Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Japan lays groundwork for collective defense against China

While most of the world has been understandably distracted with the implosion of Iraq and the Soviet ... er, Russian invasion of Ukraine, momentous events have been taking place on the other side of the world: Japan has moved away from its commitment to international pacifism under its post-war constitution:
The Abe administration, in a Cabinet decision made on Tuesday — the 60th anniversary of the establishment of the Self-Defense Forces — changed the government’s longstanding interpretation of the Constitution so that Japan can exercise the right to collective self-defense. The decision not only effectively undermines the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9 — which has prevented Japan from being involved in international military conflicts in the postwar period — but also violates the principles of rule of law under the Constitution.
The Cabinet decision, pending related changes to relevant laws, paves the way for the SDF to use force overseas to defend Japan’s allies even if Japan itself is not under attack. In other words, it allows Japan to take part in conflicts abroad, potentially putting SDF members in harm’s way.
The Abe administration’s new interpretation of the Constitution also does not rule out Japan’s participation in United Nations-led collective security operations, which are mainly aimed at punishing countries that breach international peace — a concept different from self-defense. This contradicts what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe stated at a news conference following Tuesday’s Cabinet decision: “Japan will never take part in fighting such as has taken place in the Gulf War or the Iraq War.” Abandoning the traditional “defense-only defense” position, the administration’s move marks a clear departure from the postwar Japan’s basic defense posture.
The Japan Times editorial makes it clear that it opposes this course of action, although most of its criticisms are procedural. Abe has fully earned his reputation as a Japanese nationalist, which is contributing to the heavy criticism he is receiving for this action.

But it's hard to see this as anything but inevitable given the recent behavior of China. Even while this measure was under consideration, China harassed Japanese coast guard vessels near the disputed Senkaku Islands. That is not the behavior of someone who wants peace except on his own terms. To be imposed violently if necessary.

While some will claim it heightens tensions in the region, it actually is in response to tensions already heightened by China. China has been playing a game of seeing its neighbors already divided, so it acts against them one by one. Japan is just about the only one of those neighbors capable of defending itself at sea (especially) and in the air. The Philippines, victims of Chinese aggression in the Spratlys and the Scarboroughs, are too weak, which is why they reached a deal with the US to base forces there once again. Vietnam, who fought a border clash with China in 1979 spurred on by Chinese support for the Khmer Rouge, has shown it is more than able to defend itself on land, but not at sea, which is one reason there has been talk of the US moving in there as well. The US already has relationships with Singapore (especially), Indonesia and Malaysia.

The problem is that, like most of our allies, these countries doubt the commitment of Barack Obama to defend them. In Japan's case it is especially critical, since the US is required to defend it as a result of its post-war constitution, Japan does not want its hands tied by an Obama-led US unwilling to honor its commitment to defend it. That is another major reason behind this move.

It is hard to overstate the depth of distrust for Japan in East Asia after its barbaric acts in the Pacific War, but Japan is an old enemy. China is rapidly making itself into a new enemy. And for countries too weak to defend themselves at sea and understandably mistrustful of Obama and his Smart Diplomacy, Abe's act here gives East Asia another option for collective defense.

A forgotten relic of communism

Michael Totten has a fascinating article on the decades-old civil war in one of the least-known regions of the world - Western Sahara, a large, desolate strip of land on Africa's west coast just south of and administered by Morocco. Fidel Castro, Muammar Gadhafi and the Soviets decided to start trouble there in the 1970s by forming and funding a communist guerilla group known as the Polisario, who has been fighting a war in the region ever since. Charming people, those communists.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Obama must be proud

Our friends at Power Line opine on Obama's performance in Iraq:

The only problem is that Barack Obama may actually take this literally. To him and his leftist ilk, turning Iraq into Vietnam is not a bug, but a feature.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The potential of Benedict Bergdahl

Take this article with a grain of salt, but Robert Spencer has a piece giving 5 reasons to believe Bowe Bergdahl is not just guilty of being AWOL (Absent Without Leave) or desertion but of treason. To me, the most damning is actually Number Five:
5. The precision of post-desertion IEDs.
Former Army Sgt. Evan Buetow, who served with Bergdahl and was present the night he disappeared, says flatly:
Bergdahl is a deserter, and he’s not a hero. He needs to answer for what he did.” Even worse, Buetow recounted that days after Bergdahl vanished from the U.S. base, there were reports that he was in a nearby village looking for someone who spoke English, so that he could establish communications with the Taliban. Soon afterward, Buetow recalled, “IEDs started going off directly under the trucks. They were getting perfect hits every time. Their ambushes were very calculated, very methodical.”
Bergdahl knew where the trucks would be going and when; said Buetow: “We were incredibly worried” that the Taliban’s “prisoner of war” was passing this information on to his captors in order to help them place their bombs most effectively.
Forget rumors of his statements and whatnot. This is not rumor, but quantifiable evidence from his colleagues as to how how enemy tactics changed after Bergdahl ended up with the Taliban.

