One damn thing after another

“To the Koreans the end of World War II and Japanese colonialism had not brought, as so many had hoped, a great new breath of freedom and a chance to reconstruct their country to their own political contours. That where there had been only one Korea there were now two was a grievous injustice by itself in their eyes; rather than being able to shape their own destiny on their own terms, they had fallen once again under the control of others. The first thing that the people in the South realized was that their country, or more accurately their half country, was controlled by people who lived thousands of miles away across a vast ocean, and had almost no interest or knowledge of the country whose future they would now determine. It was in the beginning a relationship filled with tensions and misunderstandings. Only as the Cold War intensified did the relationship become one of genuine mutual value and interest. Without the threat of global Communism, America cared nothing about Korea; with that threat Americans were willing to fight and die for it.” – David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter

The unforgiven

“For [Sergeant First Class] Bill Richardson, the decisions they made after he returned to the perimeter proved the most painful he ever experienced. Nothing that happened in the next few days, or far that matter in the rest of his life, measured up to it. There were perhaps 150 wounded men there by then, and there was no way any of them could take the dangerous trip out at night under enemy fire in mountainous terrain, at least not without compromising the able-bodied men. All of the wounded in the perimeter knew what was up. None of them wanted to be left behind for the Chinese. Soon after his return, some of them who were still partially ambulatory started coming up to Richardson, crying, telling him not to leave them, please, dear God, not to leave them, not for the Chinese, please dear God take them, don’t leave them there to die. Was it possible, he wondered, to do your duty, to follow the orders of your superiors, orders you agreed with in the end, and get as many men out as best you could, and yet feel worse about yourself as a human being? Do you ever forgive yourself for some of the things you do in life? It was a question he would still be asking himself a half century later.” – David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter

No parades upon return

“The Americans who fought in Korea often felt cut off from their countrymen, their sacrifices unappreciated, their faraway war of little importance in the eyes of contemporaries. It had none of the glory and legitimacy of World War II, so recently concluded, in which the entire country had seemed to share in one great purpose and every serviceman was seen to be an extension of the country’s democratic spirit and the best of its values, and was so honored. Korea was a grinding, limited war. Nothing very good, the nation quickly decided, was going to come out of it. When servicemen returned from their tours, they found their neighbors generally not very interested in what they had seen and done. The subject of the war was quickly dispensed with in conversation. Events on the home front, promotions at the office, the purchase of a new house or a new car were more compelling subjects. In part this was because the news from Korea was almost always so grim. Even when the war went well, it did not really go very well; the possibility of a larger breakthrough seldom seemed near, much less anything approaching victory, especially once the Chinese entered the war in force in late November 1950. Soon after, the sardonic phrase for a stalemate, ‘die for a tie,’ became a favorite among the troops. This vast disconnect between those who fought and the people at home, the sense that no matter the bravery they showed, or the validity of their cause, the soldier of Korea had been granted a kind of second-class status compared to that of the men who had fought in previous wars, led to a great deal of quiet—and enduring—bitterness.” – David Halberstam, The Coldest Winter (emphasis in original)

You can’t see there from here

“No description of how things are from a God’s-eye point of view, no skyhook provided by some contemporary or yet-to-be-developed science, is going to free us from the contingency of having been acculturated as we were. Our acculturation is what makes certain options live, or momentous, or forced, while leaving others dead, or trivial, or optional.” – Richard Rorty, Objectivity, Relativism, and Truth

The incineration of the vanities

“In the wake of Japan’s surrender, Hirohito’s soldiers, sailors and airmen were shocked to find themselves objects of obloquy among their own people. Public animosity embraced the humblest as well as the loftiest warriors. After years of suffering, all the pent-up frustration and misery of the Japanese people was made manifest in the wake of defeat. Servicemen who had mindlessly accepted the code of bushido, and sometimes suffered terribly to fulfill its demands, now faced the contempt of their own nation. . . . This was an experience unknown among German veterans who had served in Hitler’s legions. Japan’s early post-war years were characterized by a collapse of hierarchies, a ruthless pursuit of self-interest reflected in looting, crime and wholesale prostitution, unknown at any other period of the nation’s history. Decadence, even depravity, flourished, as the defeated people astonished their conquerors by that fashion in which they abased themselves before all things American. Self-loathing seemed for a time to overtake Japan.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

