the value of patrols nor allow this important duty to degenerate into a routine, slipshod, you-do-it-sergeant affair. Since the success of a battalion, a regiment, or even a division, will frequently depend on the conduct of one small patrol, patrols must be hand-picked, carefully instructed, and given a clear, definite mission. These three things play a vital part in the borderland between success and failure.” – George C. Marshall, Infantry in Battle