And by rumors, I am talking about the alleged letter that Bergdahl left behind:
2. The note he left behind.
Fox News reported Tuesday that according to “sources who had debriefed two former members of Bergdahl’s unit,” the deserter “left behind a note the night he left base in which he expressed disillusionment with the Army and being an American and suggested that he wanted to renounce his American citizenship and go find the Taliban.”
That letter has been reported in multiple media outlets. But now, it seems, there is serious question as to the existence of the note:
Three days ago, the New York Times cited a “former senior military officer” for the claim that Bergdahl had left a note behind in his tent the night he disappeared saying “he had become disillusioned with the Army, did not support the American mission in Afghanistan and was leaving to start a new life.” Pretty strong evidence of desertion; in fact, it’s the only hard evidence of Bergdahl’s motives that allegedly exists. The same day, Fox News reported that two unnamed former members of Bergdahl’s unit also claim that he left a note, and that the note suggested not only desertion but an intent to renounce his citizenship. All of this came as a shock to Saxby Chambliss, the ranking GOP member on the Senate Intelligence Committee, who had read the classified file on Bergdahl and saw nothing in there about a note.

That’s when things started to get weird.
Chambliss later said he was told that the report of the existence of the note was wrong.
The military’s classified 35-page report on Bergdahl’s disappearance also says nothing about a note. [...]
Did the letter mysteriously disappear or did it never exist at all?
A cautionary tale that reports gathered in wartime can have errors and omissions, not always or even usually intentional.

But the evidence of Benedict Bergdahl so far seems persuasive.

The Price of Moral Vanity

In the past I have used the term "moral vanity" to describe the desire of a person to show how much they care more than everyone else. Moral vanity usually manifests itself in 1. Committing ineffectual and sometimes dangerous or even counterproductive acts a to address a particular issue that carries intense emotion; and 2. A refusal to accept any criticism or even questioning of those acts, going so far as to insult and demonize those that do so.

Well, in a must-read column today, Roger Simon comes up with a similar, perhaps better term: Moral Narcissism.
Moral Narcissism is an evocative term for the almost schizophrenic divide between intentions and results now common in our culture.  It doesn’t matter how anything turns out as long as your intentions are good.  And, just as importantly, the only determinant of those intentions, the only one who defines them, is you.
In other words, if you propose or do something, it only matters that you feel good or righteous about what you did or are proposing, that it makes you feel better personally.  The results are irrelevant, as are how the actual activity affects others.
Also, although it pretends (especially to the self) to altruism, moral narcissism is in essence passive aggressive, asserting superiority over the ignorant or “selfish” other. It is elitist,  anti-democratic and quote often, consciously or unconsciously, sadistic.
The Obama administration is loaded with moral narcissists, including, obviously, the president himself — Valerie Jarrett, Susan Rice, John Kerry, Hillary Clinton etc.  The media and Hollywood are also clearly stuffed to the gills with moral narcissists.
Obamacare is a perfect example of moral narcissism in action.  Never mind that the public didn’t want it. Never mind it was an atrociously planned bureaucratic mess (in fact that comes with the territory).  It was what Barack Obama wanted — for himself.
Moral narcissism creates an atmosphere of dishonesty bizarrely similar to Islamic taqqiya.  In Islam, the believer is permitted to lie to the non-believer because the believer has the greater truth.  For the moral narcissist, lies becomes truth in almost the same manner. Some like Dan Rather (a moral narcissist par excellence) could thus pronounce the Bush National Guard papers real when anyone with an IQ in triple digits could see that they were fake.  They felt real to Dan. And, crucially, that made him feel good about himself.
As an aside, you might want to keep that taqqiya in mind when developing opinions on agreements and treaties with predominantly Muslim and especially Islamist parties. Anyway, Simon cites this characteristic as pushing the inexcusable Bowe Bergdahl trade:
In the Bergdahl affair, what really was operative in the prisoner swap was Barack Obama’s feelings about himself.  Never mind that Bergdahl may have been a deserter whose sympathies were with the enemy.  Never mind that many U.S. servicemen had already been killed attempting to rescue him. Never mind that the five released prisoners were all likely to resume their lives of terror as soon as possible, murdering who knows how many more people.  And never mind that the release of the terrorists would only encourage the Taliban to kidnap more hostages. What mattered was how Barack perceived himself.
Forget arrogance, incompetence, and a barely concealed anti-Americanism. The single unifying feature of the Obama administration is its utter selfishness.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Book signing for *Rising Sun, Falling Skies* on May 31