A new white man’s burden

“Nowhere was relief at the dropping of the bomb more intense and heartfelt than in prison camps throughout the Japanese empire. Yet even among those for whom Hiroshima promised deliverance, a few displayed more complex emotions. Lt. Stephen Abbott’s closest friend, Paul, a devout Christian, entered their bleak barrack room in Japan and said: ‘Stephen—a ghastly thing has happened.’ He described the destruction of Hiroshima, as reported on the radio, then knelt in prayer. Eighteen months later, Abbott wrote a letter for publication in The Times, citing his own status as a former POW, and arguing that a demonstration of the bomb would have sufficed: ‘The way it has been used has not only provided a significant chapter for future Japanese history books but has also convinced the people of Japan that the white man’s claim to the ethical and spiritual leadership of the world is without substance.’ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution

We can all have one of these

“ ‘Little Boy,’ ‘an elongated trash can with fins’ . . . exploded 1,900 feet above Hiroshima’s Shima Hospital, 550 feet from its aiming point. . . . The 8,900-pound device created temperatures at ground level which reached 5,400 degrees and generated the explosive power of 12,500 tons of TNT. All but 6,000 of the city’s 76,000 buildings were destroyed by fire or blast. . . . The detonation of ‘Little Boy,’ the mushroom cloud which changed the world, created injuries never before seen on mortal creatures, and recorded with disbelief by survivors: the cavalry horse standing pink, stripped of its hide; people with clothing patterns imprinted upon their flesh; the line of schoolgirls with ribbons of skin dangling from their faces; doomed survivors, hideously burned, without hope of effective medical relief; the host of charred and shrivelled corpses. Hiroshima and its people had been almost obliterated, and even many of those who clung to life would not long do so.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

You have to have people killed

“Many people of later generations and all nationalities have viewed the dropping of atomic weapons on Japan as events which, in their unique horror, towered over the war as a dark mountain bestrides the plain. In one sense this perception is correct, because the initiation of the nuclear age provided mankind with unprecedented power to destroy itself. . . . To grasp the context in which the commitment to bomb Hiroshima was made, it seems necessary to acknowledge the cacophony amidst which all those involved, the political and military leaders of the U.S., were obliged to do their business. These were men in their fifties and sixties, weary after years of perpetual crisis such as world war imposes, bombarded daily with huge dilemmas. Europe was in ruins and chaos, the Western Allies striving to contend with Stalin’s ruthlessness and greed, Britain’s bankruptcy, the starvation of millions. . . . The U.S. found itself obliged to arbitrate upon the future of half the world, while being implored to save as much as possible of the other half from the Soviets, even as war with Japan continued and mankind recoiled in horror from newsreel films of Hitler’s death camps. . . . The bomb was only the foremost of many huge issues with which these mortal men, movingly conscious of their own limitations, strove to grapple. In the course of directing a struggle for national survival, all had been obliged to make decisions which had cost lives, millions of lives, of both Allied servicemen and enemy soldiers and civilians. Most would have said wryly that this is what they were paid for. The direction of war is never a task for the squeamish.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

The motivator

“On 24 April [1945] Truman received from [Secretary of War] Stimson a letter requesting a meeting to discuss ‘a highly secret matter.’ . . . The Manhattan Project represented the most stupendous scientific effort in history. In three years, at a cost of $2 billion [$26-and-a-third billion in 2015 dollars], the U.S.—with some perfunctorily acknowledged British aid—had advanced close to fulfilling a programme which much of the scientific world had thought unattainable, certainly within a time frame relative to this conflict. . . . Technological determinism is an outstanding feature of great wars. At a moment when armadas of Allied bombers had been destroying the cities of Germany and Japan for three years, killing civilians in hundreds of thousands, the notion of withholding a vastly more impressive means of fulfilling the same purpose scarcely occurred to those directing the Allied war effort. . . . As long as Hitler survived, the Manhattan team had striven unstintingly to build a bomb, haunted by fear that the Nazis might get there first.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Divorced from reality, married to perdition

