Nagasaki – Peace Park

On March 10th, 1945, 279 B-29 Superfortress heavy bombers conducted the most devastating conventional bombing raid in human history.  Their target was Tokyo.  The new tactics they employed had been tested but never implemented on such a large scale.

High altitude precision bombing over Japan had proved difficult compared to Europe due to high altitude winds over Japan.  The US Army Air Forces decided to switch tactics, primarily at the behest of Curtis LeMay, although the ideas were not entirely his own.

The tactic of large formations of B-29s conducting high altitude precision bombing using high explosive bombs was completely altered.  The attacks would happen at night.  The B-29s would attack as a swarm, with each bomber flying individually without formation.  The attacks would be conducted from very low altitudes to ensure accuracy and to confound Japanese anti-aircraft defense.  Finally, the B-29s would use incendiary bombs instead of high explosive bombs.

The target was Tokyo itself, its people, and the largely wooden based construction of Japanese homes and small businesses.   Some bombers carried a small number of high explosive bombs which were the first out of the bay.  The idea being to crack open the roofs of structures using high explosives so the follow on incendiary bombs would fall within.

LeMay took extreme risks in the plan.  To increase bomb load, all defensive guns on the B-29s were removed except for the tail gun.  A lack of defensive formation meant each B-29 would be highly vulnerable to Japanese night fighters without mutual defensive support from other B-29s.  Nevertheless, LeMay decided to proceed with the new tactics.

The raid succeeded on a scale few could have imagined.  The Japanese were completely taken off guard by the new tactics.  No Japanese night fighters were able to engage a single B-29.  Japanese anti-aircraft guns did manage to down 14 B-29s with the loss of 96 Americans.  But generally, Japanese anti-aircraft fire was ineffective as the gunners were not prepared for a low altitude attack and the low altitude run of the B-29s rendered Japanese radar mostly blind.

The attack started a firestorm throughout Tokyo with a ferocity previously seen in places like Hamburg.  However, the wooden base of Japanese construction made the consequences even stronger.  An estimated 100,000 Japanese died in one night, almost all of them civilians.

Until the end of the war, the USAAF would continue to employ the nighttime, low altitude, incendiary attacks across all of Japan.  And yet, by August 1945 even after five months of firestorm bombing Japan was no closer to surrender.  As World War II would demonstrate, no amount of conventional strategic bombing would ever bring an Axis country to surrender.

In Germany, it had taken a complete conquest via ground forces.  American plans were in place for a ground invasion of Japan to start on Kyushu which estimates claimed would cost millions of lives.  And so the decision was made to try and short circuit such a scenario.  The Soviet Union would enter the war, and America would employ atomic weapons in a last attempt to force Japan’s surrender without a ground invasion.

On August 6th, 1945 the first atomic weapon was dropped on Hiroshima with perhaps over 100,000 Japanese killed.  And yet, Japan still did not surrender.  President Truman did announce to the public and to Japan what had been done.  A single plane, with a single bomb, had done what had previously taken hundreds of bombers.

Japan’s leadership was well aware of what had happened, but refused to surrender anyways.  The same concept, that the Japanese people could endure anything, and Japan could fight on remained inside their minds.  It must be acknowledged that by this point most of the Japanese senior leadership were certifiably insane.  It is akin to Hitler’s last moments, where he ordered divisions to attack, that no longer existed.

And so the decision was made to use a second atomic weapon, this time on Nagasaki.  For the most part, Nagasaki had avoided conventional bombing throughout the war due to its difficulty as a target.  But with an atomic weapon accuracy and raid tactics were essentially irrelevant.

On August 9th, 1945, once again, a single B-29, with a single bomb.  At 11:01 in the morning a plutonium core weapon detonated about 2,000 feet above Nagasaki (the airburst setting allowing for the blast wave to not be absorbed by the ground).  Approximately 80,000 people died.

The devastation is clear to see, before and after:

Hirohito, finally, seeing the inevitable, and perhaps making one of the braver decisions of his life (there was no guarantee that the militarists would not simply assassinate him and fight on) decided to surrender.  When he spoke via radio to the Japanese people it was the first time they’d ever heard his voice.

Nagasaki Peace Park began in 1955 and has a museum and hall adjoining it.  It’s hard to explain what it was like to visit the place as an American man in my early twenties.  Nuclear war on such scale, such horror, is difficult to comprehend when you haven’t seen it or know personally anybody who did.