We are having a book reading and signing for Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II on May 31 from 2-4 pm at Indy Reads Books, 911 Massachusetts Avenue (the northeast end of Mass Ave), Indianapolis. Come one, come all, and bring any questions you have about the book or the Java Sea Campaign with you.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Correcting a historic mistake

Give Obama credit for this move: the US has reached a deal with the Philippines to allow the US military to operate from bases there, like Subic Bay and Clark Field, once again. I'm certain this is in part due to China's aggressive actions in East Asia, of which the Philippines have been a victim.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

The Rule of Funny Hats

I am currently reading two books on Germany and Austria in World War I: Mad Catastrophe: The Outbreak of World War I and the Collapse of the Habsburg Empire by Geoffrey Wawro, and The First World War: Germany and Austria-Hungary 1914-1918 by Holger H. Herwig. And they offer nice, logical, academic explanations for their failure in World War I (two-front war, rebellious nationalities in Austria-Hungary, the incredible deterioration of the Austro-Hungarian army: arrogant, abusive, backstabbing Magyars running Hungary, etc.) And all these explanations are probably correct. But perhaps they can be summed up in two pictures:

Uh, Kaiser Franz Josef and Archduke Franz Ferdinand, do you realize that entire flocks of birds do not have as many feathers as you do on your hats?
Someone in the Prussian-dominated German Empire managed to convince all these powerful grown men, including Kaiser Wilhelm II and Field Marshal August von Mackensen, to wear helmets with big spikes on top. This particular helmet was called the pickelhaube. Apparently realizing how stupid the pickelhaube looked, during the war the Germans began to switch to the (in)famous stahlhelm, but by then the damage was done.

There should be established a general rule of thumb for wars and military conflicts that, all things being equal, the side most likely to lose is the one wearing the funniest hats.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Rising Sun, Falling Skies Q and A

My first book, Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II, is now out in stores and places like Barnes & Noble and Amazon. Earlier this week, I did a Q and A with my publisher, Osprey, about the book:

1. What got you interested in the Battle of the Java Sea?
Somewhat of an odd story. I took a class on World War II when I was in 4th grade, and wrote a report on World War II in the Pacific when I was in 5th grade. My little 5th grade report had nothing on the Battle of the Java Sea because there was very little information available to me on it – remember, this was a time before the Internet, before Amazon, before Alibris, so we were very limited into what books and other information we could access from our local bookstores and library. When I was in 7th grade, my mom got me a compendium of the Pacific War called Combat Command, by Admiral Frederick Sherman, who among other things commanded the carrier Lexington at the Battle of the Coral Sea and a carrier task group at the Battle of Leyte Gulf. His was the first book in which I read a description of the Battle of the Java Sea. I found the story of the battle and the campaign completely enthralling, with this small group of servicemen from four different countries so far from home, so outnumbered, so outgunned, mostly cut off – and the only line against the darkness that was about to overtake East Asia and most of the Pacific. But the description in Sherman’s book was incomplete, somewhat generalized, and missing a lot of information, largely because the information on which the admiral based that description was incomplete. The problem for me was that I could find almost nothing else on the battle. For years, all I could find were general descriptions of the battle or snippets from it. I found it incredibly frustrating to find a wealth of information on so many other battles and campaigns and almost nothing on this. So for years I just grabbed any book, any report, and scrap of paper I came across that had any information about the battle. It became somewhat of an obsession. I was determined to someday figure out precisely what happened in this battle and this campaign.

2. What do you see as the difference between Rising Sun, Falling Skies and other books about the Java Sea Campaign?
The big thing I noticed over the years is that while there are quite a few very good books that deal with parts of the campaign – like the US cruiser Houston, the US Asiatic Fleet, Patrol Wing 10, the Far East Air Force, etc. – there is very little out there that deals with the Java Sea naval campaign as a whole. Each of these sources gives some good information and different takes on their individual pieces of the story of the Java Sea Campaign, but they are only pieces. Which is fine, because that’s what they’re intended to do. But a Dutch account won’t usually include the Battle of Balikpapan. A British account won’t often include the Battle of Badoeng Strait. American accounts don’t always get into the loss of the Prince of Wales and Repulse, let alone the controversy behind it. The naval accounts often mention the lack of air power in passing without a description of how exactly that lack of air power came about. The efforts of the submarines are often ignored. Yet these are all pieces of the same Java Sea Campaign. I’ve wanted for years to assemble these pieces into sort of a global account of the entire Java Sea Campaign, with analysis of my own that I had developed over time, in order to give each of these pieces big and small some context.