“From the winter of 1944 onwards, a significant party in Tokyo was seeking a route by which to end the war, and to overcome the army’s resolve to fight to the last. Even the most dovish, however, wanted terms that were not remotely negotiable, including the preservation of Japanese hegemony in Korea and Manchuria, freedom from Allied military occupation, and the right for Japan to conduct any war crimes trials of its citizens. . . . The ‘peace party’ thought and spoke as if Japan could expect to be treated as an honourable member of the international community. There was no acknowledgement of the fact that, in Western eyes, the behaviour of the Japanese since Pearl Harbor, indeed since 1931, had placed their nation beyond the pale. Japan’s leaders wasted months asserting diplomatic positions founded upon the demands of their own self-esteem, together with supposed political justice. In reality, their only chance of modified terms derived from Allied fears that a host of men would have to die if an invasion of the homeland proved necessary. As blockade and bombardment, together with the prospects of atomic bombs and Russian entry into the Pacific theatre, progressively diminished the perceived American need to risk invasion, Japan held no cards at all.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Once was enough

“Some historians, armed with knowledge of subsequent events, argue that the capture of Okinawa was unnecessary. It did not bring Japan’s surrender a day closer. Yet to those directing the operation at the time, it was perceived as an indispensable preliminary to invasion of the Japanese home islands. [The Battle of] Okinawa exercised an important influence on the development of events thereafter, through its impact upon the civilian, military and naval leadership of the United States. To capture an outpost, American forces had been obliged to fight the most bitter campaign of the Pacific war. The prospect of invading Kyushu and Honshu in the face of Japanese forces many times greater than those on Okinawa, and presumably imbued with the same fighting spirit, filled those responsible with dismay. . . . [A]ny alternative which averted such necessity would be deemed welcome.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Cool Hand Luke draws the ace

“At 1005 on 11 May [1945], the first of two Zeroes plowed into the flight deck of [Admiral Marc] Mitscher’s flagship, Bunker Hill, starting devastating fires which raged through the ship. . . . In a succession of skillful manoeuvres, Captain George Seitz saved Bunker Hill from absolute destruction by swinging her broadside to the wind, to prevent smoke and flame from engulfing the hull. . . .  In engine and boiler rooms, miraculously undamaged, crews laboured to maintain power in temperatures of 130 degrees. The Bunker Hill attacks cost 396 men killed and 264 injured. One of them might have been the post-war movie star Paul Newman. He was ordered to the ship as radioman/gunner in an Avenger with a draft of replacements shortly before the attack, but by a fluke of war was held back because his pilot had an ear infection. The rest of his detail died.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

You don’t miss what you never had

“What enabled some men to survive the unspeakable experiences of captivity, while others perished? [Captain] Mel Rosen attributed 5 percent to self-discipline, 5 percent to optimism—‘If you didn’t think you were going to make it, you didn’t’—and 90 percent to ‘pure luck.’ Milton Young, a carpenter’s son from Rhode Island who spent an orphan childhood working on a chicken farm, believed that an uncommonly harsh upbringing helped him to survive Japanese captivity. He was even grateful not to have a home to think about: ‘I didn’t have much of a family, and that helped.’ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Not all bad

“An enormous amount has been written about Japanese cruelty to prisoners. It should be noticed, nonetheless, that conditions varied widely in different camps. For instance, 2,000 British POWs in Saigon lived not intolerably until late 1944, sometimes even able to slip under the wire to visit local shops and brothels. It seems important also to record instances in which POWs were shown kindness, even granted means to survive through Japanese compassion. A British bugler, Corporal Leader, found himself in a Singapore hospital in 1942. Back home in Norfolk he had been a Salvation Army bandsman. Now, he was amazed to be visited by a Japanese who announced that he too had been a ‘Sally Army’ member in Tokyo. He wanted to help the sick Briton. The Japanese contacted a local Malay Salvationist, who sent Leader letters, eggs, and biscuits.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Good luck with all that