I don’t really have any conclusions to draw here.  I could probably write a super long post on the morals of strategic bombing done by both sides during the war.  Or the ethical decision to use atomic weapons to avoid a horrific ground invasion.  But others far wiser than I have written legions of books on these topics.

As to the rest of this post, it’s just about the photos I took while there, and a few words from the Japanese themselves.

ground zero or otherwise known as the hypocenter

some of the ruins were left on purpose inside the park

inside the museum

    After experiencing that nightmarish war,

    that blood-curdling carnage,

    that unendurable horror,

    Who could walk away without praying for peace?

    This statue was created as a signpost in the

    struggle for global harmony.

    Standing ten meters tall,

    it conveys the profundity of knowledge and

    the beauty of health and virility.

    The right hand points to the atomic bomb,

    the left hand points to peace,

    and the face prays deeply for the victims of war.

    Transcending the barriers of race

    and evoking the qualities of Buddha and God,

    it is a symbol of the greatest determination

    ever known in the history of Nagasaki

    and the highest hope of all mankind.

    — Seibo Kitamura (Spring 1955)

Nagasaki – reborn

In going through the few photos I have of Nagasaki, the other major bunch are of the hypocenter or peace park. That post will be a long one on history, with a lot of the photos from the park and my thoughts on the museum. However, today is just one shot. I came across this photo and I was shocked I had it. This is at the hypocenter. I had to go back and look it up, I was in Nagasaki in April of 2004. So this is Nagasaki in the Spring, 59 years after a nuclear weapon exploded right above this location. I’ll leave any conclusions and thoughts to you.

Nagasaki – Confucius Shrine

Not sure why I ended up at this Shrine, it’s not entirely popular but I’ve got pictures of it so I guess I went there for a reason. I guess?

Constructed in 1893 by Nagasaki’s Chinese residents the place has 72 statues of Confucius. It’s a reminder that Nagasaki was always the ancient gateway into Japan.

Note the differences in architecture from Japanese shrines from some of my previous posts.

Osaka – Shitennō-ji

I just didn’t take as many photos back then, I guess. Go to a temple, take only two shots? I’ve talked about how this can be a good thing. But when I don’t remember all that much about the visit, I guess it can also be a bad thing.

About an hour’s walk from Sumiyoshi-taisha is Shitennō-ji, another very old temple with a long history. It’s beyond my memory, but this is an excellent summary.

Shitennō-ji is said to be the oldest Buddhist temple in Japan but sadly all the buildings date from a 1960’s rebuild. Still worth a short visit.

Osaka – Sumiyoshi Taisha

If you’re in Osaka, you kind of just have to. Osaka’s most famous shrine, seat of all Japan’s Sumiyoshi shrines, and the subject of many legends, Sumiyoshi Taisha is said to have been originally built in 211. Founded by Empress Jingu it’s a shrine to the sea, dedicated to the Sumiyoshi Sanjin or the sea’s three gods. Back then, the shrine was right against the sea itself whereas today it’s somewhat inland.

The appropriately, galactically famous Sorihashi Bridge, one of the most beautiful and quintessential of Japan’s taiko bashi or drum bridges. This is one of my most favorite shots of all time, it was done with my old bad camera, and has its flaws but I still dig it.

The shrine’s west entrance, looking from west to east, with the gate up front, and the bridge in the background.

One of the rarest things I ever saw in Japan, a legit memorial for World War II. The shrine being dedicated to the sea, this of course makes sense. This was tucked away in a corner area and I kind of stumbled into it. I sadly don’t read Japanese in any form anymore, but this is a heavy cruiser. I don’t know the ship name or class, but the painting is an older version of the ship, I think, since the heavy cruiser has only two forward turrets instead of the later installed three.

The secondary temple.

If I’ve got my bearings right, this is the north side of the trio of the three main sanctuary structures. I always love the candid shots I get of just ordinary people happening along their daily lives, unaware or uncaring that this weird dude is taking very serious (bad amateur) photography.

Ōsaka-jō – and why building expensive castles usually doesn’t work

So you want to build a castle. You’re a powerful man but you have a boss. And his castle is awesome. So you want to build one that’s even better than his. So your tower is taller, you throw some gold leaf on there, and you probably think you’ve done an awesome thing.

Problem is, your boss dies, and you’re left hanging with this big, huge, expensive castle while your enemy instead has a massive killing machine of a mobile field army. Oh, and sorry, fixed defenses are generally of only limited value during a long running military conflict. Just ask China how well the Great Wall was at keeping out those dastardly Mongols.

