Archive for December, 2010

The Pacific: Endgame

December 31, 2010
Atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945.

Image via Wikipedia

Note: I wrote this post in May 2010 after viewing the final episode of HBO’sThe Pacific” miniseries.  I think I meant to work on it more and then post it a bit later, but since it’s now the end of the year and I am just now posting it, clearly it fell by the wayside.  Previous posts on the series can be found here and here.

The final episode of HBO’s original miniseries “The Pacific” aired last night in Taiwan.  As I have written about a couple of times previously here at Facing China, I’ve been doing some reading related to the series and the World War II in the Pacific.  My final selection related to HBO’s The Pacific was the new book about the survivors of the Hiroshima atomic bomb attack, Charles Pellegrino’s The Last Train from Hiroshima: The Survivors Look Back. But before I get into the book at all, let’s discuss The Pacific, shall we?

I enjoyed the series.  It had big shoes to fill, though.  I would say that if The Pacific had come out 10 years ago in place of Band of Brothers, people would be gushing about it, me included.  But since it had so much to live up to, I must reluctantly admit (I already admitted that as a U.S. Marine myself, I am biased) that in my opinion Band of Brothers is the superior series.  Why?  I am not completely sure…perhaps it was because Band of Brothers focused on a smaller “scene” in the European theater of war, as compared to the far-ranging American effort across virtually the entire vastness of the Pacific Ocean.  I think that as a result The Pacific was a bit disjointed, it didn’t flow as smoothly as Band of Brothers did.  Then there was the characters – none of the actors in The Pacific really excelled and stuck with me the way certain characters did in Band of Brothers, like the crazy-legs lieutenant that seemed invincible running across many a battlefield, inspiring the troops to greater accomplishments.  Or Dick Winters, the ultra-charismatic officer who Band of Brothers followed throughout the war.  His equivalent, Sledge’s company commander at Peleliu, “Ack Ack,” did not survive that island’s fighting.

I asked at the outset whether or not the producers of The Pacific would be able to do justice to the baseness and ferocity of the fighting in places like Peleliu and Okinawa as described in Eugene Sledge‘s book.  I think they did a fair job in showing the incredibly demanding conditions the fighting took place in, like the never-ending rains in Okinawa that turned everything to a sea of mud.  In his book, Sledge described one Okinawan vista this way:

It was the most ghastly corner of hell I had ever witnessed.  As far as I could see, an area that previously had been a low grassy valley with a picturesque stream meandering through it was a middy, repulsive, open sore on the land.  The place was choked with the putrefaction of death, decay, and destruction.  In a shallow defilade to our right, between my gun pit and the railroad, lay about twenty dead Marines, each on a stretcher and covered to his ankles with a poncho – a commonplace, albeit tragic, scene to every veteran.  Those bodies had been placed there to await transport to the rear for burial.  At least those dead were covered from the torrents of rain that had made them miserable in life and from the swarms of flies that sought to hasten their decay.  But as I looked about, I saw that other Marine dead couldn’t be tended properly.  The whole area was pocked with shell craters and churned up by explosions.  Every crater was half full of water, and many of them held a Marine corpse.  The bodies lay pathetically just as they had been killed, half submerged in muck and water, rusting weapons still in hand.  Swarms of big flies hovered about them.

In the end, it’s back to the old cliché – read the book.  At one point in The Pacific, a Marine on Okinawa slips down the side of a hill of mud while trying simply to get from one place to another.  He ends up in a deep puddle of maggotty mud-water along with a rotting corpse or two.  While it is disgusting by any measure on the screen, here’s how he described the same events in the book:

My buddy rose, took one step down the ridge, slipped, and fell.  He slid on his belly all the way to the bottom, like a turtle sliding off a log.  I reached the bottom to see him stand erect with his arms partially extended and look down at his chest and belt with an mixed expression of horror, revulsion, and disbelief.  He was, of course, muddy from the slide.  But that was the least of it.  White, fat maggots tumbled and rolled off his cartridge belt, pockets, and folds of his dungaree jacket and trousers.  I picked up a stick and handed him another.  Together we scraped the vile insect larvae off his reeking dungarees.

I’d certainly recommend The Pacific as a good series to watch about World War II in the Pacific from the U.S. point of view.  It doesn’t tell the whole story, but how could it?  Four years of fighting can hardly be compressed into under 10 hours of television.  Nice effort – 4 of 5 stars.

Like I said at the beginning of this post, I also wanted to talk about the book The Last Train from Hiroshima.  First, it’s important to note at the outset that the book is controversial because of problems with key sources of information the author used in researching the book.  In fact, because of these source problems, the publisher pulled the book from further sales earlier this year and the author is re-writing the book without the tainted sources.  Oh yeah, the sources scandal also raised questions about the author’s academic credentials, and it turns out that the PhD he claimed wasn’t real.  Due to all these problems, Last Train may not have been the best book to choose in retrospect, but in my own defense, I bought it soon after it was released, prior to all these skeletons coming out of the closet.  I decided to read it to tie in with World War II‘s “endgame” – nuclear bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in Japan, and a few days later, Japanese capitulation.

