Friday, June 28, 2013

Friday Jukebox: Last Full Measure of Devotion Edition

One hundred and fifty years ago this week the armies of Union and rebellion met in one of the most vicious battles ever fought in North America: Gettysburg.

I want to talk and think about that a little, this week; not that I plan a "battles" piece on Gettysburg (first, because it's been done to death, second, because COL Bateman is doing a hell of a good job doing just that over at Pierce's place, and, third, because like so many of the battles of that war, Gettysburg wasn't "decisive" in any real sense. Bobby Lee's boys took a hell of a whipping and the losses suffered there (and at Chancellorsville earlier in the spring) took a lot of the starch out of the Army of Northern Virgina. But the fall of Vicksburg that same week was the real strategic victory for the North, and the engagement at Gettysburg proved - in my opinion - simply that battles, and especially battles in the Virginia Theater, weren't really going to win or lose anybody anything.

But more about that later.

Gonna be some kebab tonight, baby..!

Now that I have the requisite spices; made a stop at the little halal store on the way back to the shop yesterday.

My only quandry is the meat.

I loves me some lamb; somewhere buried deep in the bland Scots-English-French whiteboyishness that is my ancestry must be some Persian war-bride carried off by my Scottish mercenary great-great-great. A savory garlic-and-rosemary leg of lamb with spring potatoes and mushy peas? Roll me off to bed now, Sammy, I'm all good.

But the rest of the Family are lambophobes. My Bride will at least try the critter if I disguise it well enough; Bombay Curry, for example, or some sort of "made" dish where the spices and flavorings and sauces cover the essential lamby-ness of the meat. But the fractious Youth? Not a chance. It's a hot-dog-and-hamburger crowd down there below the salt. Any chance of getting them to eat these kebabs would be based on pure deception; I would have to swear that the original owner of the kebab mooed before becoming our dinner guest...

So while I yearn for some savory kufta kebab I'm pretty sure that I would be dining alone. But the beefyness of ground beef just doesn't seem to have the right flavor. Perhaps the chef's suggestion at the link, of a mix of fatty beef and lamb? Add in something even blander, like ground turkey? Hmmm.

Mmmm...I'm getting hungry just thinking about the savory deliciousness and it's only 11 in the morning...

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Ewe Made Me Love Ewe...

Jesus Fucking Roosevelt Christ on a Fucking Pogo Stick, what part about fucking consent don't you fucking understand?

When Rand Paul lets his Inner Libertarian out for a walk that little bastard just goes skipping off pretty much anywhere, don't he?
"I think this is the conundrum and gets back to what you were saying in the opening -- whether or not churches should decide this. But it is difficult because if we have no laws on this people take it to one extension further. Does it have to be humans? I'm kind of with you, I see the thousands-of-year tradition of the nucleus of the family unit. I also see that economically, if you just look without any kind of moral periscope and you say, what is it that is the leading cause of poverty in our country? It's having kids without marriage. The stability of the marriage unit is enormous and we should not just say oh we're punting on it, marriage can be anything."
No, dumbfuck.

Look, I've visited this whole business over and over again. My position is - and, by inference, my opinion that the opinion of any sane human should be - if you're adults, then you should be able to form any sort of goddamn domestic union you want.

Yes, that means polygamy.

And polyandry.

Boys and boys? Yep. Girls and girls? Yep. Boys and boys and girls and girls?


Boys and sheep?



Because a sheep - and a child, or a person who is emotionally or mentally a child, or someone who is comatose, or a corpse, or anyfuckingotherthing that cannot fucking understand the meaning of the emotional and physical intimacy of a personal relationship (call it marriage or bunga or whatever the hell else you want to call it) - cannot fucking consent to that intimacy.

And, mind you, this moron is supposed to be the "Thinking Man's Conservative". This silly fucktard is supposed to be among the Best and the Brightest that the GOP has on sale. This is the 1% of the Intellectual Wing of the GOP, for God's sake.

Can you imagine what the hell Sarah "Somewhere In Alaska My Village Is Missing Its Idiot" Palin thinks on this issue?

I mean, fuckadoodledoo; consent. Consent. Consent as in "consenting adults".


How fucking hard is that?

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

In their halls of stone

"In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor yet a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat: it was a hobbit-hole, and that means comfort."

The cave houses of Kinver Edge/Holy Austin Rock in Staffordshire, England; ridiculously cool.
"To the southwest of the village of Kinver are the lofty cliffs known as The Edge. A key feature of this formation is a huge outcrop known as Holy Austin Rock where enterprising people once made their homes by tunneling into the sandstone to create comfortable and weatherproof rooms. Exactly who carved out the first holes remains a mystery. Similar rock-cut chambers exist at both Bridgnorth and Nesscliffe Hill in the neighbouring county of Shropshire. Both are sited in sandstone cliffs in dense wooded areas and historical accounts acknowledge their existence as early as 790 AD and 1490 AD respectively. Given the age of these and other nearby examples it is likely that the original Kinver Edge caves were cut as early as 700 AD and probably had a religious significance. Many of the rock-cut caves in this area have origins that appear to date back to the arrival of Christianity in England around 600 AD to 700 AD."
One of the many things we've lost - mind you, in exchange for penicillin and food that won't kill you and the ability to stay dry and warm year-round - is this sort of strange and wonderful outlier of human habitation.

I think we don't quite "get" the degree to which people have become more homogenized through exposure to our "modern life", but I think we've already lost a hell of a lot of the sort of idiosyncrasy that produced these cave-homes.

When you can live in a manufactured home in a suburb with bags of potato chips ("crisps", as the Kinver Rock dwellers would have called them) and 280 cable channels why go to the difficulty of gouging out a sandstone cliff way the hell out in the middle of buttfuck nowhere?

Mind you, back in the day the rock houses weren't all THAT far from anywhere else:
"Given that the area was used as a royal hunting reserve from around 1080 AD, it likely that the King's foresters (rangers) would have used the natural highpoints of Kinver Edge and Holy Austin Rock as a lookout to watch for poachers and other outlaws. It also seems likely that they would have used and maybe even enlarged any caves in the immediate area for their own comfort. As with much of Britains local history the actual origins may never really be known. Over the next 700 years Kinver grew larger both as a result of royal favour and the growth of farming in the area. It was also situated on what became a main route from Bristol to Chester which significantly increased its importance in the region. It is during this time that much of the nearby forest was cleared for crops and sheep pastures. By around 1650 AD the village was beginning a period of rapid expansion and there is some evidence to suggest that local people had taken to quarrying rock from the nearby cliffs. It is possible that the first permanent inhabitants of the Rock Houses were the descendents of the local quarrymen."
But "progress" and the change in the local economy eventually drove the families away. The Shaws, one of whom had lived in one of these cave-homes for 150 years, left in 1939. The last residents bunked off about thirty years after that.

Leaving the caves to tramps and the Lesser Horseshoe Bat. Several similar sort of rock-houses simply collapsed. Fortunately for the homes at Kinver Edge the British National Trust now looks after them, and their account of the history, legends, and modern life of Kinver Rock at the link is well worth reading. The quote at the bignning of the post is not a coincidence. The website says:
"Tolkien was famously reluctant to name the places that inspired his stories but openly admitted that many of them were based on his experiences in the English Midlands where he lived as a youth. Some of these have been traced to locations such as the Mill at Sarehole and the nearby Moseley Bog. It's also well recorded that he hated living inside the City of Birmingham and took every opportunity to explore the surrounding countryside. Perhaps the similarities between the area surrounding Kinver and the theme of The Hobbit are no more than a extraordinary coincidence but it is just as likely that they may be some of the deepest inspirations for one of the greatest books ever written."
Whether or not they inspired Professor Tolkien, the cliff-houses are a rather fascinating artifact from an earlier age. Hope you enjoyed them as much as I did.

Some Random Thoughts on Race and Society.

The Supreme Court held today that crucial parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act are unconstitutional.

I could go on at length why this is not a good idea for the United States as a nation or Americans as a people except that Lemieux does all that already at the link.

If you're paying attention you understand that in many parts of the United States "conservative" outfits like True the Vote (as well as the usual suspects involved in gerrymandering electoral districts) are doing everything they can to ensure that anyone they suspect of voting to the Left of Lester Maddox is ghettoized into their own crowded districts when they can't disenfranchise them altogether.

I want to think about this for a moment, though, as part of a larger part of American life, a part us white folks really hate to think and talk about.

That's the part where we have to take one in the seat of the pants if we want to change the way "race matters" in the United States.

And the part where we haven't, and it hasn't, and race still matters in the United States.

Less than it used to, but matters.

Let's start with this: us white folks fucked over them colored folks - them folks being mostly colored dark brownish-black tho we didn't mind giving the redskins and brownskins and yellowskins a kick in the ass, too, whenever we could - for pretty much most of the first 150 years of this country or so.

Women didn't get such a great deal, either, but we've already talked about that a little.