Ōsaka-jō was built from 1583-1597 by Toyotomi Hideyoshi who wanted to mirror the digs of his boss (at the time, everybody’s boss) in Oda Nobunaga. But then Oda died. And soon the son in Toyotomi Hideyori gets Ōsaka-jō.

Then one day in 1600 this ordinary, average, nondescript guy named Tokugawa Ieyasu wins arguably one of the devastating and decisive battles in military history at Sekigahara. Toyotomi loses badly, but it takes Tokugawa until 1615 to acquire enough balance of power to finally settle the score. Tokugawa’s army of several hundred thousand men overpowers Ōsaka-jō, burns it to the ground, Toyotomi dies by his own hand, and Japan’s history is essentially written for the next two hundred years.

Tokugawa rebuilds the castle, because of course. In the subsequent centuries it does what a lot of wooden buildings do throughout history, it burns repeatedly. Gets rebuilt. Then burns again. Then the castle is rebuilt with public contributions. Then during the Boshin War it’s taken and burned again. Then it’s rebuilt, but this time as an arsenal. And so the the Americans carpet bomb the place into oblivion in August 1945.

Only in the late 1990’s is the castle itself restored. But in typical Japanese fashion, it’s done in concrete and not wood. Every time, it still gives me a lack of understanding chuckle at the lack of authenticity and reverence the Japanese have for historical sites and buildings. Nothing quite like the calm, religious experience of a glorious temple, when you can buy hello kitty right inside the door from one of my merchant stalls.

This was a neat visit, it’s cool to look at and the ground themselves are beautiful more as a garden or a park. The tower is interesting, but it feels stale and not real. Probably because it’s concrete and not real. It’s not one of my favorite Japan locations, by far, but it’s worth a short trip if you’re in town.

And also, if you have a Bond style villain demi-god level of power in your future somewhere, don’t build a castle or a god-like evil lair. Building expensive castles usually doesn’t work, see Ōsaka-jō. Or Bond will blow up your lair. Focus on mobile field armies or goons instead.

Civil War – 22 April 1862 – a visit from Uncle

The Battle of Shiloh was fought 06-07 April 1862 and was the first truly massive battle in the Western Theater and up to that point the largest of the war.  Its ferocity must have shocked the civilian population on both sides who even though the war was almost a year old probably still assumed somehow that massive bloodshed could have been avoided.

Instead, the stakes of the war and how strongly the individual soldier believed in their view of it shone through.  Entire units would fight nearly to the last man rather than retreat.  Men who were exhausted from the worst day of their lives yesterday, would show up today and do it all over again.  It wouldn’t be for the last time.

Two weeks later the Union Army remained encamped on their victorious battlefield at Shiloh.  Private Lucius Barber, then 22, was in Company D of the 15th Illinois Volunteer Infantry:

I was agreeably surprised one morning when I awoke to find Uncle Washington in my tent.  My friends had sent him down to see if anything was needed.  Although his services were not required, his company was very acceptable.  He stayed a couple of weeks with us and then returned home.  The roads were in an awful condition at the time and it was impossible for the army to move…

You’re in the bloodiest war in American history (though nobody knew that yet) and your Uncle shows up just to check on you.  Note a few things from this short passage:

– A walk (or he could have rode) from Illinois to Shiloh and a multi-week stay is not a minor amount of time, one wonders what, if any, employment Uncle Washington had

– Note that his friends, undoubtedly shocked by what they had read of the battle, sent Barber’s Uncle to check on him

– His friends were still at home, not yet enlisted in the Army, over the years this would have changed as the war turned into mass mobilization for both sides

– The roads were impossible for movement by armies, but apparently not by one Uncle checking in on his family

In wouldn’t be the last the war would hear from Private Barber.

we present our axe throwing business plan

So the latest urban gentrified hipster recreational activity is axe throwing. And so, um, uh, … what? Essentially people go to what is in any sense a bar/club, only while you get pasted you throw axes at wooden boards. Although it seems not all venues permit alcohol while you throw, I think it depends on the jurisdiction’s laws.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all about the use of any kind of weapon and the proficiency that comes with it. Throughout most of human history, the ability to expertly wield (at a minimum) a small dagger was considered necessary to remain alive. Now we’re lucky if people can chop an onion. But I just don’t get why this is a thing?

First off, how is this even legal? In today’s bubble wrapped society this is one that somehow got past the government nanny filters. Is it like those infernal scooters where regulation just doesn’t address it? I suppose there’s no law that says you can’t run an axe club, but if you tried to open a throwing knives club I bet that’d be illegal. Or heavily regulated.

