Saturday, March 14, 2015

"The Japanese obviously did pep-talks differently"

In his fine The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War, Andrew Roberts relates the horrors of the war - the Final Solution, the atrocities committed by the Japanese - with appropriate gravity and revulsion.

And yet, in even so terrible a landscape as the war presents, every once in a while a hint of extremely dry British humor bubbles to the surface.  Witness, for example, Roberts's description of a "pep-talk" given to his officers in April 1944 by Japanese General Kotoku Sato shortly before the Battle of Kohima, in which Japanese forces launched an attack on a mountaintop village held by British and Indian forces in northeastern India:

Despite his formidable advantage in numbers at Kohima, Sato had little faith in the success of U-Go [the code name for the Japanese plan to invade India] in general.  On the eve of the attack, he drank a glass of champagne with his divisional officers, telling them, "Ill take this opportunity, gentlemen, of making something quite clear to you.  Miracles apart, every one of you is likely to lose his life in this operation.  It isn't simply a question of the enemy's bullets.  You must be prepared for death by starvation in these mountain fastnesses."  The Japanese obviously did pep-talks differently.

The illustration is of Colonel Hugh Richards, whose 1,500-man British-Indian-Nepalese force held off more than 6,000 Japanese under Sato for almost two weeks.

"A nudist who frequently wore only a pith helmet and carried a fly-swatter in camp"

I've been reading (and listening to) Andrew Roberts' exceptional The Storm of War: A New History of the Second World War.  Highly recommended. On the audio side, the Audible narrator, a British chap, is highly entertaining, although his imitations of an American accent need some work (his renditions of Churchillian cadence are excellent though).

But I digress.  The purpose of this post was to highlight this brief description - which had me laughing out loud - of the extraordinary Orde Wingate, a highly unconventional British commander who developed and led two long-range jungle penetration missions into Burma in 1943 and 1944 by British, Indian and Ghurka troops known as the Chindits:

A manic depressive who tried to commit suicide by cutting his own throat with a knife in Cairo in 1941 after the Ethiopian campaign; a nudist who frequently wore only a pith helmet and carried a fly-whisk in camp; someone who never bathed but instead cleaned himself by vigorously scrubbing of his body with a stiff brush, Wingate ate raw onions for pleasure and has been described as a "neurotic maverick" and a "foul-tempered, scruffily dressed egomaniac."

Roberts also relates that Wingate told luncheon companions at the War Office in August 1940 that "'he had acquired quite a taste for boiled python, which tasted like chicken.'"

Churchill loved him though, "call[ing] him 'this man of genius who might well have become a man of destiny' and liken[ing] him to Wingate's relation Lawrence of Arabia . . .."

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Millard Fillmore, "the most Jacksonian of any president of the era"

Our thirteenth president, Millard Fillmore, is typically cast as a craven milquetoast who facilitated the Compromise of 1850 because he didn't have the guts to stand up to the southern Slave Power.

I have long argued that this is nonsense.  Citing among other things Millard's determination to address the state of Texas's threat to invade the New Mexico Territory, I have repeatedly argued that Millard was a bold and decisive leader who authorized and was prepared to use military force to put down rebellion if necessary.  See my post "Anyone who thought that Fillmore lacked spine was now disabused" for a summary of my views and links to earlier posts on the subject.

I am pleased to report that author Chris DeRose has clearly carefully studied and absorbed my posts.  In his most recent volume The Presidents' War: Six American Presidents and the Civil War that Divided Them the author correctly characterizes Millard as "the most Jacksonian of any president of the era."
In a message to Congress, Fillmore promised to respond to this [Texas's threatened invasion of New Mexico] for what it was - criminal invasion.  He underscored his words by dispatching 750 additional troops to the region. 
. . . Fillmore learned that extremists in South Carolina planned on seizing federal installments at Charleston.  As he had with Texas, Fillmore acted decisively, inviting General Winfield Scott to cabinet meetings.  He poured federal troops into South Carolina and positioned others in North Carolina that could strike if necessary.  The South Carolina legislature, through their governor, demanded an explanation.  Fillmore, through his State Department, made clear that he was the commander in chief of the army and navy, that the decision to direct troop was entirely within his discretion, and that he was not answerable to the governor, the legislature, or anyone else. 
. . . [B]y finding the right balance of firmness and flexibility, Fillmore has prevented civil war and ironically was the most Jacksonian of any president of the era.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

It's Caturday (Photoshop Edition)!

