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Sunday Book Review: Forgotten Armies

[ 0 ] May 18, 2008 |

Between December 1941 and August 1945, Japan and the United Kingdom fought an extraordinarily brutal war over control of Southeast Asia. In the larger arc of World War II history, this campaign is often treated as a sideshow, as it had neither the glory nor the decisive character of the Eastern Front or the drive across the Pacific. In the United States, the campaign is understood in specifically American terms; we know about Joseph Stilwell and the problems SE Asia presented for the China theater, and we know that Errol Flynn and a few American paratroopers liberated Burma, and we of course know that William Holden facilitated the self-actualization of Obi Wan Kenobi, but we don’t know a lot else. In fairness, there is some good cause for the neglect of the theater; had the British failed utterly in their efforts to recapture Burma, Japan would still have surrendered in August of 1945. In Forgotten Armies, Christopher Bayly and Tim Harper make the case that while the campaign was not decisive in terms of victory or defeat in World War II, it did firmly set the direction of the British Empire following the war.

Bayly and Harper do a fine job of detailing the contours of the campaign. The Japanese conquest of British SE Asia was astonishingly swift. With the benefit of bases in French Indochina and Thailand, the Japanese were able to capture an enormous chunk of British territory within a few months. The destruction of the most important Pacific units of the Royal Navy on December 10, 1941 meant that the Imperial Japanese Navy had free rein to conduct amphibious assaults and support land offensives against British targets. Malay was captured through the former, while Singapore and Burma largely through the latter.

The SE Asian reaction to the swift Japanese conquest was ambivalent. In Malaya, the British Empire lay lightly over a set of older governing institutions. Popular discontent against the British was quite mild, and the Japanese promise of “Asian for the Asians” didn’t resonate as loudly as it could have. The Malay elite believed in the British Empire, and believed it could protect them from enemies internal and external. Moroever, many Malays had close connections with the ethnic Chinese community, and that ethnic Chinese community had close connections with various kinship networks in China. The brutality with which the Japanese were conquering China produced considerable local suspicion about Japanese motives in the rest of Asia. It didn’t help that Japanese occupation policies would have made Paul Bremer look like a genius; in at least one case, Japanese administrators required local Muslims to pray in the direction of Tokyo, before a portrait of Emperor Hirohito. Unsurprisingly, Japanese hopes for a general declaration of jihad against the British Empire went unheeded.

In other parts of Asia the situation was different. In Burma, where the British had replaced the native dynasty, Japanese propaganda was received much more enthusiastically. It was also received enthusiastically in parts of India, where early British defeats were met with declarations of jihad by various tribes in the northwest. The war and the resulting disruption of trade helped produce a famine in India, and contribute to considerable discontent. This grafted on to existing Indian social resistance movements, resulting in a very touchy situation for the British in 1942 and early 1943. Indian soldiers, who made up the larger part of the British forces in SE Asia in 1941 and 1942, returned with stories of unbeatable Japanese soldiers coming to liberate all of Asia. The Indian Nationalist Army, made up of surrendered Indian soldiers and local recruits, played an important role in the conquest and later defense of Burma. Of course, enthusiasm for the promise of Japanese liberation didn’t long outlast actual Japanese liberation.

The early defeats were a tremendous blow for British prestige in Asia, amongst both those favorably and unfavorably disposed towards the Empire. British power depended on the perception of British supremacy, and the Japanese shattered that image in the early months of 1942. The British didn’t help themselves over much; even at the height of the Japanese offensive, British military briefings in India began with the situation in the Northwest tribal areas. The British also had a difficult sale; while there were some in SE Asia who would welcome the return of the Empire, even those nationalist groups who disliked the Japanese resented the British. The British regained their empire, but only for a short while; they would largely be gone from the Japanese conquered territory by 1958.

The British eventually recovered, solidified their hold on India, and began a counteroffensive against the Japanese in Burma. This counteroffensive, much like the Japanese offensives of 1942, was extraordinarily brutal. The struggle between the British and the Japanese grafted onto a series of local ethnic conflicts, and since both the British and the Japanese employed local proxies, score settling was common. The brutality of the war in SE Asia reminded me of John Dower’s War Without Mercy, which detailed the racial animosity present in the Pacific War. I wouldn’t say that the SE Asian experience invalidates Dower’s thesis about American racism and the conduct of the war (Dower allows more general Western colonial racism and, of course, Japanese racism as causes as well), but I think it does render an account that focuses specifically on how the American conducted the war incomplete. American racism led to brutal conduct by American soldiers, but British, Japanese, Indian, and Burman soldiers engaged in conduct just as brutal, if not more so. On the larger stage of World War II, I think it’s fair to conclude now that the relatively cordial and law-of-war-abiding relations between the European Axis and the Western Allies were the exception, and not the rule. Most of the war, in most parts of the world, was conducted with unrelieved brutality.

Forgotten Armies is an altogether fantastic book on a part of the war that deserves more attention. I highly recommend it.

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What To Do With Lieberman?

