Sunday, October 30, 2011

Light Housekeeping

I keep meaning to post something up here but one thing or another keeps getting in the way; working Saturday and late on the weekdays is part of it, family and kiddos is another, pure laziness a third. I should have something for Halloween, since that's always good for kiddo pictures, if nothing else.

The other issue is that I just don't have much worthwhile to say at the moment. I don't want to repeat and you don't want to hear anymore moaning about the irritating combination of incompetence and moral corruption (that is, not the taking of actual payoffs but, rather, the complete voluntary subordination of the "public good" to the greedy desires of the oligarchy) that seems to comprise the U.S. government circa 2011. I've hammered away on wars and foreign policy, had the usual utter lack of effect, and am frankly bored and tired of both the moron-grade imbecility of the former and the nuclear-red-ass-grade irritation of the latter.

I have some idle thoughts, but so do you and there is no reason to assume that mine are any more worthy of consideration than yours; it's that sort of thing that gives blogging the bad name for self-indulgence it has.

Here's one thing I would like some suggestions on.

I'm also coming to the end of the "Decisive Battles" arc. No so much because there are no more battles to write about - as long as there are humans there will be battles to write about - but because the remaining engagements are either already thoroughly discussed by better writers than I or because I'm just not interested in the affairs. I haven't touched on, say, Stalingrad, or Agincourt, or Gaugamela and that's because I really have nothing to add to the mountainous scholarship already expended on them, and as a result I have no interest in even trying.

But there are a few remaining days of battle I AM interested in. I thought I'd throw them up here and let you give me some ideas, either for engagements I haven't listed or some insights on the ones I have. So, in order by month:

October - two; Milvian Bridge, more for the religious politics involved than from the fairly straightforward combat involved (how the FUCK do you take position with your back to a major river AND compromise the crossing point to ensure maximum carnage if you lose? If I were one of your troops I'd have killed you twice, Maxentius...) and Tours.

November - two U.S.-native tribe engagements; "St. Clair's Defeat" in 1791 and Tippicanoe in 1811.

December - to be honest, I got nothing for December. Any suggestions?

January - the Fall of Granada, as a discussion of the Reconquista in general and its effect on the military politics of Spain and the Spanish colonies

February - Verdun; again, not so much for the battle itself, a boring and horrific meatgrinder, but for the combination of the transition of German strategy from maneuver to bloodletting by 1916 and the terrible long-term effects the slaughter had on French politics and military preparedness (and to some extent has to this day).

March - Adowa, and the foreshadowing of the post-colonial wars of "liberation", and the "non-battle" of the Rhineland, 1936 because it SHOULD have been a battle...and that is wasn't set Europe on course for WW2 - an object lesson that peace isn't always "better" than war.

April - I've done pretty much all the battles for April I'm interested in: Panipat, Shanhaiguan, Lexington/Concord, and Culloden.

May - Canton 1841 (as the end of the Qing and a harbinger of the internal disasters that kept China in a mess throughout the next 100 years). And possibly the Fall of Constantinople in 1453, agian not for the battle itself but as the culmination of two centuries of declining Byzantine and growing Ottoman power, setting the stage for the wars of religion in southeastern Europe that culminate in the Siege of Vienna in 1529.

June - Chalons 451 (again, more as the exclamation point at the turning of the tide of Hunnic invasion of the West AND the decline of the Western Roman Empire) and the Philippine Sea (the "Marianas Turkey Shoot" - again, not so much as a battle but as the symbol of the barrenness of the Japanese war plan and the beginning of the end for the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere).

July - the Armada, 1588, and Königgrätz 1866

August - the only thing I can think of for this month is Stalingrad, and I just don't really have anything to say that hasn't been said. Any ideas?

September - Sedan, 1870.

And that's it.

So...any ideas, or suggestions?

Gotta go - have a good book that's calling to me.


Don Francisco said...

Hi Chief - sorry I haven't posted much or on time recently, been insanely busy at work.

If you are short of desire or inspiration, perhaps try a variation on having to write about battles. If it's the politics or economics of the period that interests you, find a way to write about them. Sometimes having to write about a Decisive Battle can be a straight jacket (though it can also give thoughts structure).

Maybe write about a great commander instead of a great battle? I often find it interesting learning the disparate, random and haphazard way leaders are influenced and develop. Part of this perspective has come from books I've been reading recently on formulating business strategy (for my work). Sometimes a foray into another field can reap rewards.

Anyway, just some ideas I'm throwing up for you there. The list of battles you mention doesn't sound too bad. I know recently your last few posts have been ambitious in taking your readers to countries and history they probably have never read before. Personally I think they are great and you should keep at them, though the lack of familiarity for others might be ofputting.