About a month ago I went to our wonderful local animal shelter, Father John's Animal House, and took photos of some of the animals available for adoption.  Here are the results.  Happy Caturday!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

It's Caturday!

Ariadne, enjoying a warm summer's eve.

"I know no method to secure the repeal of bad . . . laws so effective as their stringent execution"

I've been reading H.W. Brands's excellent biography of Ulysses S. Grant, The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace, and ran across a brief description of Grant's first inaugural address.  I've long admired Grant, and his first address contains commonsense wisdom and honesty,  as well as advice that is so clearly relevant to the current situation that it needs no explication:
On all leading questions agitating the public mind I will always express my views to Congress and urge them according to my judgment, and when I think it advisable will exercise the constitutional privilege of interposing a veto to defeat measures which I oppose; but all laws will be faithfully executed, whether they meet my approval or not.  
I shall on all subjects have a policy to recommend, but none to enforce against the will of the people. Laws are to govern all alike - those opposed as well as those who favor them. I know no method to secure the repeal of bad or obnoxious laws so effective as their stringent execution.
(Emphasis added.)

About the illustration, entitled The Great November Contest. Patriotism: versus Bummerism (1868):

The strongly racist character of the Democratic presidential campaign of 1868 is displayed full-blown in this elaborate attack on Reconstruction and Republican support of Negro rights. Horses with the heads of Democratic candidate Horatio Seymour and running mate Francis P. Blair, Jr., pull a fine, ornate carriage in a race with a rude wagon drawn by asses with the heads of Republican candidates Ulysses S. Grant and Schuyler Colfax. The Democratic carriage pulls ahead in the race, heading toward a cheering crowd and a series of floral arches held by young maidens. The U.S. Capitol is visible beyond. In the carriage are four allegorical figures: Liberty, holding the Constitution and a banner which reads "Our Glorious Union D̀istinct, like the Billows, One, Like the Sea' This is a White Man's Government!"; Navigation, holding a miniature ship; Agriculture, holding sheaves of wheat and a scythe; and Labor, represented by a bearded man with a hammer and flywheel. In contrast to the Democratic vehicle, the Republican wagon has stalled before a pile of rocks and a cemetery strewn with bones representing "100,000,000 White Lives, the Price of Nigger Freedom!" Its wheels are blocked by a large stone "Killing Taxation" and a skeleton. Other stones represent "Ruined Commerce," "$30,000,000 stolen from the Treasury," and "Negro Supremacy." In the wagon are the grim reaper, Pennsylvania representative and abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, an unidentified man, a black woman, and an idle black man. Stevens: "Colfax pulls like the d----l but old tangleleg [i.e., Grant] aint worth a d----n! Push at the tailboard, Ben!" Massachusetts representative and former Civil War general Benjamin F. Butler, pushing the wagon from the rear, replies, "I am pushing, Thad! but we are stuck. Seymour is a mile ahead now." Silver spoons protrude from Butler's pocket. (For the origins of Butler's nickname "Silver Spoons," see "The Radical Party on a Heavy Grade," no. 1868-14.) The black woman reassures Stevens, "Don't worry you'sef, honey, or you'll peg out afore we get de paeket for Seymour's in de White House and we's good for Salt River [colloquialism for political disaster]." The black man asks, "War's dis wagon gwine wid dis member ob Congress. I'd jes like to know?" The unidentified man remarks, "The Democracy would not take me so I thought I'd come back & stick by you Uncle Thad, and we'll all go to H-ll together!" Death announces, "My friends 1,000,000 slaughtered soldiers block the wheels--you fooled them, and they now impede your progress!" At bottom right a group of bummers, a term referring to party hangers-on, carpetbaggers, and other disreputable characters, stand in line to buy tickets to Salt River. At left New York "Tribune" editor Horace Greeley invites abolitionist preacher Henry Ward Beecher to play the thimblerig. Nearby a black couple in rags express their desire to return to their former master. At top right, next to the U.S. Capitol, a group of black youths in striped outfits dance and tumble about. In the lower right margin are prices and information regarding ordering copies of the print by mail. "Price 25 cents mailed. 5 for $1.00. 60 for $10.00, 100 for $16.00. Nothing sent C.O.D. Express charges paid by Parties ordering. Address: Bromley & Co. Box 4265. New York City.

Friday, May 23, 2014

It's Almost Caturday!