[ 24 ] May 18, 2008 |

Publius tries to make a case to keep him quasi-inside the tent. I do share his basic premise — achieving legislative ends is more important than feeling good about punishing someone for its own sake — so his conclusion is not as unreasonable as I might prefer.

I do think he’s omitting a couple of a factors that have to be considered. First, it’s important to remember that committees, and especially committee chairs, are also important gatekeepers and veto points, and having a member of the Wanker Caucus in the wrong place can do a lot of damage (cf. Feinstein at Judiciary.) Second, we have to remember that his vote record can be misleading. One some issues — such as Alito and the bankruptcy bill — he’s cast a meaningless correct vote on the merits while voting with the Republicans on the cloture vote that actually mattered. Since the challenge under a Democratic administration will be more getting to 60 votes on cloture than 50 on the up-or-down, this isn’t very reassuring about the power of party leverage. And finally, it’s also important to remember that he’s potentially constrained in some areas by a blue-state constituency; he doesn’t necessarily have the same freedom of action that a Zell Miller does.

Given these things, if Lieberman were planning on running for re-election I think the balance of factors would dictate kicking him out. However, that’s probably not something that can be counted on. I forget where I saw a commenter suggest this, but the idea I like is to offer Lieberman a deal: vote “yes” on every cloture vote and you can keep your committee slots. If you join a Republican filibuster once, you’re stripped of everything and you can move into a broom closet with no air conditioning. Alas, I suspect what will happen is that Lieberman will keep his positions and Reid won’t get much out of it…

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Oh, That Too?

[ 16 ] May 18, 2008 |

Alex Blaze collects data suggesting that Barack Obama isn’t just a radical angry black Christian liberation theologizin’ Muslim ex-Muslim communizin’ hippie terrorist; he’s probably a gay radical angry black Christian liberation theologizin’ Muslim ex-Muslim communizin’ hippie terrorist.

I, for one, would like to set as many precedents as possible with this election…

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 7 ] May 17, 2008 |

Calvin Coolidge, speaking to the American Medical Association, 17 May 1927:

What part the physician will play in the further advancement of the well-being of the world is an interesting speculation. It is a well-known proverb that “Cleanliness is next to godliness.” No one can doubt that if humanity could be brought to a state of physical well-being, many of our social problems would disappear. If we could effectively rid our systems of poison, not only would our bodily vigor be strengthened, but our vision would be clearer, our judgment more accurate, and our moral power increased. We should come to a more perfect appreciation of the truth. It is to your profession in its broadest sense, untrammeled by the contentions of different schools, that the world may look for large contributions toward its regeneration, physically, mentally, and spiritually, when not force but reason will hold universal sway.

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Stevens Update

[ 7 ] May 17, 2008 |

This is encouraging:

The latest Rasmussen Reports telephone survey finds that Republican Senator Ted Stevens is trailing by two percentage points in his bid for re-election. Stevens attracts 45% of the vote while Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D) earns 47%. A month ago, it was Stevens with 46% support and Begich at 45%.

Any incumbent who polls below 50% is considered potentially vulnerable, especially when they trail a challenger early in the campaign season. Stevens is supported by just 68% of those who plan to vote for John McCain. Twenty-four percent (24%) of McCain voters say they’ll be splitting the ticket to vote for Begich.

Stevens — along with the rest of our congressional delegation — has become a majestic national embarrassment, and his miserable standing seems even to have made an impression on Alaskans, who typically regard Stevens as the state’s great official sugar daddy. I’m pessimistic enough to guess that Stevens will eventually win re-election in November, but the fact that he’s even facing a serious challenger is still really good news. In 2002, his strongest challenger was this guy, who cleared 10% of the vote:

Facts, reality, science and objective truth are avoided or ignored religiously. Like Galileo, Gen. Billy Mitchell, Andre Sakharov and Nelson Mandella before me, I and anyone else telling the truth to, or about, powerful fascist criminals within the government become political prisoners, are sent to psychiatric wards, or worse.

I voted for him, but I would have voted for a talking peanut ahead of Stevens.

In other Alaska political news, it looks like Don Young set up a special “legal fund” — separate from his campaign funds — so that potential donors would know that they weren’t contributing to any legal problems that might be looming on the horizon. Having done that, he went ahead and paid his legal bills with general campaign funds. Integritude!

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Clashes of the Titans

[ 12 ] May 17, 2008 |

Tim Marchman says that the Subway Series this year “is no battle for honor between two hardened champions, but a pair of bums fighting over a ham sandwich in an alley.” There are, however, considerably more pathetic rivalry series. Such as the Mariners/Padres, which is more like fighting over a half-eaten McRib that’s been sitting for a day in a dumpster outside of a medical waste facility. However, it must be conceded that the white-hot intensity of this traditional rivalry overcomes the abysmal quality of the teams. I hope everyone will be showing up to Safeco with their “Bevacqua sucks” and “F^%$ Archi Cianfrocco” shirts.