Let's not kid ourselves.

This wasn't some sort of little gentle corrective slap from time to time.

Being black in the United States from 1776 to about 1969 was about as much fun as being the littlest guy in the yard at Salem Correctional Institution for Men.

If you were lucky you had to sit in the back of the bus and work for peanuts while taking crap from the scrawniest little bastard flying KKK colors. You lived in the shittiest parts of town and your kids went to the shittiest schools and got the shittiest educations. You worked at shitty jobs for shitty wages - less than the white boys doing the same shitty jobs - and shopped at shitty rundown stores for shitty products the white folks didn't want.

If you were lucky.

If you weren't you got beaten up, or raped, or killed. You got run out of town with nothing but the clothes on your back. If you were foolish enough to be accused of anything - or even just being nearby when someone else was accused of anything - you ran a real good chance of getting murdered out of hand.

Speaking for my home town, it was against the law to be black in Oregon from 1844 to 1926. The law wasn't much used, mind you, but it was there, and the knowledge of it probably had a lot to do with how few African-Americans ended up here.

Since the end of WW2 life in the United States has gotten better for those citizens-who-aren't-white-people. Lynching has been stopped. Overt, legal discrimination is dead as the dodo. Social, political, and economic opportunities that did not exist for blacks (and hispanics and asians) fifty years ago are now mandated by law and enforced by social pressure.

Let's not kid ourselves here, either.

If you're poor in the United States (and poor trumps white, by the way, in my experience...) things are pretty nasty for you.

If you're poor and you're NOT white, well, chances are that you STILL live in the shittiest parts of town and your kids still go to the shittiest schools. You still get shitty jobs and you still get shitty pay. The likelihood that you're out of work and unable to find work is higher than if you were white and always has been.

Some of this is because there are some real fucking bad habits that have worked their way deep into African-American communities and African-American culture.
(Mind you, when you're the punk of the prison yard you end up learning some pretty degrading tricks to earn your smokes. Doesn't mean it's not your problem. But it means that you need a little more than just the warden telling you that he's told the Aryan Nations gangsters to stop bending you over the weight bench four times between dinner and lights-out for everything to be peachy-keen from there on.)
But a hell of a lot of it is because the rest of us have run like sonsofbitches any time there was a danger that we might wind up living and working alongside African-Americans.

We - largely the "conservative" and white "we" - have fought "affirmative action" that would have forced us to take on black people as peers in our schools and jobs whether we liked it or not. We've white-flighted every time black people have moved in next to us. We've worked very hard to avoid doing anything that would have seriously inconvenienced us as a means of trying to rub out the long-lasting effect of all that lynching and slaving and general 150-some years of fucking-over.

Well, it's worked. Many black Americans still have some problems here in America - and some black Americans still have some very big problems in America - and today the U.S. Supreme Court said that despite that history of fuckery it's fine with the fuckers fucking with other people's voting because "taking race into account" was okay as a reason for the fucking for 150 years but not when you're trying to unfuck the fucking for the past 50 or so.

The public in its infinite wisdom is now solidly against anything that can be described as "affirmative action" or "reverse racism" as if somehow trying to erase the legacy of all that racist shit was in itself racist. Because we're all "post-racial", right? If you walk into a bank to get a loan, or into a traffic stop, or into a polling place it doesn't matter if you're black or white, right?

Let's not kid ourselves.

We can keep going along just fine the way things are. Lots of black people (and hispanic and asian and other not-white people) are way better off today than they were. Nobody is going to Bastille the Capitol building because they can't be CEO of Goldman Sachs or because every so often they get stopped for driving while black; the U.S. 2013 ain't the slums of Paris 1788.

It's just that us white folks should be willing to look at ourselves and admit that we're okay that some people who don't look like us are a little more troubled and a little poorer and a little less part of the life of our nation so long as "we" don't have to make any sacrifices to change that.

That seems a little small and a little mean and a little miserable to me.

Hey, I don't like the idea of sacrificing something to make some anonymous black guy more likely to have what I've got any more than Lester Fucking Maddox did.

But I like to think that I'm a better man than Lester Fucking Maddox, and that my country is, too.

Tennoheika Banzai!

The proposed cover art for the Aoshima 1/700 scale model kit of the Japan Naval Self-Defense Force vessel Hyuga:

Note the sinking PLAN carrier Liaoning in the background! Clearly "Operation Senkaku" was a devastating success for the JNSDF and the East China Sea is now an Imperial lake. Poor deluded Rob Farley, clearly baffled by Imperial propaganda, claims
"Obviously there’s been some sort of dreadful accident– apparently near the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands– and the Hyuga is rendering desperately needed assistance to the Chinese ship. Those Ospreys are undoubtedly rescuing scores of Chinese crewmen. I can only hope that the goodwill and generosity evident in this artwork helps serve as a bridge between the two great East Asian nations."
Ha! Foolish Yankee, you won't be so cheerful when California has become part of the New Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere!


I was watching the Beeb last night about the protests in Brazil, comparing them to the protests in Turkey, and wondering about my own country.

Because it seems to me that two far-distant places are experiencing much the same political problems; both are democratic republics, both have a legal system in place for the citizens to vote for change. But in both a substantial minority of the people believe that their "votes" are meaningless, and that the way the system of government is currently set up that they have no hope of bettering the lives (or affecting particular issues they see as worsening their lives) within the democratic process.

So they take to the streets.

We had that here, not so long ago, with the Occupy protests, and to my mind the only real difference was in the reaction of the governments. In Turkey and Brazil the police agencies had and have a long, ugly history of brutal reaction to public protest. The initial beatings and gassings had the effect of reminding Turks and Brazilians how much they reeeeeally hated the way their cops beat and gas them, and the protests became as much about that as about the initial grievances.

Here our coppers have learned to be crafty and patient. Protest met with a riot baton wrapped inside a comfy pillow is protest that gradually loses its vitality. If it doesn't lay you out cold a rap on the skull just pisses you off. But an indifferent stare is boring. The U.S. coppers knew that the way to defuse Occupy was to make it boring, and they did. The U.S. public lost interest, Occupy lost it's momentum and has already faded into insignificance.

Which in my opinion will be remembered as a tragedy. The Occupiers had one burning insight; that from the mildly benign oligarchy it had been from 1932 to the late 1970s the U.S. is rapidly becoming a predatory toxic oligarchy through the rapaciousness of its oligarchs. This insight was lost in the foolish cacophony of noise the Occupiers generated and the criminally negligent reportage of the courtier press. I believe that we will one day regret that we did not pay more attention to the rise of the modern aristos.

The result has been a continued slide back to the rampant inequality and social division of the Gilded Age, with the concurrent erosion of the sort of stodgy bourgeois middle-class attitude of the "rest" of the U.S. public as it sees it's decent-wage jobs, it's pensions, it's influence, and it's security ever more crammed down and eroded away. Combine that with the overwhelming sense that gold now makes the rules and that the reopening of government to massive inflows of cash has made individual voting almost meaningless and you get a public that seems to me daily more vulnerable to a demagogue, a "man on horseback" that promises to make those changes that they can't.

And that vulnerability makes me think of perhaps the saddest image I've seen from these recent protests:

This young woman was first said to be an Egyptian visiting Istanbul; since then the Egyptian embassy has devowed knowledge of her. So we have no idea of who she is - or was, since she must have suffered massive head trauma from the direct gas-canister hit and is very likely dead - or why she was there, or what she was doing and thinking at the time that the heavy metal can turned that day into endless night.

Whatever drove her into that street drove her to her own doom.

That seems to be pretty much what happens when desperate, vulnerable people take to the street. Few popular rebellions seem to end well; as bad as conditions were before the Revolution it seems hard to imagine that Napoleon is an upgrade over the Bourbons or Stalin over the Tsar. The defenestration of oligarchy usually seems to produce autocracy and war, not liberty and law.

The promise of the United States is the chance to pursue life, liberty, and happiness. Not to win them, but to pursue them.

But it seems to me that that promise now stands in the street we've built to let some of us drive towards increased wealth and power.

Will they collide violently? Will the streets explode in anger, as they have in Brazil and in Instanbul?

Will the result be that promise ending up lying in the street as she lay, dazed and barefoot, dying?

Monday, June 24, 2013

Some Random Thoughts on Gender and Soldiering

My friends Jim and Lisa over at Ranger Against War have been conducting an on-going discussion of the recent rescinding of the 1994 DOD "Direct Ground Combat Definition and Assignment Rule".

They make some very good points about how we in the U.S. look at gender and roles and warfare. They also - and I may be advancing their position too far, here - posit that the DOD action is foolish in attempting to integrate men's and women's roles in the armed forces further than they already are.

First, let me say this; frankly, if no American ever had to be an infantryman again, ever, that'd be jake with me.