The nuclear attacks on Japan are not a major event in The Pacific – they occur at the end of the 9th episode, and are not shown, only alluded to in a conversation about some fancy, new “super bombs” wiping out a couple Japanese cities.  This is not to downplay their significance; it is simply because the attacks themselves are beyond the scope of the story.  It is because of the atomic bombs used on Japan that the story ends as it does, with a U.S. victory on Okinawa, with no need to chance the estimated 1 million U.S. casualties that would be necessitated by a breach on mainland Japan itself.

Last Train talks about some of the poor souls who managed to survive the bombing in Hiroshima and thought that fleeing would be a good idea, to get out of the area.  I agree, but a few who fled Hiroshima went to join family in Nagasaki and were there a few days hence when the second, more powerful nuclear bomb was detonated.  This could called “really, really bad luck.”  The book also asserts that the Hiroshima bomb was a “dud.”  The yield was only about 10 kilotons (KT), even though it was supposed to be between 20 – 30KT. (The Nagasaki bomb‘s yield was in this latter range.) One Japanese survivor, a medical doctor who wore glasses to correct his eyesight, had his vision corrected by the blast.  In what might be the ultimate deadpan, he said that he does not recommend weathering a nuclear attack as an alternative corrective vision surgery. (!!!)

I visited both Hiroshima and Nagasaki earlier this year.  I wanted to see both of the bombing sites and see what the cities that still exist there are like now.  It’s remarkable, really – what I took away most from the visits was the resilience of mankind.  To see the photos of the destruction the bombs caused and to stand at the hypocenter today and take a look around, to see all the bustle and urban metropolis still surrounding you there, is quite a testament to being able to bounce back from a really, really big setback.

A related book I also recently completed was John Lewis Gaddis’s newest book of history related to the aftermath of World War II, called The Cold War: A New History.  I found the book to be quite interesting in how it ties so many different themes together, from the evolution of containment, detente, the creation of the Iron Curtain, the Cold War in Asia, the opening of China, and on and on.  It was a nice way to bring me pretty much right back to the modern day, tracing out the results of World War II to (near) the present.  Excellent book.

2010 Taiwan Best Blog Awards

December 31, 2010

The Taiwanderful blog runs a contest each year for the top blogs in Taiwan.  Facing China was not a candidate to win any of the actual awards this year, but I would like to thank David Reid for including this blog as one of his top “political” blogs, stating that “These blogs do a great job interpreting some of the nuances of Taiwan politics.”

Some great Taiwan blogs in 2010 – David on Formosa.

Picking up the pace in 2011

December 31, 2010

Facing China has been around for more than a year now, and a goal I have in the new year for the blog is to post at least once a week. Not just the “link drop” posts that I have added in recently, but things like the recent post I did on Taiwan and the new Korean War. If I can get a good post in each week in the first few weeks of 2011 (while I am still working on academic requirements for the fall semester), then I should be doing OK. Wish me luck!

Links of Interest 12/31/2010

December 31, 2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Links of Interest 12/30/2010

December 29, 2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Significantly, on the ASBM…

December 27, 2010

Just caught my eye over on my Google Reader feed – a new report from the gurus of the Chinese ASBM at the U.S. Naval War College.  I haven’t had a chance but to skim through it and look at the pictures, but it looks pretty informative, nonetheless.  I’ll read through it tomorrow, but in the meantime, if you have time today, go ahead and have a look:

China Deploys World’s First Long-Range, Land-Based ‘Carrier Killer’: DF-21D Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) Reaches “Initial Operational Capability” (IOC) (HTML) (PDF – includes graphics)

OEF-P Case Study

December 27, 2010

I just read through the “Operation Enduring Freedom Philippines Case Study” (PDF) posted at Small Wars Journal a few days ago.  It’s been many a moon since I’ve touched on OEF-P-related business here, but this new case study (dated October 2010) is worth a read if you are at all interested in the topic.  It’s got a lot of good background information on how the mission in the Southern Philippines was conceived and why it operates the way it does, based on the specific operating environment unique to the Philippines.  I wish I had a reference like that one before I deployed there. (If you are headed that way – MUST READ!) It’s also chock-full of references for additional readings if you want to dig deeper on a subject.  Check it out:

CASE STUDY: Operation Enduring Freedom-Philippines By Richard Swain, Ph.D, Booz Allen Hamilton, under contract to U.S. Army Counterinsurgency Center

The new Korean War and Taiwan

December 20, 2010

Chinese Military Involvement in a Future Korean War

Capt Jacquelyn Schneider, USAF

Strategic Studies Quarterly, 2010 (4), 50 – 67.

I came across a timely article in a not-too-well-known journal last week that discusses the likelihood of China intervening in the next edition of the Korean War (which, based on contemporary news accounts, seems like it could start any day now).