“To make the United States an effective democracy – to shift control over the state from the centers of financial and industrial power, now global in reach, to broadly based, self-financed and self-governing groups of active citizens with only average resources – will take several generations, at least. This is a daunting prospect for just about anyone. “ – George Scialabba, “Farewell, Hitch”

Very dry martinis, with a twist

“Western civilians who fell into the hands of the Japanese in China, the Philippines and South-East Asia were technically interned rather than imprisoned, often crowded into clusters of former colonial homes. In a few places, notably Shanghai, such communities came through the war worn, strained and wretched, yet almost all alive. In Shanghai’s Chapei camp, the Japanese left families intact. Inmates complained of confinement and lack of privacy, but none starved. It was noted ruefully that deprivation of alcohol improved the fitness of some adults.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

The still, calm center

“In a violent, distracted, media-saturated world the most needed artistic resource is no longer a critique of the possibility of meaning—mass culture itself has become that critique. What is needed, rather, is the production of meaning that resists distraction. Consumer capitalism thrives by simultaneously creating human loneliness and commodifying a thousand cures for it. One form of resistance to it is the experience in art and life of a human intimacy achieved through sustained attention to what lies beyond and outside the sphere of the market.” – Adam Haslett, “The Perpetual Solitude of the Writer”

So that was Christmas

“American prisoners in the Philippines suffered grievously from the fact that, after enduring the siege of Bataan, most were half-starved when they entered captivity. ‘The ones who wouldn’t eat died pretty early on,’ said Paul Reuter of the USAAF, a twenty-four-year-old miner’s son from Shamokin, Pennsylvania. ‘I buried people who looked much better than me. They just crawled under a building. I never did have any thoughts of not living. We were a bunch who’d been through the Depression. I never turned down anything that was edible—and I guess I just had the right genes.’ In Reuter’s camp, ‘anything that was edible’ meant whale blubber or soya meal, occasionally dried fish, ‘which we ate bones and all.’ Australian Snow Peat saw a maggot an inch long, and said, “Meat, you beauty!’ ‘One bloke sitting alongside me said, “Jeez, I can’t eat that.” I said, “Well, tip her in here, mate, it’s going to be my meal ticket home. You’ve got to eat it, you’ve got to give it a go. Think they’re currants in the Christmas pudding. Think they’re anything.” ‘ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Let those who have ears, hear

“An America darkened by ignorant and bigoted religiosity cannot hear too often about the plucky, gloriously open-minded rationalists who launched Western civilization in 5th-century Athens.” – George Scialabba, “Apologies to Thucydides”

The tired, the poor, the huddled masses

“Who are the poor, and what do they need? 1.1 billion people have less than $1 a day of income. This is officially designated ‘extreme’ poverty. Another 1.6 billion have between $1 and $2 a day; this is ‘moderate’ poverty. This large slice of humankind either cannot, or can just barely, meet their basic needs. Mostly they live in rural isolation or in urban slums, roughly 90 percent of them in three regions: East Asia, South Asia, and sub-Saharan Africa. There has never been any mystery about how to increase a country’s per capita income: simply invest capital in it, using a modicum of good business sense. However, if your citizens don’t have any income left over after meeting their basic needs, then you have no capital to invest in new means of production. And since the old means of production wear out—depreciate—they eventually produce even less income, so you are still further from having the necessary capital. . . . Why are some countries but not others caught in the poverty trap? It is not primarily a matter of Anglo-Saxon propriety or American ingenuity or Confucian dutifulness. Nor is it a matter of African fecklessness. Countries are poor . . . because they are landlocked or resource-poor or afflicted with unfavorable climates or disease ecologies (like the global malaria belt). Above all, they are poor because they have always been poor. Just as economic growth is cumulative and self-sustaining—a virtuous circle—economic stagnation is a vicious circle. This is evident above all in demographics and literacy. Poverty means high child mortality, which means high birth rates, which means both that women will not be educated for the work force (since they must spend the bulk of their lives raising children) and that there will not be enough money to educate all the children (leaving many illiterate). Economic growth invariably lowers birth rates and raises literacy rates.” – George Scialabba, “The End of Poverty”