I spent too many a weary klick under a rucksack to have any romance left about the Fucking Queen of Fucking Battle. That royal bitch can bite me. And that was in peacetime. The lot of an infantryman in wartime is a misery I can't even really begin to imagine.

Second, I don't see any real mainstream impetus to make this a real issue. The usual flank elements on Left and Right are spun up, but I don't sense any sort of popular interest in or push for female infantrymen and tank crews anytime soon. The reality is that most women - hell, most sane people - don't want to be high-velocity projectile interceptors for a living.


Part of "citizenship" in the U.S. means being on the parapet of Ft. McHenry "when freemen shall stand between their loved home and the war's desolation!"

While I don't like the idea of fighting as a qualification for citizenship it has been an important element of citizenship in republics since Greek and Roman times, and very definitely since the advent of "the army as the school of the nation" that came with the First French Republic in 1789. By restricting a citizen from taking up arms to defend her country you make her less than a full citizen.

Full stop.

To me that puts the burden on the person who wants to defend the idea that women are by their gender unsuited for the highest risk of mortal hazard they seek; that to insist that a woman's military service should be limited to Combat Support and Combat Service Support MOSes - which have historically and organizationally been considered and treated as second-class citizens in the U.S. Army - you have to make the case that restricting her military "franchise" is justified by the benefits to her, you, and the nation.

(And let me add here that I see no really serious push from anyone to open the infantry MOSes to women. But without the 1994 memo the possibility is there and the possibility has brought jim, especially, out of defilade and bringing direct fire on the subject of female soldiering.)

Jim has a series of points to his argument about this over at the first link to RAW. Let me list them here and try and put down some of my own thoughts in return:

--Men and women are different, and possessed of different strengths
Agreed. With the caveat that this is always and in everywhere true. It is also true that individuals are different and possessed of different strengths. That is material to certain things; a 4'2" midget is unlikely to play center for the Portland Trailblazers. It is not quite as clear how this applies to military service. I have served, and worked, and played various sports with women who were mentally tougher and physically stronger than some men. I have had the same experience within the genders; some men are tougher than others. I will agree that the strongest men are stronger than the strongest women. Toughness is another matter; I have known many women who can outrun and outruck men their own age.
--In male's compartmentalized brains, there is also a place for "his" women. These women elicit a different response.

--There are some spaces and subjects which are the chosen domain of men (see, Fight Club for the idea.) In his life, the Army's Combat Arms was such an area -- their real-world "Outward Bound" in which men tested their limits against their fellows and the enemy, and lived the Jungian warrior archetype.

Basically these two points boil down to "My head gets messed up when I have to deal with girlie stuff". I agree here, too; us guys, living in the U.S. as it is today, often have this problem.

However, it's OUR problem. There's no reason that the women around us need to make it their problem, or shape their lives around our prejudices.

Add to that the whole "mens domain" argument has ALWAYS been used to keep the "other people" out, whether they were women, or black, or Asians, or whoever the men on the indside didn't want. It was the argument against letting women vote, it was the argument against letting women into the sorts of fraternities like the Chambers or Commerce and the Rotary and the Lake Snootibottom Golf and Country Club where the Boys backslapped and made deals. As a man I agree that it's fun to shut the door on the He-Man Woman Hater's Club and keep the girlies out.

As an adult I can't defend that as behavior really appropriate in an adult.
--We have no warrior princesses today, no Boudiccas, outside of Hollywood or cartoon versions of Zena the Warrior Princess and ilk. For most girls today, that image has been superseded by Snow White or Cinderella. For most women, their reality lies somewhere in between (They can bring home the bacon, serve it up to a man, all the while retaining their ineffable femininity.)
The Snow Whites and Cinderellas aren't going to volunteer to go to the Fort Benning School For Wayward Boys.


Let me tell you a little secret; I was on the trail as a reserve drill sergeant at FBNC. I ran part of the 11B POI. I watched guys I didn't trust to be in the Army, much less in the infantry, get pencil-whipped because Benning had numbers to meet and couldn't afford to wash them out and didn't want to recycle them. A typical U.S. Army infantryman isn't some sort of Spartan soldier all whipleather and steel. The best are outstanding. The average are actually damn good troops. The worst are total shitbags. My guess is that the "average" infantry Joe is about as good as the top 5 or 10% of the Mollies. And don't forget - this is in a society that has told it's women for 200+ years "you're a dainty thing, you're Snow White, you're Cinderella". Open the door to the gals who want to kick ass like crazy monkeys and who the hell knows what could happen?

And the reality is that only a tiny percentage of U.S. women would want to give the Infantry a shot. An even tinier percentage would be capable of passing the physical qualifications (assuming the the U.S. Army put it's boot down and insisted in a physical standard just to go to 11B OSUT. My fear that political pressure to "pass" the women would force the Army to let some slide is about as great as my fear that the Army would refuse to institute such a standard knowing how many male recruits couldn't meet it) to get in. And the tiny percentage that remained would be 99.99% free of the slightest taint of Snowhiteyness or Cinderelladom.

But as much as this is a charming image, in my opinion the difference between it and the sort of tough country gals and urban gang girls who would actually take a whack at Benning is pretty huge.
Basically what I get out of the bulk of jim's argument - and I should add that he makes a hell of a lot more cogent and sensible (and savory - someone in his comment section has already basically classified a large proportion of military females as whores who fuck their fellow troopers for extra TDY pay; looking at the images of women in that guy's mind must be like lifting up a mossy rock - ugh) points than I've read elsewehre - is that a hell of a lot of the argument over keeping the girls out of the male-only MOSes comes down to "the girls will have to just accept this because the boys can't get over the way they feel about the girls."

But we HAVE gotten over a lot of the way "we" feel about "the girls". We don't consider them property anymore, most of us don't consider them a life-support system for either a womb or a vagina anymore, we've let them do a lot of the sorts of civilian jobs that men do.

We've gotten over the notion that black people can be slaves. We've gotten over the idea that people with mental illness are possessed by the Devil.

Why CAN'T we get over the "girlie" stuff?

Here's the thing; I have had issues with female soldiers in my past.

Many of them went back to the fact that men, both in the women's civilian pasts as well as men who were their military equals and their superiors, had expected them to "retain their ineffable femininity" while changing the tires on a deuce-and-a-half or repairing electronic equipment or packing parachutes. They had learned - largely through the men in their lives - that they could play the "girlie card" and get out of some of the hardest, dirtiest work.

Not because they couldn't. But because - no fools they - they didn't want to do it and knew that if they played the men right they could "...elicit a different response."

This was bad for the women. And it was bad for the men, too, because in doing what the women got them to do they developed a sort of big-brotherly contempt (at best) or snarlingly misogynistic (at worst) contempt for the women's abilities to do hard, dirty work.

I think that both men and women would be a LOT better off if the default position for us guys was a little less studly and for the women a little less poofy. I mean, you should be able to be as studly and poofy as you and whoever you're dealing with enjoy. But I think some hardcore in women, and some recognition that women CAN be hardcore, would be good for us both.

Again - I DO understand the difficulties, I DO understand the arguments against this. But - given the reality that the only women capable of making the grade as 11-bush are going to be the hardest of the hardcore - I'm not sure that those arguments trump the political reality that if you can tell her she "...can't do that because you're a girl" then how is she your political, military, and social equal?

I'm not saying a woman should have to be a fighting soldier if she doesn't want to be.

Hell, I don't think anyone should have to be a fighting soldier. The food sucks, the pay is shit, and the working conditions would embarrass a Tijuana maquiladora.

But given the connection between soldiering and citizenship in a republic...shouldn't we have to make a hell of a massive case against giving the woman or women who want to take it, that chance?

Camera Obscura

I will admit to being largely unfamiliar with the work of Andrei Tarkovsky.

I know he made the original Solaris, which I have seen bits and pieces of. It is one of those films I find lovely, and intriguing, and yet impenetrable; I have not been able to sit all the way through it simply because I can't keep my mind from wandering. But it is lovely and meditative, and I appreciate the director's eye for image.

Turns out that the guy was a pretty slick hand with still photos, too. Anyone who can produce arresting images out of a cheesy Polaroid camera? Hmmm.

I think I should go watch one of his flicks. There seems to be something there.

(h/t to the gang at Lawyers, Guns, and Money for the link)

Friday, June 21, 2013

Father-Daughter Bonding: How Not To Do It

I have NO idea why the hell this popped into my mind, but it did, and now I can't get it out of my head until I tell you the story. Feel free to blame me afterwards, then.

Ok - first - let's get this out of the way.

There's some pictures of naked people in this one. If you don't like naked people, don't read it.

Are we good?

Okay, then.

So. When I lived in southeastern Pennsylvania right after I got off active service my then-girlfriend-soon-to-be-bride-quondam-wife-now-ex had a very sweet friend let's call Gina. Gina was a nice Italian-American girl with a nice Italian-American family that lived in a nice little Italian-American community in someplace like Coatesville, I think.