It’s fairly well-known that the beginning of the original Korean War (1950 – 1953) in June 1950 had the side-effect of placing the U.S. 7th Fleet in the Taiwan Strait to keep another conflict from erupting in East Asia at the same time.  The author of this piece, Jacquelyn Schneider, argues that ever since that time, Korea and Taiwan have been linked, which raises some vexing issues for the present:

However loathe the United States is to link actions on the Korean peninsula with Taiwan, it is historically impossible to completely separate the two issues. As mentioned previously, China’s attempts to initially reunify Taiwan with the PRC were stymied by the Korean War. Would it be possible for China to capitalize on the US focus on Korea to launch a simultaneous amphibious operation to conquer Taiwan?

Her question is an interesting one.  She answers it by looking at military capability to take Taiwan and willingness to do so.  Her take – the capability exists, but it is too difficult for non-Chinese to understand the Taiwan issue fully, for there is no equivalent in the American experience, and thus impossible to make a willingness judgment.

In my mind, if China would decide to enter a new Korean War, assuming that it was initiated by the North, then I think that there would be little additional loss in terms of international standing, economic losses, etc. from also initiating a move against Taiwan.  China would already be branded an outlaw and condemned in places like the UN for backing North Korea’s aggression, so why not settle up when it comes to Taiwan at the same time?  After all, why else would the PRC have in excess of 1,000 short-range ballistic missiles stationed opposite Taiwan, a burgeoning fleet of attack submarines, and a rapidly modernizing air arm?  It’s not to offset any equivalent military buildup taking place in Taiwan, that’s for sure.

Back to Korea, though, Schneider surmises that modern China as a largely integrated stakeholder in the international order has too much to lose, and thus chiefly for this reason (though also including the absence of a Mao-like leader, fear of domestic repercussions in term of refugee flows out of North Korea, and the vulnerability of critical infrastructure in Northeast China to U.S. attack) would not enter a new Korean War.  That’s all well and good, but I think there is more to it than that – what about treaty obligations?  My understanding of the PRC – DPRK treaty of friendship, etc. is that it makes security guarantees that specifically exclude those of the nuclear umbrella-type, but that it also states that the PRC is under no obligation to assist if the DPRK initiates the aggression.  How about this – the DPRK attacks South Korea (as we’ve seen them do twice this year so far), who then counterattacks into North Korea, and then the attacks escalate, from initial artillery and air strikes on mainly military facilities of both sides to more and more areas populated mainly by civilians, at which point U.S. forces become involved in a range of military operations, including troop movements (with the South Koreans) across the DMZ.  What now, China?  I think that in such a case, the PRC joins in – I don’t think they are going to sit idly by if U.S. forces are being actively involved, just as I think U.S. forces would be automatically committed if PRC forces were involved.  It’s like each side on the Korean peninsula has their “big brother” there waiting to jump in if the other side’s back-up decides to get feisty.

And, if that all happens, then who knows if China would decide to try to capitalize on the opportunity to move on Taiwan?  It’s certainly a possibility I hope the planners at U.S. Pacific Command have taken into account…

Schneider goes on to introduce some very sensible “rules of engagement” that would help prevent a rapidly escalating conflict in Korea between the primarily interested non-territorial powers, including the establishment of buffer zones and assignment of responsibility over refugees in particular locations.  I agree that measures such as these would be essential to keep from quickly moving down the road to a greatly expanded war in Korea. (Ah, but could the U.S. trust China to live up to their parts in the rules?  She talks about this as well…read the article.)

She returns to the Taiwan issue at the end:

The change [North Korea’s defeat and the reunification of the Korean peninsula] could prove advantageous for decoupling the Taiwan situation from the Korean peninsula. By demonstrating the will to use force, openness in military planning, and gracious collaboration in victory, the United States would demonstrate its inherent trust in China to participate in the region as a stabilizer.

…and then the closer:

In a game of multiple iterations, a Korean conflict could help the United States and China more advantageously perceive utility and value of each nation’s interests and actions in Asia. By building trust between the two players in the Asian region, the probability of provoking conflict becomes less likely. Perversely, if executed properly, a conflict on the Korean peninsula could serve as a stabilizing event in the Pacific region.

I’m not buying it.  It’s just too optimistic.  I can only see negative and ill effects on the Asia-Pacific region from a new Korean War – heaps of dead bodies in Seoul, a shattered former North Korea hollowed out from refugee outflows, and an even greater tension between China and the United States, if not outright war.  I think she’s right about decoupling Korea and Taiwan, but only because there would no longer be troops facing off over the 38th Parallel.  If China refrained from invading Taiwan at the same time, then cross-Strait tensions would be vaulted to new highs.  Let’s hope Korea doesn’t kick off anytime soon – the U.S. is militarily still too preoccupied with exiting Iraq and searching for the door in Afghanistan.

Links of Interest 12/20/2010

December 20, 2010

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Tron

December 20, 2010

I was in Taipei this weekend and couldn’t help but notice the advertisements for the new “Tron: Legacy” movie everywhere.  I think they said that the movie will be released this Friday (December 24) here in Taiwan.  I also saw that the movie topped the box office in the U.S. over the weekend, where it was released on December 17.  It made me think about my nickname, Tron.  If you thought perhaps it came from the 1982 movie of the same name (prequel to the new Tron movie, or so I have read), good guess, but actually not correct.


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