Max the lion sez that Memorial Day Weekend is gonna be a roarin' good time.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Did Cambyses Have Cats Nailed to His Soldiers' Shields?

Yesterday, I finished reading Tom Holland's Rubicon: The Last Years of Roman Republic.  Excellent and highly recommended.  Even if you know the period well, he brings it and many of the personalities to life. You also get a whiff of just how weird and alien the Romans were (but that's another story).  I then promptly took up another of his histories, Persian Fire: The First World Empire and the Battle for the West, about the Achaemenid (Persian) Empire founded by Cyrus the Great and the Persian Wars.  I'm only a few pages in, but as with Rubicon the vivid writing promises to bring drama to a well known period.

Soon into the book, however, I ran into a following startling assertion relating to the invasion of Egypt by Cyrus's son Cambyses II in 525 BC.  According to Holland, Cambyses defeated the Egyptians at the Battle of Pelusium in the eastern Nile delta by using a unique trick:

When the Persians finally met the Egyptians in battle, it is said that they did so with cats pinned to their shields, reducing their opponents' archers, for whom the animals were sacred, to a state of paralysis.  Victory was duly won.  Pelusium, the gateway to Egypt, was stormed, and the bodies of the defeated left scattered across the sands . . ..

Cats pinned to shields? Yikes!  I'd never heard that one before.  But whether for that reason or some other the story just seemed too bizarre, so I took a closer look.  The source, duly noted by the author, was one Polyaenus, a Macedonian who in the mid-second century AD ("perhaps a suspiciously late date," Holland admits) wrote a book called Stratagems in War in eight volumes.

Having never heard of Polyaenus either, I thought I'd take a look.  His Stratagems, it turns out, are freely available on the internet in both the original Greek and in English translation.  Alas, it appears that Mr. Holland has taken some liberties.  A standard English translation reads as follows:
When Cambyses attacked Pelusium, which guarded the entrance into Egypt, the Egyptians defended it with great resolution. They advanced formidable engines against the besiegers, and hurled missiles, stones, and fired at them from their catapults. To counter this destructive barrage, Cambyses ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred. The Egyptians immediately stopped their operations, out of fear of hurting the animals, which they hold in great veneration. Cambyses captured Pelusium, and thereby opened up for himself the route into Egypt.

How accurate is the English translation?  Focusing on the key sentence ("Cambyses ranged before his front line dogs, sheep, cats, ibises, and whatever other animals the Egyptians hold sacred") a look at the original Greek shows the translation to be very close.  The original Greek uses a form of the verb "tasso", which typically refers to placing soldiers in a line of battle: "Cambyses placed [the cats and other animals] in line of battle in front of his own army."  No mention of shields or pinning the animals to them.

On the other hand, as the owner of multiple cats, I can attest that it is hard to imagine placing cats in a line of battle in front of an advancing army.  It's also doubtful that placing animals, particularly small ones like cats and dogs, on the ground, would prevent skilled archers from firing at soldiers behind them.  So perhaps Mr. Holland's reconstruction isn't all that unreasonable.  In this regard, it's interesting to note that the Wikipedia entry on the Battle of Pelusium comes up with yet another reconstruction (without admitting that it is not exactly in the text) (emphasis added):
Polyaenus claims that, according to legend, Cambyses captured Pelusium by using a clever strategy. The Egyptians regarded certain animals, especially cats, as being sacred, and would not injure them on any account. Polyaenus claims that Cambyses had his men carry the "sacred" animals in front of them to the attack. The Egyptians did not dare to shoot their arrows for fear of wounding the animals, and so Pelusium was stormed successfully.
Yet other pages on the internet, to which I won't link to, have come up with the idea (out of whole cloth so far I can tell) that Cambyses and his soldiers threw cats at Egyptians.

So did Cambyses and his men herd, carry, throw or pin the cats to their shields? Or is the whole story (related almost 700 years after the fact) a wild fabrication?  Your choice.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Cicero on Cato the Younger

nam Catonem nostrum non tu amas plus quam ego; sed tamen ille optimo animo utens et summa fide nocet interdum rei publicae; dicit enim tamquam in Platonis πολιτείᾳ, non tamquam in Romuli faece sententiam.

Now you love our Cato as much as I do; and yet, with the best of intentions and in utter good faith, he sometimes does harm to the republic. For he expresses his views as if he were in Plato's Republic, not in the dregs of Romulus.
Related Posts with Thumbnails