She was a terrific gal; hell of a hard worker, friendly, smart, loved her friends and family, had just about everything going for her in her life you can think of except for one teensy little thing.

Gina was a lesbian. Probably still is, for that matter.

Anyway, that was a huuuuge big fat hairy deal for her Papa. Let's call him Gino, and Papa Gino was everything you'd expect a traditional Italian-American Papa born in south Philly the early 1930's to be; this swarthy sort of lumpy guy with a thick Philadelphia accent, a "diamond in the rough" kind of papa with big hands and a big heart that was filled with love for his family, his community, the Iggles, spaghetti bolognese, and cold Budweiser.

But not for lesbian daughters who weren't going to get married in Church and produce a dozen adorable grandkids for him.

Apparently Papa Gino and Gina had fought like hell about that when she came out - and, trust me, in 1985 this was something families would fight about and fight hard. Especially if you were an Italian-American kid in a small town in southeastern Pennsylvania. There was lots of stereotypical Italian-American drama involved, and it took a while for things to settle into a sort of armed truce. Gina didn't bring her girlfriends home or dress real butch and Papa Gino didn't rag on her about her sexuality. They stuck to neutral topics and kept up a tough veneer of civility.

But things were definitely tense.

So, anyway, here one Friday Gina is coming home after work and she's had a tough week, so has Papa Gino, and she wants to make nice to him so that she can have, just for a little while, the uncomplicated love for and from her daddy like when she was little.

So - she buys a half-rack of Budweiser and the fixin's for spaghetti bolognese and she figures she'll rent a movie and they can have a nice father-daughter dinner and watch a movie on the VCR together.

Well, you can imagine Gina's Papa Gino's taste in movies, right? Godfather films, Westerns, and war movies...that was pretty much the A to Z in movies for Gino Zepporelli.

Now Gina hates "Italian" films and can't stand Westerns, but war flicks? She can deal.

She wanders down the "Action" movie aisle of the local video rental store and finds a flick that looks kind of World War Two-ish. GIs fighting Nazis? That's a Papa Gino Slam-dunk.

So off she goes with the meat sauce and the videotape and Gina and Papa Gino had a nice dinner and some Buds and settled on the couch to watch the film she rented, a Seventies flick titled:

"Ilsa, She-Wolf of the SS"

Ilsa who? I hear you ask.

That Ilsa:

The Ilsa with the big jahoobs in this half-assed WW2 story is supposedly based on this Ilsa: Ilse Koch, Die Hexe von Buchenwald, the Witch of Buchenwald, a real-life Nazi who seems to have been a very twisted sister, indeed but this is what the real Ilsa looked like:

Which, as you can see, is not anything what the Ilsa of the movie looks like. But you knew that already, right.

According to Gina the VCR tape box had "...a picture of Ilsa kinda bustin' out of her SS-outfit and some people shootin' and barbed wire an' stuff..." so not surprisingly she figured it was some sort of WW2 prison picture, The Great Escape only with tits.

She liked tits, and her dad liked The Great Escape so win-win, right?

At any rate, here's Papa Gino settled into his comfy Barcalounger with his fourth Bud with the opening credits rolling all prepared to enjoy a good Axis-and-Allies shoot-'em-up movie, a comfy Combat-episode sort of flick where the Nazis are all hissing and evil and the GIs all ingenious and heroic and the Good Guys win in the end...when he's suddenly confronted with this;

Yeah. It's a soft-core porn film.

So you have to picture the scene; here's Papa Gino frozen in his chair watching this Hogan's-Heroes-gone-horribly-wrong skin flick trying desperately not to go ballistic on his daughter who is sitting on the couch next to him completely mortified but at the same time possessed by the horrible compulsion to burst out laughing hysterically at the whole awful predicament.

So nobody says anything; both of them stare fixated at the awful film rolling past on-screen.

She says that this went on for what seemed like forever, the two of them too stunned to do or say anything, until the famous "electric dildo scene"... which point Papa Gino bolted out of his lounge chair spewing Budweiser all over the knick-knacks on the coffee table and roaring "Whadda fuggin' hell is dis, some sorta fuggin' fug film!", and Gina collapsed on the couch snorting with laughter and wailing "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I had no idea! I had no idea!" until the tears ran down her cheeks.

As they did ours as she told us afterward.

I guess things were kind of touchy around the Zepporelli household for a couple of weeks after that. Gina camped out on our couch for a night or two while her girlfriend was out of town and then with her girlfriend for the rest of the time.

Papa Gino eventually calmed down, although according to Gina it took several months for him to be able to watch any sort of video or television with his family without referring to his middle daughter as "Fuggin' Ilsa de Fuggin' Queen of Da Fug Film Business"

And that was pretty much that.

I never did find out much more about the story of Gino, Gina, and Ilsa. Shortly afterwards my ex got hired at the Catholic hospital out here in Portland and we moved out West. We weren't good enough friend for Gina and my ex to say in touch, so we never heard from them again. All that remains is my memory of this one disastrous dad-daughter evening.

I guess the one last bit about this story I wanted to pass on was culled from the one of the websites I linked to (you guys know I am sleepless in acquiring this sort of fascinating trivia, right) well, here's the most bizarre bit of information I found about this goofy war-porn film. Remember how I called it "Hogan's Heroes Gone Horribly Wrong"?

Well...Ilsa was filmed on the original set of the Hogan's Heroes TV show.

Supposedly at the end of Ilsa a whole bunch of the set got blown up during the big prison break scene (which I think we can assume that Papa Gino didn't keep on going to see).

So not only did his crazy lesbo daughter rent a sadistic WW2 porno film for their dad-daughter evening, it was a sadistic WW2 porno film that blew the hell out of the set of one of his beloved Sixties sitcoms.

I'll bet Papa Gino would have really had a kitten fit if he'd known that

Heart of Oak

I had a bit of a slow afternoon yesterday, so I clocked out early and joined my family at our little Oaks Park.

I suspect that most cities of any size and age have at least one of these old carnivals, leftovers from the turn of the last century when "entertainment" was something you had to leave the house to find.

This particular one opened in 1905 as "The Oaks" - you can see why in the picture to the left. The oak trees that forested the river island bar still stand over the little park.

The story is that The Oaks had a serious rivalry with the "other" entertainment game in town in 1905 - the Lewis and Clark Exposition rising in what had been the swamps of northwest Portland. According to the Portland History website I linked to above "The Oaks" won, opening a couple of days before the Exposition.

I have a real affection for these old amusement parks. I spent a good portion of my childhood several miles away from something called Lenape Park, a similar old carny as close to the Brandywine Creek as The Oaks was to the Willamette River. The late Victorian carousel and the ginormous wooden roller coaster seemed gothic and exciting to me, child of the pre-electronic age that I was, and my love for the turn-of-the-century parks has stuck with me to this day. So I appreciate the lingering small-town, slow paced feel of Oaks Park for the ghost of the past that it is.

My kids, however, could care less.

They like Oaks Park because they like the bumper cars, and the carousel, and the kiddie rides (yes, even the Boy, who is really too old for the tiny rides his little sister enjoys). We spent the better part of three hours there yesterday riding the rides, eating hot dogs and curly fries, and dodging the showers that scudded past like unhappy memories.

The Boy measured himself against the go-kart scale again. He's so close. He said that he thought his next growth spurt would put him over the bar, and so he's even thinking about eating a vegetable if that will help.

I doubt it'll happen, but you never know; he REALLY wants to drive those go-karts.

They both loved them some bumper cars. I honestly don't recall how many times they rode them, but it was a lot.

Little Miss even conned me into riding; she wanted to drive and her brother, in the way of big brothers everywhere, wouldn't give up the wheel. She needed a co-driver, though, because her little legs couldn't reach the pedal. So I pushed and she steered and the whole macguffin was vastly entertaining. There's something truly primeval about the instincts aroused by bumper cars. When the lights come on and the sparks start to fly from the tin flag at the top of the long pole even the gentlest heart is gripped with an overwhelming urge to ram and destroy. Something about seeing the gleeful expression on your little daughter's face as she accelerates and slams some stranger backwards into the wall makes even the most doting daddy skeptical about the whole "sugar and spice" thing.

So we whiled away the afternoon at the silliest of diversions; going fast and spinning around,
getting outside of junky food,
(during which we found that curly fries make great tusks, by the way...)
racing from one ride to another,
and generally disporting ourselves in a completely socially-insignificant fashion.
Finally, even the unsophisticated joys of Oaks Park wore thin. The skies grew grayer and colder, the rain began to spatter down with a more serious intent, and the crowd, what little there had been, thinned to the point of dereliction. The three of us felt that we'd dragged the most worth we could out of the old park. We trooped out to the little Honda and piled inside, ready to follow Mommy (who, no fool she, had taken the opportunity to dump Daddy with the kiddos and abscond hours earlier) back to North Portland.