As a weapons example, the axes these clubs use most closely resembles the Francisca; the quintessential battlefield throwing axe first perfected by the Franks and later used to spread mayhem by other such warlike races such as the Vikings. It was essentially an attempt to break the deadlock that was the spear and shield wall warfare of the period. The age of the longbow and armored heavy cavalry came later, but for a few hundred years it was spears, shields, and axes; backed up by limited and essentially ineffective archery.

So if you’re throwing an axe at a club with your mates, this might be cool, but you don’t get the real experience. So we at TAP are here to help. We’ll open our own axe club. Let us know what you think. We always get lots of feedback to the posts on this degenerate blog.

Here are the guidelines:

– Intoxication is mandatory, as it likely was on most medieval battlefields; the customer may choose whatever beverage they desire, but before beginning, a BAC test will verify the customer is above the legal limit to operate a motor vehicle.

– Axe throwing will not be done individually, but in a group via the shield wall. The inexperience of the customer is irrelevant. Armor and shield will be used. Those who refuse or cannot wear armor or lift shield will be ejected from the venue without refund.

– Customers will submit to a short training rehearsal on shield wall tactics so as to experience abject suffering and shocking reality of being one minor cog in a mass of human meat meant for the medieval grinder. Training mistakes will be met with physical correction with a ferocity as determined by venue management and training staff.

– Actual axe throwing is conducted from the shield wall with environmental conditions necessary to fully simulate the medieval battlefield experience. Noise generators will produce human screaming and shouting at decibel levels prohibited for airport runway employees. The building’s heat will be at a level considered medically negligent to induce dehydration. Despite the level of intoxication, no substance fitting the proper definition of food will be offered to the customer. And so on.

– Axes will be thrown by the shield wall at wooden walls simulating an opposing shield wall. Customers will be ranked by the number of axe hits assessed by venue management as solid kills or crippling blows enough to have removed the target from the fight.

– Customers with the lowest scores would normally have become medieval battlefield casualties. To simulate this for the customer, before departing the venue they will receive a single bare-knuckled punch to the face via a former, jaded heavyweight boxer. Physical injury and its associated potential medical costs are the responsibility of the customer.

– Customers with the highest scores will receive free alcohol for the remainder of the evening, a refund of their fee (paid in gold coins), diligent (legal) attention and adoration from venue employees from the gender of the customer’s choice, ample roasted meats for consumption, and several musical templates which they can sing with their fellow high score patrons.

That is all. Please carry on. Enjoy your day!

iu5EIZ50O0.jpg

everything is not a sound byte

Depending on what bad news article you read this week, you probably got the wrong idea of what was going on in Jamestown. This is understandable when the goal of a writer, or television presenter, or whoever is not to inform you but to shape your brain, one way or the other. There is no history anymore, I guess, it’s just what can be used to shape contemporary politics. Well, sorry, everything is not a sound bite. History matters.

But when you look at the insanity of it, it’s quite wonderful in how depressing it is. It is (despite bad news) not the 400th anniversary of Jamestown. It’s the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the first General Assembly of Virginia. Some news articles have called this the birth of democracy in America. I’m not sure I’d go that far, but it’s a rough approximation.

Accordingly, Virginia went ahead and held an event. After all, the Virginia General Assembly can trace its roots to this original creation. So, if you were into history, and wanted to commemorate an event in today’s hyper insane world, why would you invite anybody of consequence? Instead, they went ahead and invited the most toxic president since Franklin Buchanan and Virginia’s governor (a guy who either has amnesia or is a liar or both).

Hmm, maybe instead, maybe just leave both those guys on the bench for this event, eh? Maybe not? Oh, they did it anyways? And it turned into a big political event and shitstorm? Gee, who ever could have foreseen that? Isn’t there like a firefighter who’s a mayor somewhere in all of Virginia. Like some guy who once pulled three urchins from a burning orphanage and as a farewell life tour he ran for mayor at 73? Get that guy to give the speech! For fuck’s sake.

What you have to remember about Jamestown goes beyond sound bites. Per the info garden of Wikipedia: “Of the 6,000 people who came to the settlement between 1608 and 1624, only 3,400 survived.” Hey anybody want to go to Antarctica with me, with some dogs and a sled, and we’ll set up a colony there and play with penguins. You’ve got a 43% chance of fatality within 15 years. Interested?