3. Rear Admiral Karel Doorman, the Allied commander, is usually seen as valiant but incompetent, at least in English speaking countries. You have a different view of him. Why?
There is this idea, especially in the US, that people should be judged solely by outcomes. For instance, in baseball, if a pitcher loses a game, it must be his fault. Doesn’t matter if he only gave up a solo home run and lost when his offense was shut out, it must be his fault. That thinking extends to history as well. But you can make every correct decision, every correct judgment, and still lose. Karel Doorman lost every battle in which his Combined Striking Force fought, it is true. But if you examine his decisions in the context of what he was facing, the information he had, and the orders he had, those decisions, which were mostly close calls with no obvious answers, were, for the most part, sound. At worst, they were defensible. Doorman was caught in a web of contradictions. His own take on the campaign – that it was hopeless without adequate air power – was contradictory to that of his Dutch superiors, but completely in agreement with his American and British colleagues – who were actually his biggest critics. He has been criticized for being both too aggressive and too cautious – often at the same time. He has been criticized for not training his ships – when, as his American superiors admitted, he had no chance to do so. In short, it seems like no matter what Doorman did or could have done, he was going to be ripped by a lot of people. And he seems to have known this. If one examines his conduct throughout the Java Sea Campaign, the single unifying theme is the protection of the men under his command so that they would not be sacrificed needlessly without a chance to cause significant loss to the enemy. When there was no chance to cause loss to the enemy, he would have his ships withdraw – at the cost of his own life in the Battle of the Java Sea. In the midst of an almost impossible situation, Doorman ignored the cost to himself and put his men first. That by itself is highly admirable, and he has not gotten nearly enough credit for it. Doorman seems to have been a very private person, with few people to defend him after he was no longer able to defend himself. It is time someone stepped up to defend him and call attention to the positives of this brave, intelligent, and humane officer.

4. Could the ABDA force have done anything to win?
Superficially, one would think so. At the Battle of the Java Sea, the forces were evenly matched on paper. But the ABDA Combined Striking Force was really a hollow shell. If you imagine the battle as two knights fighting each other, the Japanese were a samurai in polished armor with a sharpened katana and the Combined Striking Force was a knight in completely rusted armor with a dull sword and a cracked shield. Yes, they might have been able to do something to increase the likelihood of some sort of battlefield victory – Use their lone spotter plane? Drive straight toward the Japanese cruisers come hell or high water instead of turning away? – but they would have had to fight an absolutely perfect battle to do so. And no battle is ever fought absolutely perfectly. One shot from the Japanese and they would shatter. Which is precisely what happened.

5. Why is the Battle of the Java Sea significant?
Quite a few reasons, actually, so I’ll try to be limited. From the standpoint of the Pacific War overall, the Battle of the Java Sea was the first instance of the arrogance, overconfidence, and sloppiness that was slowly but surely infecting the Imperial Japanese Navy directly affecting its battlefield performance, although they won the battle in spite of it. Perhaps most enduringly, there was the Combined Striking Force itself, and, for that matter, all of ABDACOM – a multinational force that was not modular, as such forces had been throughout history, but was fully if imperfectly integrated. Over the years those imperfections would be sufficiently worked out to become the model for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. From a philosophical standpoint, the Java Sea Campaign is more evidence that in terms of defense and foreign policy, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You can’t neglect defense for 20 years as the Allies did with shoestring budgets and wishful thinking and then adequately rearm when war is on your doorstep. The fighting men of ABDACOM paid the price, in some cases the ultimate price, for that neglect. Finally, there are some simple but often forgotten principles in today’s nuanced world: that when your friends are in trouble, you stand beside them and fight alongside them, and that, even if there is little or no chance of winning, there is inherent value in fighting evil – and make no mistake; in the Pacific War the behavior and objectives of the Japanese were nothing short of evil.