Behind us the gaudy lights and carny noises faded into the spatter of rain. But climbing the hill away from the old oak grove I could still see the cotton-candy glow against the darkening sky, like the faint corona of a carnival crowd a hundred years ago looking then for the same foolish pleasures we had just found and left behind us.

Loose shoes, and a warm place to shit.

In case you didn't quite get what all the singing and dancing was about, it's an ad for something called a "vaginal rejuvenation" gel called 18 Again. The product website claims that:
"18 Again is very effective for tightening of the vagina. Along with tightening, it provides vaginal rejuvenation, improves strength and grip of the vagina, helps prevent infections, encourages natural lubrication, masks foul odour, reduces involuntary urine escape, improves blood circulation, delays effects of ageing and keeps the vagina healthy."
I have to say that this is perhaps the weirdest commercial product I've run into since the crotch-bleach stuff (which was also an Indian something going on in Mumbai that I'm just not getting..?) and the damn adult wet-wipes that got your beaver more wood or something.

I mean, thinking about this in a sort of cold-bloodedly sexual fashion I get how the whole "happiness is a tight pussy" pitch these people are making for their product could work. It plays into the human obsession with sex and bizarre ways to make it bigger, faster, harder, and better. When you think about it this gloop isn't all that much different from the old Johnnie Holmes pecker-pump gimmicks you used to see advertised in skin mags or skeevy scandal sheets.

Not to mention the subject of a gajillion jokes like the one I used for the title that got ol' Earl Butz canned.
(And just as an aside, now there was a deeply evil Republican bastard. We'll get back to him in a bit, I promise...)
I can see how people would buy this stuff.

But below the surface there just seems to be something deeply...wrong...about the whole idea of this goop and I can't quite put my finger on it.

Is it simply the usual lazy human nonsense of expecting a magic cream to do magic to your body instead of hard work? Buying a magic belt instead of sit-ups? Buying magic pills instead of laying off the cupcakes? Buying magic goop instead of patiently doing a whole bunch of Kegel exercises?

Or is it the other usual lazy human nonsense, the masculine nonsense of treating a woman like a product that has a sell-by date and is useless after that, worthless until she's "eighteen again", tight and taut and virginal?

I don't know which is sadder.

But I know the whole business makes me shake my head just like the ginzo-bleach and the dingus-wipes.

Sometime I think human beings are the strangest goddamn monkey on the whole goddamn island.

Sapiens, my ass.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

It's not just the priests...

...that are more concerned with their own power and position than the public weal.

It's the merchants, too.

And the syncophants of all these powerful and wealthy people in U.S. politics as well as the U.S. public in large.

One of the parts of the current U.S. infatuation with "the market" that infuriates me more than the rest is the widespread ignorance of (or willful indifference to, which may be worse) much of the U.S. public to the fairly obvious and simple reality that any person or group of people whose primary objective is short-term profit for themselves is and are going to be indifferent at best and actively injurious at worst to anyone or anything not actively assisting them in turning said profit.

The Great Iniquity of the modern GOP - the worst of the U.S. public in this respect - is its insistence that "government is the problem" because that screed actively smokescreens the fact that only government - that is, only the public acting through its representatives - has the power to act as an effective check to these profiteers when their pursuit of profit comes at the expense of the public good.

But this power is not power when the public doesn't even know what its government should be checking, and especially when its government is involved not in checking this chicanery but acting to facilitate it:
“I have heard the argument that transparency would undermine the Trade Representative’s policy to complete the trade agreement because public opposition would be significant,” Warren explained. “In other words, if people knew what was going on, they would stop it. This argument is exactly backwards. If transparency would lead to widespread public opposition to a trade agreement, then that trade agreement should not be the policy of the United States.”
No duh.

This, this is the poison at the heart of all the harm done by this crony capitalism, this secret spying, this "security"; all these deals and agreements and policies made in night and fog.

A people that rule themselves must know what is being done to them, for them, and in their name. A people that rule themselves must know - at the very least - what their own government is doing, with whom, and why.

A people that is ruled will not, and do not.

A people that will not, and do not, will become a ruled people.

When, and how, are merely details.

While I understand that We, the People seem indifferent to this distinction, I cannot reconcile myself to the fact, and I cannot see anything good coming from it.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Meddlesome priests.

I was reading Pierce today on the latest revelation in the ongoing saga that is the Roman Catholic Man-Boy Love Association and had a brief vision of the sainted Thomas a' Becket.

Because like that irritatingly martyred man the Church cannot seem to see the beam in it's eye for the mote in other people's. Worried about its ability to speak commandingly on what it considers sins it overlooks the inevitable predation of the strong on the weak that will occur when you give the strong the sanction of holy authority and fail to place limits on their acts.

It's not an "if".

It's a when.

For the simple reason is that most men are not saints. And even most saints are not "saints" but, rather, men like Thomas Becket who prize their own authority, their own power and the power and privilege of their organization above the welfare of others.

The good people among them will, at least, do no harm - although, like Becket, may well do harm to others or to the commons in their zeal to do what they see as good to what they see as "theirs".

But the bad people among them will be monsters.

And the worst part about a religion is that it settles an armor of God (or gods) on the monsters, so that their monstrosity is concealed or, worse, is exalted into heroism. Thus can an Arnauld Amalric say “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius" (Kill them all for the Lord knoweth them that are His) deeming himself a pious man doing the good work his Lord has commended him to.

This is not a failing of the Catholic Church. It is not a failing of religion in general. It is a human failing. is a failing of religion - and the Catholic Church in this case - to fail to recognize that humans will use the tenets of their church to excuse, or hide, or enable their own failings if they are not strictly overseen. The power of holiness, the assumed mantle of godliness, will give those among them without scruple a weapon of terrible strength.

So the first duty of any cleric, from the humblest acolyte to the mightiest heirophant, must be to remain unsleepingly vigilant to the danger of that weapon. To be merciless in uncovering the abuse of trust and faith. To be self-sacrificing in publicly punishing the guilty and redeeming the victims. To place the faithful above the object of their faith.

But as any of the faithful would tell you; the path of duty is narrow and steep; the path of conformity, sloth, and luxurious power that leads to Hell broad, easy, and gentle.

So the fact that the fathers of the modern Church are no different in their loyalty to their own than Becket was nine centuries ago should come as no surprise to any of us.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Sons of David

My father's day gift from the boy was a headshot.

We joined his pal Arthur and his dad down at the laser-tag place in Milwaukie for video games and light-beam battles. Good times. The most fun was our third and last match; nobody else wanted to play, so it was Red versus Blue, sons against fathers. Here are the electronic warriors practicing the "circular firing squad" maneuver:

The boys fought hard, but the old men kicked their young asses. Age and craft did in fact overcome youth and energy.

Wait, wait, young men; your days will come. For now the old hands are still masters of the craft.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Tears cannot restore her. Therefore I weep.

One of my sort-of-forbidden pleasures is the cinematic stylings of the Self-Styled Siren. I am a great fan of the studio films of the Thirties, Forties, and Fifties and she has a studio full of stories, observations, critiques, revelations, and appreciations of them.

Here's the thing, though. She so often writes about the cinematic and movie-related things she enjoys that it's easy to forget that the Siren can flat-out, pure-D, stomp-down, kick-ass, tear-the-roof-off-the-muthsucka fucking write.

Every once in a while, though, she reminds us. Here's a terrific little story for your enjoyment; Manhattan Thoughts on a Hot Evening

"...she was most likely weeping because Citibank has plenty of money, and she does not."

Pure brilliance.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Gimme Shelter

By now you probably know that I'm utterly intrigued by oddball bits of history. So it's hardly surprising that I was tickled by this little piece of Cold War memorabilia; a fallout shelter under a California backyard still lingering in the Sixties year it was last visited by its creator.
Apparently there are more of these things lurking down there; the author of this blog post links to one in Alabama, though who the hell would have wanted to nuke Alabama I haven't the faintest; even the stupidest Soviet would probably have suspected that the Red Dawn would break all the sooner for leaving that sump-hole of rural squalor to fester in the lower-lying swamplands of American rednecksylvania.

One cool thing the linked blogger above discusses is something called "Multi Purpose Food" or MPF. This stuff, here:
Now while I'm a child of the Fifties I was a child of the late Fifties and a fairly dim one at that. By the time I was old enough to go to grade school the whole "Duck and Cover" and scare-the-shit-out-of-the-kiddies atom bomb drills fad had pretty much passed (for all that that was only probably a year or two after the Missile Crisis), and I wasn't sharp enough to pick up on it when I was smaller.

I certainly don't remember being particularly frightened of Red missile attacks. Tornadoes? Now those were scary. (we lived in a suburb of Chicago annually smacked by one or two of the things, and my mother would go into a freaking panic every time the radio would broadcast a tornado warning and hustle us down into the cellar to huddle like some Londoners under the Blitz).