If you are short of a battle or twocan I recommend anything in Renaissance Italy (war becoming the driving economic activity,until the bubble burst), closed to home for me, Flodden as a complete,and completely unneccesary, disaster for the Scots.

FDChief said...

DF: No sweat-di-dah, I understand the issues of overcommitment and excess work.

Flodden might be interesting. The other battle of the Italian Wars I wanted to write up was Pavia, which I did back in February of '09. It's an interesting period, but more for the politics and the overall military evolution than for any individual battle.

Commanders. Hmmm. Let me think about that one. I've always been a sucker for the "underrated military leader" of the John Moore/Matt Ridgeway type, the guys who do good without looking good.

Rest assured, I'm still thinking about this...

Ael said...

I think you should do whatever you most enjoy.

One of the special treats from your battle articles are your "touchline tattles", and they got me to thinking ..

May I suggest a series of "Decisive Assholes through the Ages" articles. Go look for people who through a combination of historical circumstances and the seven deadly sins have shaped the world we live in today.

FDChief said...

Ael: That WOULD be fun; a sort of "Rumsfeld Award" (or "Rummy") for someone who has had the perfect anti-Midas touch for warfare and geopolitical strategy. I'm thinking of people like Dartmouth for England in 1775, or McNamara and Westy for us in 1968.

Lemme think about that, but I like the idea.

Big Daddy said...

If you need something for April, I think you should still do a piece about Camarón(Camarone). While the battle itself was essentially a mini-Alamo which did precisely nothing to keep the French puppet emperor Maximilian from being hauled in front of a justifiably irate Mexican firing squad, it was a defining moment in the history of the French Foreign Legion with repercussions leading all the way to Dien Bien Phu and the OAS.
If you are running short on decisive, then consider switching focus to significance , say precursors to important battles, for instance the relationship between Stamford Bridge and Hastings, or how the lessons of the Admin Box applied to Imphal-Kohima.

darwinsjoke said...

I'd throw in a vote for Breitenfeld and/or the Battle of Quebec for September. I don't remember you posting about either battle. Of course my memory could be horribly wrong though.

Ael said...

Chief: The "Asshole" target list would not be short. However, may I further suggest that plain old stupidy or ignorance not qualify anyone for membership in this rarefied list. This should make the list shorter and more interesting.

However, if a person were willfully ignorant because they were too busy boinking someone's daughter (or even better, son)...

So, I don't think Westmoreland qualifies. As far as I know, he was, personally, quite boring.

Maybe he does, because he was so solidly in the center of the Washington Rules that he could not understand why he hadn't already won. Sort of an arrogant blindness. But in that case, I suspect a there would be a lot of arrogant blindness through the ages and thus again, Westy doesn't make the cut.

What do you think?

Ael said...

One more thing, don't assume that sinners = failures. Clive, Cortes and Rhodes are excellent examples of breath-taking greed shaping our civilization.

Anonymous said...

Since you're having trouble with December, maybe something Pearl Harborish?

I still do not understand why the Japanese thought hitting Pearl like they did was a thing they needed to do. I know they were hoping for a shot at the carriers, but still, taking a trans-Ocean shot like that was very risky.

Would there have been any way to make such a strike worth the cost and risk?

Got any Alternative History up your sleeve?


rangeragainstwar said...

you are assuming that the japs were not played into that atk.
read Tolands book Infamy, and Day of Deceit by Stinett.
I am doing a review of these on 7 Dec, but not like Chiefs pieces.
I often wonder why the Japs didn't follow up the attacks with several more waves?! also why were only old ships in the harbor? All the modern made craft were out of harbor?! UMM!
Why weren't the fuel dumps and repair facilities not destroyed?

FDChief said...

Ael: Good note - I'll remember that, too...

BB and jim: The reason that the Japanese weren't pwned into Pearl Harbor is covered in MArquis Kido's memoirs. He notes particularly that the navay chief, Yamamoto, warned the Cabinet that they were fools to attack the U.S. and that they had nothing like the economic throw-weight needed to beat the Yankees. But all they could see was the need to grab the SE Asia oilfields and they were all freakish about getting blindsided from the East.

And as far as the actual attack, well...

1. The operational failure was principally that of VADM Nagumo. He was a cruiser-and-destroyer guy, and many of his contemporaries had doubts about his ability as a naval air officer. Tsukahara, the commander of the 11th Air Fleet, said of him; "Nagumo was an officer of the old school, a specialist of torpedo and surface maneuvers.... He did not have any idea of the capability and potential of naval aviation." Yamamoto's plan CALLED for him to continue attacking and destroy the fuel and repair facilities AND search out the carriers.