Jamestown was a failed business venture established on one of the worst sites for human habitation you could imagine. So much so that the original site was eventually abandoned completely. The only reason Jamestown survived was a sheer stubborn force of will and contempt for death which would serve the British Empire rather well (and also rather poorly) throughout its history.

By 1776, Virginia was the most populous and richest of the 13 colonies. Don’t think that didn’t come without a commensurate level of nightmare. Between disease, a challenged food supply, constant warfare, disease, and a health care system that still thought bleeding helped it’s a wonder anybody survived. Colonial America was many things, it was also a big meat grinder.

It’s worth remembering just how precious life was back then. Particularly when so many can’t see beyond the latest tweet. The act of establishing a General Assembly in the middle of a failed colony where everybody was walking death is quite the act of community. It’s a challenge to life itself, that despite all the hardships, they would survive and prosper. That they had a future.

Quite the gamble. But none of them could have done it alone. It’s worth remembering when everybody apparently hates everybody else that a sense of community is likely one of the only things that allowed them all to survive. In most ways, what America is traces its roots to these very early, first, dangerous steps. It’s worth our time to ponder it. Because we became that future.

1280px-Jamestown_Island_(1958_base_map).png

75 years into what?

One of the most striking things I find from D Day commemorations is the implicit understanding among most who attend that victory was not inevitable. I think it’s what makes the drama of D Day still so compelling after all these years. The letter of failure prewritten by Eisenhower, how Hitler slept late while panzers sat idle, the blinding courage that seized Omaha Beach before the day ended with elite Nazi infantry separating the Allied beachheads. It all could have gone very differently.

This (and the Eurocentric mindset that permeates a war that essentially began in 1914) makes D Day something more than say, the invasion of Okinawa. Depending on how you count troop or ship numbers, the Allied invasion of Okinawa can be considered the larger and certainly far bloodier affair. But victory in Okinawa was essentially inevitable. It was simply a matter of how many Allied and Japanese would die in battle (alongside a near tragic 50% fatality rate of Okinawan civilians).

D Day is different, a great gambit, one of the most consequential risks in the history of war. Without it, it’s conceivable to consider the ideas of a separate peace with Germany, something less than total victory. A Europe and a world that would look very different. A massive failure of democracy against the worst of totalitarianism.

But to me, the seeds of victory lie in the differing systems at war, the different visions of humanity. Put in the bluntest of military of terms, the Allies win because democracy allows the battlefield flexibility of thought, leadership, and initiative required. Conversely, Rommel has to wait for a dictator to give him the most basic and common sense of tactical orders. One system was doomed to fail, to fall apart under its own contradictions. Something similar happens in the political realm with the Soviets Circa 1989.

So it’s a victory rightly celebrated, honored, and remembered. But I’m always given pause when considering these sorts of events. That was then, a generation guided by a singular purpose to keep their societies free. My own family was among them. How does that stack up with today?

Today speech laws in Britain can get you jailed if you publicly quote the “wrong” words of Churchill. Since that day the vaunted Allied coalition has lost more wars than it’s won, it will soon be in Afghanistan five times longer than it took to win World War II. 75 years after a war to preserve freedom across the globe, very few bat an eye when the Sudanese military guns down over 100 unarmed protestors; because they can, because they know nobody cares.

So D Day into what? I think a much narrower purpose than one would wish for. Perhaps less about freedom or democracy for the globe, but rather the very narrow goal for the planet’s Western powers to defeat the Imperial Japanese and Nazi threat that sought to supplant them. And then immediately after, to confront a Soviet threat that sought to do the same. If you don’t have nuclear weapons, eventually the very opposite Soviet and Western visions would have had to resolve their conflict in battle. But, the threat of mutual destruction left the Soviets to fall politically in 1989, albeit with a miserly amount of proxy wars that broke dozens of the planet’s other nations.

One out of every nine Americans wore a military uniform during this war. The equivalent number is if 30 million Americans were in the military today. Instead, there are more Americans in jail or prison at this very moment than are on active duty service. More Americans are likely to know their smartphone in greater detail than the most basic considerations of D Day. Whole sections of the modern culture think history has nothing to offer us at all, that it needs revision, or even destruction to rebuild society into something new.

It gives one pause, and a wonder about what D Day bought the world 75 years ago. A journey, into what? Toward victory, yes. But then what? That still, even today, is for us to decide. They bought us the chance we all have today. Today, as then, it’s up to us what we do with it.

d day.jpg