6. What do you hope to achieve with Rising Sun, Falling Skies?
Two goals, really. The first and far more important of the two is to get the story of these American, British, Dutch, and Australian fighting men out there. It should be emphasized that this is their story, not mine; I am merely the vehicle for telling it, for trying to put it into context. Instead of marching triumphantly to liberate the Pacific from Japanese tyranny, many of these men lost their lives or were forced to endure the horrors of Japanese POW camps. More than a few histories of the Pacific War almost – almost – skip over the Java Sea Campaign, going from the disaster at Pearl Harbor to stopping the Japanese advance at the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 1942 while blurring most of the unpleasantness in between, stopping briefly to mention the Bataan Death March and Corregidor. In my opinion, the men who fought the Java Sea Campaign have never gotten the credit they deserve. Rising Sun, Falling Skies is my own effort to help rectify that oversight in some small way. A secondary goal is to attract more people to the history genre. In writing Rising Sun, Falling Skies, I have tried to strike a balance between scholarship and readability. Despite the length and all the end notes to give authors proper credit and give readers a chance to check my work and decide for themselves as to the proper conclusions, I have also tried to keep the language somewhat informal, to keep the military terminology to a minimum, and to explain military or nautical terms to unfamiliar readers. I wanted the Rising Sun, Falling Skies to be approachable, especially to a new generation of readers. To attract them to history. The fastest and perhaps most accurate way to study history is to study its wars. History is not boring words about dead people. History is alive, exciting, even changing, and still affecting us today. Why are the Chinese and Japanese sparring over the Senkaku Islands? Because of the Pacific War. They never came to real terms with each other after the Pacific War or over the two wars they fought previously. And they are perhaps closer than many think to fighting their next war. We cannot have an idea of where we are going if we do not know where we have been.

Has the Santorini Bronze Age eruption finally been dated?

One of the biggest unknowns of the ancient world has been the catastrophic eruption of the volcano on the Greek island of Thera, now called Santorini, in the 2nd millennium BC. The eruption is now thought to have possibly been the largest in history, even bigger than Krakatoa in 1883 (or 535) and Tambora in 1815. It has been blamed for everything from massive climate changes across the globe to the destruction of the Minoan Civilization on Crete to the legend of Atlantis to the Plagues of Egypt described in the Book of Exodus. But because of the ambiguity of radiocarbon dating, no one has been able to precisely date the Santorini eruption, and thus no one has been able to confirm any of these hypotheses.

Now, they might be able to do so, because we may have documented evidence of the Santorini eruption, from the so called "Tempest Stela" of the Egyptian Pharaoh Ahmose:
An inscription on a 3,500-year-old stone block from Egypt may be one of the world’s oldest weather reports—and could provide new evidence about the chronology of events in the ancient Middle East.
A new translation of a 40-line inscription on the 6-foot-tall calcite block called the Tempest Stela describes rain, darkness and “the sky being in storm without cessation, louder than the cries of the masses.”
Two scholars at the University of Chicago’s Oriental Institute believe the unusual weather patterns described on the slab were the result of a massive volcano explosion at Thera—the present-day island of Santorini in the Mediterranean Sea. Because volcano eruptions can have a widespread impact on weather, the Thera explosion likely would have caused significant disruptions in Egypt.
The new translation suggests the Egyptian pharaoh Ahmose ruled at a time closer to the Thera eruption than previously thought—a finding that could change scholars’ understanding of a critical juncture in human history as Bronze Age empires realigned. The research from the Oriental Institute’s Nadine Moeller and Robert Ritner appears in the spring issue of the Journal of Near Eastern Studies.
The Tempest Stela dates back to the reign of the pharaoh Ahmose, the first pharaoh of the 18th Dynasty. His rule marked the beginning of the New Kingdom, a time when Egypt’s power reached its height. The block was found in pieces in Thebes, modern Luxor, where Ahmose ruled.
If the stela does describe the aftermath of the Thera catastrophe, the correct dating of the stela itself and Ahmose’s reign, currently thought to be about 1550 B.C., could actually be 30 to 50 years earlier.
“This is important to scholars of the ancient Near East and eastern Mediterranean, generally because the chronology that archaeologists use is based on the lists of Egyptian pharaohs, and this new information could adjust those dates,” said Moeller, assistant professor of Egyptian archaeology at the Oriental Institute, who specializes in research on ancient urbanism and chronology.
In 2006, radiocarbon testing of an olive tree buried under volcanic residue placed the date of the Thera eruption at 1621-1605 B.C. Until now, the archeological evidence for the date of the Thera eruption seemed at odds with the radiocarbon dating, explained Oriental Institute postdoctoral scholar Felix Hoeflmayer, who has studied the chronological implications related to the eruption. However, if the date of Ahmose’s reign is earlier than previously believed, the resulting shift in chronology “might solve the whole problem,” Hoeflmayer said.
The revised dating of Ahmose’s reign could mean the dates of other events in the ancient Near East fit together more logically, scholars said. For example, it realigns the dates of important events such as the fall of the power of the Canaanites and the collapse of the Babylonian Empire, said David Schloen, associate professor in the Oriental Institute and Near Eastern Languages & Civilizations on ancient cultures in the Middle East.
“This new information would provide a better understanding of the role of the environment in the development and destruction of empires in the ancient Middle East,” he said.
For example, the new chronology helps to explain how Ahmose rose to power and supplanted the Canaanite rulers of Egypt—the Hyksos—according to Schloen. The Thera eruption and resulting tsunami would have destroyed the Hyksos’ ports and significantly weakened their sea power.
In addition, the disruption to trade and agriculture caused by the eruption would have undermined the power of the Babylonian Empire and could explain why the Babylonians were unable to fend off an invasion of the Hittites, another ancient culture that flourished in what is now Turkey.
Some researchers consider the text on the Tempest Stela to be a metaphorical document that described the impact of the Hyksos invasion. However, Ritner’s translation shows that the text was more likely a description of weather events consistent with the disruption caused by the massive Thera explosion. Ritner said the text reports that Ahmose witnessed the disaster—the description of events in the stela text is frightening.
The stela’s text describes the “sky being in storm” with “a tempest of rain” for a period of days. The passages also describe bodies floating down the Nile like “skiffs of papyrus.”
Importantly, the text refers to events affecting both the delta region and the area of Egypt further south along the Nile. “This was clearly a major storm, and different from the kinds of heavy rains that Egypt periodically receives,” Ritner said.
Other work is underway to get a clearer idea of accurate dating around the time of Ahmose, who ruled after the Second Intermediate period when the Hyksos people seized power in Egypt. That work also has pushed back the dates of his reign closer to the explosion on Thera, Moeller explained.