So I missed this whole "prepare for the post-apocalyptic world by stockpiling food and ammunition" thing, and so I missed Multi Purpose Meals and MPF. But you gotta love something described as a "...scientifically formulated mix consisted of 68% defatted or low fat soy grits plus dehydrated potatoes, cabbage, tomatoes, onions, leeks, parsley, and spices, and was fortified with vitamins and minerals. Ready after only minutes of simmering in water, a 64 gram dry portion provided most of a tasty, nutritious meal for one person at a cost of only 3-5 cents."


Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Wednesday Jukebox: Crazyfunkycool Edition

Because Aretha Franklin is insanely good; I honestly can't see how the original Beatles version manages to carry this cover's A-bag from here to the corner if it had a handtruck and four Salvadorians from the shape-up...

Decisive Battles: Khalkhin-Gol (Nomonhan) 1939

Khalkhin-Gol (Nomonhan Incident) Dates: 11 MAY - 31 AUG 1939

Note: This was intended to be the "decisive battle" for May, the month of the initial engagement that opened this nearly half-year long campaign. My own sloth and inattention prevented this post from publication in that month, but the actual history of this engagement was such that you could almost pick a handful of dates as the "battle of Khalkhin-Gol". Was it the original Mongolian incursion in early May? The destruction of the Azuma force in late May? The Japanese offensive in early July? The second Japanese attack in late July? Or the final Soviet offensive in late August?

This is the third and final entry in the "The Imperial Japanese Army of WW2 - What Went Wrong?" series. The first was were Bataan, the second Kohima. The only link between the three - which were widely separated geographically, fought against three different enemies, and included a win and two disastrous losses - was the armed force of Imperial Japan.

I believe that all three speak eloquently about that force.

Much of what they say speaks well of the courage and resourcefulness of the Japanese soldier and his officers. But, I believe, they all have some bitterly scathing observations on the fundamental failings of the Japanese military and particularly the Japanese Army as both an organization and for its influence on the policies of the Japanese nation during the early years of the 昭和時代 Shōwa jidai, the reign of Emperor Hirohito.

Forces Engaged: Imperial Japanese Army (大日本帝國陸軍, Dai-Nippon Teikoku Rikugun) The IJA force that did the bulk of the fighting at Khalkhin-Gol was the 23rd Infantry Division (第23師団 Dai-nijūsan Shidan) of so-called Kwantung Army (関東軍, Kantō-gun).

The 23rd, also known as the "Sunrise Division (旭兵団, Kyokuhei-dan) was a relatively young outfit, having been raised in the southern city of Kumamoto only the year before. It was a "triangular" infantry division, formed of three infantry regiments of three battalions each. Divisional troops included the division artillery, a reconnaissance regiment, engineer, and transport regiment.

The notional strength of a typical triangular division was about 12,000 all arms and included 36 x 75mm cannon (in the divisional artillery) as well as 12 x 74mm Type 41 mountain howitzers and 18 x 70mm Type 92 infantry howitzers. The infantry regiments had an antitank-gun company for a total of 18 x 37 or 47mm AT guns.

In this organization you can already begin to see some problems for the Japanese grunt.

First, the artillery strength of an IJA infantry division was weak both in numbers and in weight of metal. The 70mm guns were little better than big mortars and, because they had no fire direction section, practically limited to direct fire. So in practice the direct support artillery for the IJA infantry consisted of something like 48 cannon, none larger than 75mm.

The experience of WW1 had shown that projectiles smaller than 100mm were almost useless against well dug-in infantry or armor.

Add to that the training and equipment deficiencies of the Japanese redlegs, which included antiquated or lacking commo gear, unrealistic training, and a Verdun-era reliance on preplanned fires. In a war where the artillery would prove to be the King of Battle the IJA had a very unimpressive royal house.

Another huge issue with the IJA was supply and transport and it showed in the 23rd's "transport regiment". "Transport" could as easily be horses, mules, or human porters as trucks. This owed much to the barely-mechanized condition of the IJA (and the larger Japanese society supporting it) but also to the primitive conditions on the frontier. "Roads" were often mere tracks and were uniformly unpaved; sandtraps in summer, bogs in winter. Transport in Manchuria depended on railways; typically an IJA staff plan for the Manchurian region considered any major operation beyond one day's drive (250km) from the railheads unsupportable (Drea, 1981).

The other units we know to have been present at Khalkhin-Gol include:

26th Infantry Regiment (7th Infantry Division), roughly 3,000 infantry and support troops

(Note: the authorized strength of IJA infantry units seems bizarrely huge to me, used to the smaller organizations of a modern army. For example, an IJA line infantry company was authorized around 200 troops and a battalion close to 1,000. Actual strengths at the time of Khalkhin-Gol apparently ran about 80%, so a typical battalion would have carried some 800 on strength for a total of 2,400 plus the regimental troops which included the signal, AT, and cannon companies.)

This unit was borrowed from the experienced 7th ID to stiffen the green 23rd ID for the early July attacks into Soviet Mongolia.

8th Border Guards Regiment Probably 3,000 to 3,500 infantrymen (Note: These "border guard" units were from the Quisling government of "Manchukuo", the Japanese puppet state of north China. I can find little about them other than they appear to have been organized similarly to an IJA infantry regiment, although likely without the regimental troops particularly the artillery.) In effect a light infantry outfit composed of Chinese troops with Japanese officers (or, at least, a Japanese commander is listed for the unit)

Participated largely in the static defense in July and August.

3rd (Medium) Tank Regiment (3TR, part of the Yasuoka Detachment) probably about 600-800 troops with 41 vehicles including 26 x Type 89 I-Go medium tanks, 4 x Type 97 Chi-Ha medium tanks. 7 x Type 94 tankettes, and 4 x Type 97 Te-Ke tankettes.

4th (Light) Tank Regiment (4TR, part of the Yasuoka Detachment), 600-800 tankers with 35 x Type 95 Ha-Go light tanks, 8 x Type 89 I-Go medium tanks, and 3 x Type 94 tankettes.

(Note: I'm finding some discrepancies in the strengths of these tank units. The above vehicle numbers are from the Wiki entry that cites Coox (1985) as the authority for these numbers. They conflict slightly with the numbers given for the units in Drea (1981) of 25 medium tanks (type unspecified) for 3TR, 35 light tanks and 7 medium tanks for 4TR. Drea (1981) also includes armored cars as either assigned or attached to both of these units. If I cannot find another authority I will simply have to accept that there are issues with unit strengths)

13th Artillery Regiment and 1st Independent Artillery Regiment (Kwantung Army troops?) Probably about 2,000 artillerymen with an estimated 24 cannon of various types. I cannot find MTO&E for these units.

However, I have encountered orders of battle for other "independent artillery regiments" in the IJA as well as the strengths listed in the 1944 U.S. Army TM-E 30-480 Handbook on Japanese Military Forces. So my best guess is that these units would have included about 1,500 to 2,500 artillerymen and 24 x Type 91 105mm or possibly Type 4 140 mm howitzers. However, some independent artillery units were largely armed with 75mm fieldpieces - typically 16 - and only 4 each 105mm and 150mm.

Air support was provided by the 2nd Army Air Division (2nd Hikoshidan). In early May a Rinji Hikotai (Provisional Air Group) was tasked to Hailar (about 160km NE of Nomonhan). This unit included 19 x Ki-27 ("Nate") fighters 6 x Ki-15 ("Babs") and 6 x Ki-30 light bombers.

By June IJAAF air strength included 4 reconnaissance A/C with the HQ element, 15 reconnaissance Ki-15 A/C directly attached to 23rd ID, and two combat wings with 125 aircraft: 12th Hikodan with 88 Ki-27 fighters and 9th Hikodan with 24 Ki-30 light bombers and 13 Ki-21 ("Sally") medium bombers.

Rising from less then 500 in May to about 20,000 all arms, ~90-100 cannon (and most of those 76mm or smaller), ~130 tanks, and ~250 aircraft by the end of August, the IJA ground forces were largely under the command of LTG Michitarō Komatsubara (小松原 道太郎, Komatsubara Michitarō), the 23rd ID commander.

Soviet Union - the Soviet forces in the Khalkhin-Gol area consisted of Soviet troops from the Trans-Baikal Military District and local Outer Mongolian troopers; the Outer Mongolians were to the Soviets what the Manchukuoans were to the Japanese.

From the original handful of Mongolian cavalry from the 6th Cavalry Division that ambled across the Halha River on or about 11 MAY 1939 the Soviet forces increased over the spring and summer.

The following are listed as engaged in the May actions:

6th Mongolian Cavalry Division Don't get these guys wrong; they weren't the wild riders of Genghis Khan. By 1939 smart cavalrymen realized that the big fat horse was transport, like a truck or a bicycle.