Living the lie

“It is often said these days that America is a Christian country. If that’s true, then a great many Americans should be worried about their eternal salvation. According to Jesus, when He returns to settle accounts at the Last Judgment, He will separate the sheep from the goats, telling the goats: ‘Go, you damned souls, into the fire. For you saw Me hungry and ragged and homeless and unemployed and uninsured, and you ignored Me.’ And when the goats bleat in self-justification: ‘But, Lord, when did we see You hungry or ragged or homeless or unemployed or uninsured?’ He will answer furiously and unmercifully: ‘When you ignored the poorest of the poor, you ignored Me. Go, now, to Hell.’ It’s right there in Matthew, chapter 25, verses 41 to 46.” – George Scialabba, “The End of Poverty”

The fall of the West

“It is hard to overstate the trauma suffered by more than 100,000 American, British, Australian and Indian servicemen taken prisoner during the early Allied defeats. They had been conditioned by their culture to suppose that surrender was a misfortune which might befall any fighting man, especially those as poorly led as had been the Allies in the early Far Eastern campaigns, and as lamentably supported by their home governments. As crowds of disarmed personnel milled around awaiting their fate in Manila or Singapore, Hong Kong or Rangoon, they contemplated a life behind barbed wire with dismay, but without the terror which their real prospects merited. ‘In the beginning,’ said Doug Idlett, a twenty-two-year-old USAAF enlisted man from Oklahoma captured in the Philippines, ‘we thought: “A couple of months and our army will be back.” ’ In the weeks which followed, however, as their rations shrank, medicines vanished, and Japanese policy was revealed, they learned differently. Officers and men alike, dispatched to labour in sweating jungles, torrid plains or mines and quarries, grew to understand that, in the eyes of their captors, they had become slaves.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Fates worse than death

“When the war ended, it became possible to compare the fates of Allied servicemen under the Nazis and the Japanese. Just 4 percent of British and American POWs had died in German hands. Yet 27 percent—35,756 out of 132,134—of Western Allied prisoners lost their lives in Japanese captivity. The Chinese suffered in similar measure. Of 41,682 sent to become slave labourers in Japan, 2,872 died in China, 600 in ships or on passage, 200 on the land journey, and 6,872 in their Japanese workplaces. These figures discount a host of captives who did not survive in Japanese hands on the battlefield, or after being shot down, or long enough to become statistics. Of 130,000 Europeans interned in the Dutch East Indies, almost all civilians, 30,000 died, including 4,500 women and 2,300 children. Of 300,000 Javanese, Tamils, Burmans and Chinese sent to work on the Burma-Siam railway, 60,000 perished, likewise a quarter of the 60,000 Western Allied prisoners. There seemed no limit to Japanese inhumanity. When a cholera epidemic struck Tamil railway workers in Nieke in June 1943, a barracks containing 250 infected men, women, and children was simply torched. One of the Japanese who did the burning wrote later of their victims: ‘I dared not look into their eyes. I only heard some whispering “Tolong, tolong”—“Help, help.” It was the most pitiful sight. God forgive me.’ ” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Slaughter in context

“The U.S. in 1945 was a prisoner of great industrial decisions taken years earlier, in quite different strategic circumstances. In 1942, the commitment to build the B-29 long-range bomber was entirely rational. The programme reached technological maturity and large-scale production too late to make a decisive impact on the war. Yet it was asking far too much of the U.S., never mind of its senior airmen, to forgo the use of these aircraft, at a time when the enemy was still resisting fiercely, and killing many Americans. In the circumstances then prevailing—an essential caveat for any historian to emphasize—the B-29s were bound to be employed.” – Max Hastings, Retribution (emphasis in original)