The full article is available at JSTOR.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Rising Sun, Falling Skies out on March 25

My first book, Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II, comes out on March 25, 2014 -- just 5 days from today.

Here is what people are saying about Rising Sun, Falling Skies:
"In the Pacific War’s first months, elements of four navies, Dutch, British, American, and Australian, fought a delaying action against superior Japanese forces as heroic as it was hopeless. Cox brings an attorney’s incisiveness, a historian’s comprehension, and a storyteller’s passion to this compelling account of the Java Sea campaign. Rising Sun, Falling Skies commemorates not a defense but a defiance: a forgotten epic of character and honor." -- Dennis Showalter, author of Armor and Blood: The Battle of Kursk: The Turning Point of World War II, Patton And Rommel: Men of War in the Twentieth Century; Hitler's Panzers: The Lightning Attacks that Revolutionized Warfare, and many, many more.

“A seminal work about a long neglected part of World War II in the Pacific… richly detailed with accounts from the men on both sides of the conflict who fought desperate struggles in 1942 either as conquerors or defenders." – Mike Walling, author of Forgotten Sacrifice: The Arctic Convoys of World War II and Bloodstained Sea:The U.S.Coast Guard in the Battle of the Atlantic, 1941-1944.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Latest columns for IVN on The Missing Jet™ and Ukraine are up.

My latest post for Independent Voter Network, titled The Jumbo Jet of Damocles, is up. Take a wild guess as to the topic.

My laptop issues had prevented me from posting an earlier column I had on IVN about the ethnic issues now broiling in Ukraine. It's slightly dated now, but if you want to check out the background on Ukraine, you can check out my column The Tangled Remnants of Empire.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Worth a thousand words

I periodically have people ask me why I, a straight guy, love ballet so much and why I insist on dancing it on a regular basis. To me, at a basic level, it is because ballet is the perfect combination of intellectual challenge, physical workout, and artistic expression, all in one package. But, really, ballet is so much more than that, and dancers male and female are in reality very talented and tough individuals who deserve much more respect than they are generally given.

Take this picture, for example.

This picture was posted on the Facebook page of Lovin' Ballet & Dance. There was  no identifying information about the dancer or the production, so I cannot tell who she is or of what this is a performance. What I can tell you is that this is a picture of an absolutely amazing performance, and is basically a thousand-word essay as to why ballet is such an incredible endeavor.