They probably carried a sword or three (they were still Mongols, after all...) but were primarily armed with rifles and dismounted to fight. Typical Soviet cavalry division organization in 1941 is listed as "...four cavalry regiments, a horse artillery battalion (8 x 76mm guns and 8 x 122mm howitzers), a tank regiment (64 x BT-series tanks), an anti-aircraft battalion (eight 76mm AA guns and two batteries of AA machine guns), a signals squadron, a field engineer squadron and other rear echelon support units and sections. The total authorized strength of a cavalry division included 8,968 personnel and 7,625 horses..." (Wiki, 2013)

Bykov Detachment 1 reinforced rifle battalion (with 8 x T-37 tanks and 21 BA-6 and FAI armored cars attached), 1 FA battery; probably 1,000 all arms
149th Motorized Rifle Regiment (MRR) (36th Motorized Rifle Division) less one battalion, and
175th Artillery Battalion

Total Soviet-Mongolian strength in May is listed as 2,300 all arms (including about 1,300 Mongolians), 12 x 76mm guns, 8 x 45mm anti-tank guns, 4 x 122mm howitzers, 4 x SU-1-12 self-propelled artillery vehicles (this thing...

...a sort of giddy harumphrodite with a 76mm cannon on a pedestal mount in back of a GAZ 4x6 truck.

As goofy as it looks it seems to have worked, proving my old drill sergeant's striction that if it's stupid and it works, it's not stupid.), 8 x T-37 tanks, 5 x HT-26/OT-26 flamethrower tanks, 39 assorted armored cars including BA-6 and FAI types.

By August, though, the Soviet First Front Army looked like this:

Left Wing:
6th Mongolian Cavalry Division
7th Armored Brigade
1 x medium armored car battalion
1 x reconnaissance battalion (medium and light armored cars)
1 x machine gun battalion
601st Infantry Regiment from 82nd Rifle Division
11th Tank Brigade (-) (2Bns - BT-5)

36th Motorized Rifle Division
5th Machine Gun Brigade
82nd Rifle Division minus the 601st Infantry Regiment.

Right Wing
57th Rifle Division
11th Tank Brigade (-) (2Bns - BT-5)
6th Tank Brigade (-) (3Bns - BT-7)
8th Mongolian Cavalry Division.

9th Armored Brigade
(as 7th Armor)
6th Tank Brigade (-) (1Bn BT-5)
212th Airborne Brigade.

Soviet air support (the Soviet air arm was the Военно-воздушные силы, Voyenno-Vozdushnye Sily) initially consisted of two air groups; 70th IAP (Fighter Aviation Regiment) assigned 24 x Polikarpov I-16 and 14 x Polikarpov I-152 (also known as I-15) fighters and 150th SAP (Composite or "Mixed" Aviation Regiment) assigned 29 x SB medium bombers and 15 x Polikarpov R-5 light bomber/reconnaissance aircraft.

Reinforcing units included 22nd IAP (3 x I-152 and 28 x I-16 Type 10 fighters) and 38th SBAP (Composite Bomber Regiment, 59 x SB bombers).

Approximately 50,000 to 55,000 all arms, ~ 500 cannon (including 100+ over 100mm), ~500 tanks, ~800 aircraft under GEN Georgy Zhukov, GEN Grigoriy Shtern and GEN Yakov Smushkevich

The Sources: Here we the English-speaking and -reading publics have the same problems we had dealing with the Battle of Tsushima; all the primary sources are not in English.

Add to that the inevitable difficulties in dealing with two societies that - at least in 1939 - dealt with information as weapons. The opening of the former Soviet archives since 1989 has helped, obviously. And there has been some good work done on the subject in English, which I'll try and present here. But the initial difficulties persist and are reflected particularly in the sources available on-line.

One of the most worthwhile sources is the 1981 Leavenworth paper by E.J. Drea; Nomonhan: Japanese-Soviet Tactical Combat, 1939.

While this work is largely focused on the battalion-level (it reports and discusses the events recorded in the war diary of the IJA 2nd Battalion, 28th Infantry) it provides a clear, authoritative account of the larger engagement.

On the other hand, LTC Charles Otterstedt's 2000 War College paper The Kwantung Army and the Nomonhan Incident: Its Impact on National Security does a good job of describing the broader geopolitical context of the events with an emphasis on the politico-military finagling of the boys in the Kantō-gun.

The Wikipedia entry is well researched and cites Drea (1981) as well as the other most commonly-cited published source, Alvin Coox's 1985 work Nomonhan: Japan Against Russia, 1939.

One recent source it cites appears well worth pursuing; Stuart Goldman's Nomonhan, 1939; The Red Army's Victory That Shaped World War II, just published last year.

Someone named Ryan Schultz produced a fine work of scholarship for his thesis for Oberlin College in 2011. That paper, The Failure of Japanese Tactics at Changkufeng and Nomonhan and Lessons Left Unlearned is found here.

Among the more useful internet resources is a PDF version of an English translation of a 2002 paper in Russian by one M. Kolomiets entitled Boi u reki Khalkin-Gol from the Russian journal Frontovaya Illyustratsiya ("Frontline Illustrated").

Another is Bellamy and Lahnstein (1990) The New Soviet Defensive Policy: Khalkhin-Gol 1939 As Case Study from the September issue of Parameters. This article at "Warbird Forum" does a decent job of covering the air war from the Japanese side, while something called "Håkans aviation page" has a fairly good summary of both Soviet and IJAAF air operations.

Since the engagement at Nomonhan/Khalkhin-Gol took place over the course of months there is little use in subdividing the events into the "campaign" versus the "engagement" itself, so the course of the fighting will be summarized in a single section. However, since the situation in western Manchukuo/eastern Mongolia is so little known today I consider it worthwhile to briefly discuss the setting for the events of 1939.

The Situation: What really brought the two armies together in the plains of western Manchuria was the Russo-Japanese War of 1905. Before that time it was Russia and Qing China that had tussled over what the Chinese called Northeast China (東北失地) and the Russians called Приаму́рье (Priamurye) or "Outer Manchuria", the light pink corona around the dark red of the Manchurian heartland in the image below.

In particular the northwestern portion of Manchuria adjacent to the somewhat notional state of Mongolia was a very ill-defined piece of real estate. This area may well be among the most desolate and forsaken on earth, characterized by sandhills and grass and very little else. The people who have passed over the region for centuries are largely nomads, Mongol and Manchu, following the herds that must move on or worry the grass from the loose, sandy soil and turn the steppe back into a barren sea of blowing loess and sand dunes.

With no real interest in any particular piece of the steppe the idea of a "border" would have seemed risible to the nomads. Everything was just "the land"; a place to graze horses and sheep, to pitch a yurt on, for horse-lords to ride over and pass by.

But the rise of settled nations inevitably led to the establishment of borders. Where the eastern edge of "Mongolia" and the western edge of the Manchurian part of China met the "border" was still just as sketchy as ever.

Otterstedt (2000) sums up the place nicely:
"Perhaps the most vague border issue was that on the flatlands between western Manchuria and eastern Outer Mongolia. For over two centuries, the vicinity of Nomonhan has been the boundary line separating the pastoral plains of the Halha Mongols of Hulun Buir, and the Kalmuks of Outer Mongolia (but)...(n)o definitive borderline was every drawn or observed."
Where Japan marches onto the scene is after its defeat of Russia in 1905. Japan - which was already beginning to catch the imperial fever incubated in the European powers - latched onto Korea and portions of northeast China, specifically what it called Ryojun (or Port Arthur, now Lüshunkou, 旅顺口) and the adjacent bits of the Liaodong Peninsula and something called the "South Manchuria Railway". The latter becomes more important, but the former was the first critical bit of business because the IJA formed a garrison for the Port Arthur/Liaodong region (that the Japanese government designated 関東州, Kantō and in English we call Kwantung.

This outfit was called the 関東都督府陸軍部 or "Kwantung Governor General Prefecture Army Section" and consisted of an infantry division, an artillery battalion (typically described as "heavy siege artillery" but in my opinion more likely gunners for the Ryojun artillery defense batteries), and a half-dozen separate battalions of supposed "railway guards" that were in fact regular Japanese infantry; about 10,000 troops all arms.

After 1919 this organization was renamed the Kantō-gun, the "Kwantung Army". Coox (1985) describes the mindset that informed the Japanese government at the time of the formation of this army.
"Chinese mounted bandits, demobilized soldiers, vagrants, and other lawless elements poised a familiar threat in Manchuria, especially in the rural sectors. But the major concern of the Japanese High Command was the possibility that the Russians would seek revenge for their recent defeat. Consequently, the traditional defensive or reactive emphasis of the Japanese Army was transformed...and a clear-cut offensive strategy designed."
The Army retained this aggressive mindset throughout its existence; it was the intellectual center of the "Northern Expansion Doctrine" (北進論, Hokushin-ron) which insisted that the most profitable direction for Imperial aggression was to the north and west into the Siberian hinterlands combined with the conquest of China.

From 1906 to 1931 the Kwantung Army wasn't able to actually do anything much about this; they were separated from the Soviet border by the Chinese province of Manchuria.