He didn't "get" the problems he was causing by not rearming a third strike to hit the fueling docks, or to search for the USN carriers. He was principally a "steady old file" who was more worried about losing a capital ship than carrying out his mission to completion.


2) even HAD the attack pretty much wrecked Pearl the most it would have done is have set back the U.S. counteroffensive in the Pacific six months or so. Yamamoto knew it; "I can run wild for six months..." he is supposed to have said, "...after that, I have no expectation of success".

The bottom line is that Imperial Japan was never likely to win against the U.S., regardless of their tactical or grand tactical successes in 1941 and '42. The combination of the U.S. economic muscle and Japan's horrific vulnerability to commerce raiding meant that had we not sent a single Marine or soldier ashore closer to the home islands than the Philippines or Guam U.S. air and submarine force would have brought the Imperial armies and navies to a halt some time in the mid- to late Forties. They'd just flat out have run out of fuel...

In my writeup on the Philippine Sea in June 2012 I'll talk about the bigger picture that takes in the Pacific War from Pearl to Tokyo Bay in terms of the foolishness thereof.

FDChief said...

BD: Camarón is a good one for the "battles that changed history" column for the way that it "made" the Legion Etranger.

But I think that I will write it up next April in company with the tale of the 1er REP and the Putsch des Généraux of 1961 - because to me, they represent the "endpoints" of the Old Legion. Camarón began the legend that was at once the brilliance and the failing of the Legion. By 1961 the officers and troopers who betrayed their government did so to a great degree because the legend had subsumed them; they believed their "duty" to the Legion and the Legion's separate identity as France in Algeria was greater than their duty to their nation.

Interesting story from both ends...

Pluto said...

Here's a few names for the "totally sucked at war but kept doing it" group.

Phillip II
Louis XIV

I know these guys were political rather than military but they created the situation that led to war and eventually catastrophe.

In a slightly different category, how about the campaigns of Pyrrhus, the man who gave us the "Pyrrhic victory"

Pluto said...

On the whole Pearl Harbor thing:

You need to remember that by 1941 the Japanese had been pushed into a really small box by the American blockade. They had two options:
1. Stop expanding their empire in China (or, perhaps even retreat) or
2. Double down their imperial bet and hope something broke in their favor.

The problem with the Japanese analysis of the situation was that they viewed both options as equally bad so they went with the more interesting one.

The militant adventurers who ruled Japanese society for the 20 years prior to 1941 had learned valuable lessons from 1905 and WWI, they just hadn't learned ALL the lessons, or even all the RIGHT lessons.

The Japanese were trying to create an empire just as empires were going out of vogue. They were extremely aggressive and not very flexible.

They really didn't understand that modern warfare isn't so much about heroic actions in combat and really cool looking weapons as it is about production, transportation, and continually improving your training doctrine.

On the other hand, they did get lucky, in a way. They totally lost the war, had MacArthur totally revamp their society, and became the second largest economy in the world in less than 30 years. A damned high price but...

FDChief said...

Pluto: I'd have to agree with your summary; the road to Hiroshima and Tokyo Bay was really paved by the combination of the weaknesses of the political zaibatsu set up in the Meiji Restoration that led to the genro and the militarization of the Japanese leadership from the turn of the 20th Century until 1945. They misread both the tenor of the times AND their own military strength.

FDR didn't HAVE to lead them to Pearl - the events of 1905 and 1917 (and the Twenties and Thirties) pretty much had them going there one way or another. A Pacific Rim power - or a would-be Power - was going to have to collide with the U.S. at some point. The Japanese leadership had to either accept that they weren't going to get their Co-Prosperity Sphere...or they were going to have to fight the Yankees.

They made a bad choice, but it wasn't much of a choice. After the humiliations they'd endured at the end of the previous wars they would sooner have swallowed a live grenade.

And, as you say, they lucked out into a post-WW2 world where the U.S. needed a functional Japan as an ally and not a supine conquered province...

Podunk Paul said...

Chief -- why don't you write about the Mexican drug war? 40,000 or 50,000 dead depending upon whom one believes. And no end in sight.

FDChief said...

Paul: In all honesty, I have done some blogging about the problems to our south...but I don't know or even pretend to know enough about the U.S. drug laws, and the social, political, and economic problems in Mexico and northern Latin America that combine to drive the fucking train wreck we call the "drug wars".

IMO the "drug war" problems can be roughly dovetailed into the overall U.S.-Mexico problems; up here too much money, down there too little. I can't think of a historical parallel where two nations, one the wealthiest in the world, the other one of the poorest shared a vast almost uncontrollable land border. It just seems like an invitation to a bad ending...