For starters, look at the dancer's face. Look at her eyes. Remember, ballet allows no vocalizations, so only the dances, outfits, gestures, facial expressions, and eyes can be used to convey the plot of the ballet and what is going on on stage. So, she has this tempting gaze, this alluring smile, but with a hint of mischief or even deception involved. Her right arm -- which as a girl friend of  mine pointed out is heavily muscled, moreso than most men, in fact - is beckoning, probably to a male performer on stage. The image she gives is one of a siren --  the Odyssey's Sirens? The German Lorelei? -- in the process of luring someone to at best a fate that will not be what he expects or hopes.

Now, look at the dancer's feet. She is doing all of this facial expression and gesturing sous sous en pointe. Right on the boxes of her pointe shoes.

This one pose is just a masterpiece of art when you look behind it all. Whoever this ballerina is, she is one hell of a performer. I wish her well.

Friday, March 14, 2014

I will be on Civil Discourse Now tomorrow

Talking about the book. Here is the information from co-host Matt Stone:
TOMORROW on the BIG SHOW: You've heard about it for ages, you've anticipated it, you've pre-ordered it on Amazon. Jeffrey Robert Cox's book Rising Sun, Falling Skies: The Disastrous Java Sea Campaign of World War II is finally out later this month. We'll be talking about it for most of the show.

We'll also cram some political candidates into the show as well.

Join us at Foundry Provisions, Saturday, at 11am-1pm or tune in via or the Indiana Talks app from on your Apple or Android device!"

Flight 370, where are you?

In addition to the unfolding crisis in Ukraine ... and Venezuela ... and Syria ... the world has been transfixed by the bizarre and increasingly ominous case of Malaysia Air Flight 370. CNN gives a pretty decent account of the known activities of the missing Boeing 777-200ER. The plane left Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 am local time on Saturday, March 8, headed for its intended destination of Beijing, and then:
Around 1:30 a.m., air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the plane over the sea between Malaysia and Vietnam. The plane's transponder, which identifies the aircraft and relays details like altitude and speed to controllers, stops transmitting.
A senior Malaysian air force official said Tuesday the flight was hundreds of miles off course and traveling in the opposite direction from its original destination. It was last tracked over over Pulau Perak, a tiny island in the Strait of Malacca at about 2:40 a.m., over an hour after air traffic controllers in Subang lost contact with the aircraft.
At the news briefing Wednesday, however, Gen. Rodzali Daud, head of the Malaysian Air Force, and other officials said it wasn't yet clear whether the object that showed up on military radar flying over the sea northwest of the Malaysian coast early Saturday was the missing plane.
Adding to the puzzle, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that the plane may have continued flying for four hours after its last reported contact. The newspaper attributed the information to two unidentified sources who were citing data automatically transmitted to the ground from the aircraft's Rolls-Royce-manufactured engines. A senior aviation source with detailed knowledge of the matter told CNN's Richard Quest on Thursday the Wall Street Journal account was incorrect. The paper later corrected its story, saying it was satellite data, not engine data, that drove the belief the plane continued to fly.

Scheduled flight path and points of lost contact and last contact with Flight 370. (CNN)
When the initial reports came in that Flight 370 had gone off course, I had thought -- hoped? -- this was a situation like Oceanic Flight 815. At worst -- and this would indeed be bad, because of the 239 poor souls onboard -- a Flight 19 situation. But when the information came in that the plane's transponders had been intentionally turned off and the plane had flown off course, but between known, pre-set navigational waypoints, far darker scenarios started emerging.

Flight 370 has not been seen since. On its face that's bizarre, but perhaps not unexpected. Most of Malaysia consists of dense jungle (albeit not impenetrable jungle, as the British found out to their dismay in World War II). Judging by the radar contact off Pulau Perak at 2:40 am, the redirected 777 would have flown closest to Kota Bharu and Alor Star (both with World War II British airfields), before heading out over the Strait of Malacca. Considering the time of night and the area over which it flew, there would have been few visual witnesses to the plane's flight.

Once over the Strait of Malacca, the missing 777 might have been free to go anywhere. Its suggested course would have taken it over the Indonesian island of Sumatra, specifically northern Sumatra, a region called Aceh, While Indonesia has a central government based on Java and many well developed areas on Java, south Sumatra, and Bali, many of the outlying islands and dense jungle areas of Borneo and Celebes are only loosely governed. Aceh is one of these areas. Historically, dating back to the times when the Dutch ruled the islands, Aceh has been a fairly lawless area, remote, with a strong separatist bent. It is one reason why the Strait of Malacca is constantly plagued with pirates. I can't say whether the Indonesian central government even has radar coverage over Aceh. Banda Aceh, the major city, is not that big. There are likely hidden airfields in the jungle, either built by the Japanese in World War II or by the Dutch beforehand -- the Dutch were foresighted enough to seed Indonesia with airfields before World War II, and then shortsighted enough to neither defend them adequately nor base appropriate aircraft on them, so that the Japanese got far more use of the airfields than the Dutch did. See the now-infamous "Kendari II" airfield -- still in operation -- on Sulawesi for an example.