When your team crashes, burns, and falls into the swamp, you can at least get some quality snark, such as this from USS Mariner‘s Derek Zumsteg on the Bedard/Jones/Sherrill trade:

What a horrible trade, made worse by how it took so long to complete. It was like being tortured by watching Miss Congeniality 2 on a loop tape, where time gets slower and slower, giving me more time to dwell on the never-ending horror playing out in front of me, the pain of which slowed time even further.

Any time you get fleeced by the Orioles, you should just quit. Just turn in your laminated RFID pass to the office doors, hand over the company cell phone, and walk out onto the street. You’re done.

And it’s not just that the Mariners decided to sell out the future in a trade, and then do it in a half-assed way (if you’re going for it this year, you can’t keep Vidro and Sexson, keep Ibanez in LF, etc.) What’s even worse is that the organization in 2002 and 2003 — when a sacrifice of long-term interests actually would have made sense, as they had a competitive but very old team — Stand Pat let them die on the vine.

And then there’s the manager. It’s one thing if, as in the case of Joe Morgan or (in an obscure but more egregious case, and what I think was an even greater factor in the death of my beloved Expos than the cancellation of the World Series in ’94, Jim Fanning) when the in-over-his-head organizational time-server you hire as a mid-season replacement lucks into the postseason, and you probably have to keep him for another year. But McLaren took over the team last year, it collapsed down the stretch in no small part due to his atrocious bullpen management and inexplicable lineup decisions, and…you bring him back anyway? If you’re going to trade away an Adam Jones for a short-term fix, and you start the season with John McLaren as your manager…it really is time for a full housecleaning in Seattle.

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Kaus Calls Me Out

[ 21 ] May 17, 2008 |

Having been in possession of the following incendiary clips since last week, I have agonized over whether to subject the fair readership of LGM to the blistering visage of Mickey Kaus. I had decided that whatever value the clips had didn’t fully make up for the fact that our dear readers would have to, well, pay attention to Mickey. But now it appears that I’ve been called out; Mickey is implying that I’m not blogger enough to post clips of him getting his ass kicked by Jon Alter. As always in war, it is the civilians who suffer:

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Easy Answers To Stupid Questions

[ 15 ] May 16, 2008 |

Glenn Reynolds:

CALIFORNIA’S SUPREME COURT STRIKES DOWN the state’s ban on gay marriages. Did it just hand the state to McCain?

No.

This has been easy answers to stupid questions. Although, admittedly, the massive Republican landslide in the wake of the New Jersey civil union decision in 2006 and their shocking upset victory in Massachusetts in 2004 certainly does give one pause.

…UPDATE: I see that Steve M. actually beat me to this. With data!

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Easily Dismissable Whining of the Day

[ 33 ] May 16, 2008 |

Sounds like the new HBO movie about the 2000 recount got it right, which understandably has displeased the embalmed corpse the Gore campaign chose to oversee its strategy:

Warren Christopher, the former secretary of state who served as the public face of the Gore team in the early days of the recount effort, said this week that he believed the film, “Recount,” was “pure fiction” in its portrayal of him as a weak strategist unprepared to stand up to the aggressive tactics of James A. Baker III, the former secretary of state who was the chief Republican adviser.

Baker helpfully adds that “I don’t think I was as ruthless as the movie portrays me, and I know he was not as wimpish as it makes him appear.” Well, I’m convinced!

Admittedly, perhaps Christopher absolutely getting his clock cleaned by Baker in his public actions and statements doesn’t reflect the passionate intensity he brought behind the scenes. I know how I’m betting! But, at any rate, it’s the public failures that matter, and it’s good that the film seems not to shy away from that.

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Presidential Statement of the Day

[ 6 ] May 16, 2008 |

John Tyler, commending the soldiers who fought in the Second Seminole War, 16 May 1842:

The history of the hardships which our soldiers have endured, of the patience and perseverance which have enabled them to triumph over obstacles altogether unexampled, and of the gallantry which they have exhibited on every occasion which a subtle and skulking foe would allow them to improve is so familiar as not to require repetition at my hands. But justice to the officers and men now in Florida demands that their privations, sufferings, and dauntless exertions during a summer’s campaign in such a climate, which for the first time was witnessed during the last year, should be specially commended. The foe has not been allowed opportunity either to plant or to cultivate or to reap. The season, which to him has usually been one of repose and preparation for renewed conflict, has been vigorously occupied by incessant and harassing pursuit, by penetrating his hiding places and laying waste his rude dwellings, and by driving him from swamp to swamp and from everglade to everglade.

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Re-Raising MoDo

[ 16 ] May 16, 2008 |

Shorter Verbatim Camille Paglia: “I for one have renewed questions about the 1993 suicide of Deputy White House Counsel Vince Foster, Hillary’s former law partner and longtime friend, whose files were purged by Hillary’s staff before they could be examined for evidence.”

Heckuva job, Salon!

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Friday Cat Blogging

[ 87 ] May 16, 2008 |

Don’t judge him.

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