Kindling

“The 9 March 1945 American bomber attack on Tokyo killed around 100,000 people, and rendered a million homeless. Over 10,000 acres of buildings were destroyed—16 square miles, a quarter of the city. A hundred of the capital’s 287 fire stations and a similar number of its 250 medical facilities were wiped out. Over the weeks that followed, the XXth Bomber Command launched a succession of further raids, designed to achieve the same result elsewhere. On 11 March, B-29s went to Nagoya, Japan’s third-largest city. Here, damage was much reduced by lack of a wind such as fanned the fires of Tokyo. Only two square miles of the city burned. On the thirteenth, Osaka was much more successfully attacked. Three thousand died, eight square miles of buildings were destroyed, half a million people were made homeless, for the loss of two American aircraft and thirteen damaged. On 16 March it was the turn of Kobe, population one million. Three square miles were destroyed, 8,000 people killed, 650,000 made homeless. Three bombers were lost and eleven damaged, all as a result of operational problems rather than enemy action. After five such missions in a fortnight, a temporary halt to ‘burn jobs’ became necessary. Air and ground crews were exhausted, supplies of incendiaries were running low. . . . In just five operations they had inflicted upon Japan eight times the damage done to San Francisco by the great 1906 earthquake. The enemy’s cities had suffered in a few short days a scale of destruction which it had taken years to achieve in Germany, because Japan’s buildings burned so much more readily.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

The end was never in doubt

“Popular perceptions of the Second World War identify the August 1945 atomic bomb attacks on Japan as a unique horror. Yet the fate of Hiroshima and Nagasaki can only properly be understood against the background of the air campaign which preceded the nuclear explosions, killing substantially larger numbers of people before the grotesque nicknames of ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Man’ imposed themselves upon the consciousness of the world. In the early years of the Pacific war, save for the single dramatic gesture of the April 1942 Doolittle raid, launched from aircraft carriers, Japan was not bombed because it could not be reached. . . . In the last phase of World War II, impatience overtook the Allies at every level. From presidents and prime ministers to soldiers in foxholes, there was a desire to ‘get this business over with.’ The outcome was not in doubt. The Axis retained no possibility of averting defeat. It therefore seemed all the more irksome that men were obliged to continue to die because the enemy declined to recognise the logic of his hopeless predicament. Any means of hastening the end seemed acceptable. . . . The Japanese people found themselves at last within range of American bombers at a time when Allied moral sensibility was numbed by kamikaze attacks, revelations of savagery towards POWs and subject peoples, together with general war weariness. . . . It had always been a matter of course that the enemy nation which wrought the attack on Pearl Harbor should be bombed. Only the means were in question.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Silent service

“By early 1945, Japan’s ability to provide raw materials for its industries, and even to feed itself, was fatally crippled. The nation could import by sea no more than a fraction of its requirements. An invisible ring of steel extended around the waters of the home islands, created by the submarines of the U.S. Navy. . . . Every nation’s soldiers instinctively believe that wars are won by engaging the armies of the enemy and seizing terrain. Yet the most critical single contribution to the American defeat of Japan was made far out of sight of any general, or indeed admiral. The Japanese empire was uniquely vulnerable to blockade. Its economy was dependent upon fuel and raw materials shipped from China, Malaya, Burma and the Netherlands East Indies. Yet, unlike the British, who faced a similar threat to their Atlantic lifeline, the Japanese failed to equip themselves with a credible anti-submarine force to defend their commerce. Here was one of the major causes of Japan’s downfall. . . . No other combatant force as small as the U.S. Navy’s submarine flotillas and their 16,000 men achieved a comparable impact upon the war anywhere in the world.” – Max Hastings, Retribution

Until they all fall down

“The post-1972 take-off of financialization coincided with advances in computing capacity and the discovery of new mathematical techniques for valuing options and constructing derivatives. To begin with, these techniques were used mainly to reduce uncertainty and hedge currency risk. But before long it became clear that derivative swaps could be used to bamboozle tax authorities and shareholders. Financial engineering could convert one type of income stream into another, or an asset into income or the other way round-reducing or avoiding tax.” – Robin Blackburn, “The Subprime Crisis”