Another theory making the rounds is that the plane somehow landed on a remote field in the Indian Ocean, perhaps in the Andaman Islands north of Sumatra. The international airport in Port Blair is big enough to handle a 777, but the island officials insist such a large plane could not have landed there without anyone noticing. The Andamans were home to Japanese bases in World War II; the Imperial Japanese Navy's heavy cruiser Haguro was ambushed and sunk by British destroyers in the final weeks of the war during an operation to resupply the islands.

None of which does anything to answer the question of what happened to the plane. As CNN describes it, "The flight has turned into one of the biggest mysteries in aviation history, befuddling industry experts and government officials. Authorities still don't know where the plane is or what caused it to vanish." Based on the fuel on board Flight 370, this is the range of the 777:

Range of Flight 370 based on its fuel load. (CNN)
That is a lot of territory to cover. And you see it right -- it could conceivably have reached Pakistan. And that's assuming it did not stop in, say, Aceh, and somehow refuel. Ominous.

And the ominosity -- is that a word? -- gets worse:
An Indonesian terrorist organization that a senior defense official said this week posed a “serious transnational threat” has previously been caught planning hijackings in the region where Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared.
U.S. military assets participating in the search and recovery efforts confirmed they were asked to relocate to the west side of Indonesia in the Indian Ocean as pings indicated the plane turned away from its route to China and turned back over the Malaysian peninsula. ABC News also reported Thursday that the data-reporting system on the flight shut down before the transponder, from 1:07 1:21 a.m., raising suspicions that the plane was at the hands of someone nefarious.
Gee, ya think?
Jemaah Islamiyah has long had designs on roping Malaysia and the Philippines into an Islamist state along with Indonesia, and was designated a foreign terrorist organization by the U.S. government after the 2002 Bali nightclub bombing. The group has traditionally used Malaysia for fundraising and as a home base for trainees fresh from the Af-Pak region.
JI plotter Mas Selamat Kastari, who escaped from custody in Singapore in 2008 and was recaptured in Malaysia the following year, was accused of orchestrating a plot earlier in the decade to hijack a plane out of Bangkok’s airport and crash it into Singapore’s airport.
Jemaah Islamiyah had been considered a shadow of its former self in recent years, but the terror group’s name has been occasionally dropped on Capitol Hill as a jihadi movement getting a new lease on life in a post-Osama world.
“Indonesians are the first — are for the first time going overseas to fight, not just to train, which has given rise to concerns that this conflict may breathe new life into the group Jemaah Islamiyah, which analysts previously considered to be moribund,” Daveed Gartenstein-Ross, senior fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at a Syria hearing last week.
The scenarios, as explained by John Hinderaker at Power Line, are not hopeful:
1) The plane may have crashed into the sea, due to pilot error or running out of gas (the Payne Stewart theory?). Initially there were thoughts that this could be an instance of pilot suicide along the lines of the Egypt Air crash, but it seems unlikely that a pilot who intended to crash his airplane into the sea would fly it for four hours first. If the plane did crash into the Indian Ocean, most likely accidentally–or possibly as a result of a Flight-93 type passenger revolt?–debris will eventually be found. 
2) The hijackers may have prepared a place, perhaps on an island in the Indian Ocean, possibly in eastern Pakistan, to land the airplane, and they may have landed it successfully. This would not be easy: a Boeing 777 needs a runway around two miles long. But it may be possible. If that is the case, then why haven’t we heard from the hijackers? If they are terrorists (e.g., radical Muslims) they may intend to use the airplane in a terrorist attack and will not reveal themselves until they have an opportunity to do so. It has been speculated that the hijackers might have been criminals rather than political terrorists, and their objective may have been to land the airplane safely, and then ransom the plane and the more than 200 passengers. On this scenario, however, they would want to get the ransom underway as soon as possible, and we presumably would have heard from them by now. 
3) The hijackers may have prepared a place to land the airplane, but failed to land it. If the airplane crashed while attempting to land, the debris will eventually be found, and its location along with other evidence (i.e., a nearby landing strip) should make it apparent that this is what was going on.
Unfortunately, my bet is on Number 2. I have this nightmare that the passengers have all been murdered and the plane is now being prepared for use in a dirty bomb or EMP attack.