Mind you, the Japanese wanted all that Manchurian goodness.

Manchuria, to the Hokushin-ron types in the Kantō-gun meant lots of lovely raw materials, new places to hawk Japanese goods, along with the sort of lebensraum that the fascist governments of the Thirties and Forties seem to have been obsessed with. You'd think with a restive Korea already inside the imperial borders that the Japanese Army would have been happy to leave the wilds of Manchuria alone, but you'd have counted without the Kwantung Army.

In 1931 a group of expansionist officers led by a couple of characters on the Army staff, COL Seishirō Itagaki and LTC Kanji Ishiwara, set off what is today called the "Mukden Incident", a sort of Reichstag-fire false flag plot that was designed to implicate the Chinese in an attack on the South Manchuria Railway and provide Japan with a casus belli.

It went slicker than water off a cat's ass and within six months Japan effectively owned all of Manchuria, which it set about organizing into a supposed-state called "Manchukuo" supposedly run by the deposed Qing Emperor, Puyi. In fact it was a military depot for Japan run by a Kwantung Army that set about trying to make its "Northern Strategy" into reality.

And that's where it ran into the Soviets.

Here's Otterstedt (2000) again:
"With the founding of Manchukuo, the border around Nomonhan became the scene of disputes between the Outer Mongolian "People's Republic" and the Hsinking (Manchukuoan) authorities. Since the strength of the Kwantung Army far exceeded that of the Soviet Far Eastern Army between 1931-1935, no border disputes broke out during that period. (H)owever, after the Soviets gradually built up their Far Eastern military strength and instituted far more stringent control over Outer Mongolia...(b)order disputes erupted with increasing frequency..."
The Wiki entry for "Japanese-Soviet border conflicts says that
"Imperial Japanese Army recorded 152 minor incidents on the border of Manchuria between 1932 and 1934. The number of incidents increased to over 150 per year in 1935 and 1936, and the scale of incidents became larger. In January 1935, the first armed battle, Halhamiao Incident (哈爾哈廟事件 Haruhabyō jiken?) occurred on the border between Mongolia and Manchukuo."
Clearly there was trouble brewing on the empty places around Manchuria, and both the Japanese government through the Kwantung Army and the Soviet Far Eastern Army were willing to mix it up.

By 1939 the forces on either side of the border were substantial. The Kantō-gun included 8 infantry divisions, two cavalry and tank brigades and something like thirteen "border guard" units supported by three air brigades; a total of some 250,000 troops. The Soviets, having to cover much longer exterior lines, had between 20 and 30 rifle divisions, 5 to 7 cavalry divisions and 6 to 8 mechanized rifle brigades; perhaps 500,000 troops, 2,500 tanks, and 2,500 aircraft (Otterstedt, 2000).

Between 1937 and 1939 the border spats escalated into serious fighting.

In June of 1937 three of some sort of Soviet river gunboats or small craft cruised by troops of the IJA 1st Division fortifying Kanchazu Island (乾岔子, a sort of instream bar of the Amur River the Russians called "Bolshoi Ussuryski Island"(болъшои Уссурыскии Остров) on the northeastern border of Manchuria. The Japanese opened up with 37mm AT artillery and sank one of the small craft and damaged another.

The Soviets, busy purging everyone in sight and other business in both Europe and Asia, chose not to retaliate. Another, more serious "incident" occurred in the summer of 1938. In the Changkufeng Incident (Хасанские бои and 張鼓峰事件, Chōkohō Jiken) the IJA 19th Infantry Division supported by Manchukuo units pushed elements of the Soviet 39th Rifle Corps off high ground near the Soviet-Korean border in July, but Soviet reinforcements returned the favor in August, shoving the IJA units back to or close to their start lines.

The 1938 encounter was not decisive but played a big role in clarifying the Kwantung Army's ideas of what it would do if challenged on the Soviet borderlands; in April 1939 the Kwantung Army drew up The Principles for the Settlement of Soviet-Manchurian Border Disputes which laid out the first two cardinal principles of the way it saw the Manchurian borderlands:

(1) The basic policy is never to invade and never to be invaded.

(2) If an enemy violates the frontiers, he must be wiped out at once.

It's worth noting that this little policy document was never approved - hell, it was barely even known - by the Army chiefs of staff or the Imperial Foreign Office in Tokyo. In effect the Kwantung Army had just re-written Japanese foreign policy for its Soviet borders, without consulting the Japanese government or even notifying their government that had done so.


Where this directly impacts our engagement is in the question of "what IS the frontier?" In the vicinity of Nomonhan the two rivals had very different opinions on the subject. The Japanese through their Manchukuo proxy stated that the valley of the Halha/Khalkhin-Gol River was the border. The Soviets through their Outer Mongolian proxy had, instead, a rather arbitrary line on the steppe some considerable distance east - you'll note from the map below that it ran southeast from a bend in the Halha to Nomonhan then turned south and from there (off the map) southeast to rejoin the river valley again.

Mind you, unlike the northeast where the Soviets and the Kwantung Army were eyeball-to-eyeball, nobody much was farkling about on this portion of the border. A handful of Manchukuoan border guards were station in bustling downtown Nomonhan while the Mongolian cavalry patrolled the heights west of the Halha. Everybody might have been tense, given all the wars and rumors of wars but there were no serious signs of trouble along the Manchukuo-Mongolian border in the spring of 1939. That's where the we stand on the morning when a company from the Mongolian 6th Cavalry Division waded across the salty waters of the Halha River heading east to find some better grazing for their horses.

The Engagements: As noted above; entire books have been written on this business. I will, instead of giving you tactical details, attempt to summarize what happened in each major part of the Nohomhan engagements and discuss what I believe it reveals about the IJA.

May: First Encounters

Alerted to the Mongolians by their attack on the little Nomonhan garrison a battalion of Manchukuoan cavalry mounted up and chased the gringo Mongol bastards 'cross the Rio, or the Halha as it were.

But a couple of days later the pesky Mongols returned, this time in larger numbers, and refused to budge when the Manchurian troopers waved their Arisaka rifles at them. At this point the border-crossers seemed more than a mere nuisance; LTG Komatsubara, 23rd ID commander, tasked his division recon (actually about a battalion-size force of mixed horse cavalry and armored cars) backed up by the 1st BN, 64th Infantry Regiment (-) to run off the damn Mongols.

Drea (1981) notes that "Japanese staff officers (at 23rd ID) were having difficulty even locating Nomonhan on their operational maps, so there seemed no reason to believe that additional force might be required..." So the 1,000-man-odd IJA force rucked up and headed off for the border. The Japanese force swung south down the Halha River valley in 14 MAY and, sure enough, the invaders scampered away.

And returned the next week.

By this time Komatsubara was beginning to get seriously peeved. He ordered his task force commander, COL Yamagata (commander of the 2nd/64th), to deal with these pesky interlopers once and for all. So on 28 MAY the Yamagata Force played military hardball; the colonel divided his forces, swinging the recon unit under LTC Azuma out west along the Halha to encircle the Soviets, size the Halha bridge and be the anvil while his infantry swung the hammer and smashed the enemy. Azuma was so confident he left his AT guns behind - why bother? They would just slow everyone down and who needed antitank guns to shoot horses?

Instead of a bagatelle of NKVD border guards and Mongols, however, the IJA ran into a buzzsaw composed of motorized riflemen, three battalions of "machinegun" troops as well as the Mongolian 6th Cav and elements of 11th Tank Brigade. The 149th Motorized Rifle was supported by its regimental artillery, as well.

Yamagata's 2/64th was stopped dead, and worse, Azuma's recon company was attacked from both sides and cut off. Surrounded, hammered by tanks and artillery, swarmed by infantry the Azuma force was destroyed between 28/29 MAY; out of the original some 200 troops more than 100 were killed outright and another 30-some wounded. On the 29th the survivors of Azuma's outfit and the 64th Infantry withdrew to the northeast.

What happened and why; assessing the IJA's performance

Among the IJA's most persistent problems were a combination of underestimating enemy capabilities and overestimating the value of Japanese "spirit". The failure of the May expedition showcased both. The Yamagata plan was a Custer-level clusterfuck, dividing the attack force where extremely poor "intelligence preparation of the battlefield" (IPB) left the attacker with little or no knowledge of the locations or capabilities of the enemy forces. The failure to anticipate the presence of Soviet armor or artillery - or the "enemy's most dangerous course of action" - left the IJA force without the capability either to defeat the enemy they found or to break off contact effectively once engaged. Only through sheer fighting ability (and Soviet weakness in numbers) were the surviving Japanese units able to avoid disaster and consolidate on the east bank of the Halha.
June - July: Escalation

Drea (1981) says that 23rd ID and its higher were inclined to take their licking and move on "...because they believed that the Nomonhan desert was worth no more Japanese blood." But the Soviets were not so inclined. Reports from the border indicated troops showing up on the western side of the Halha and aggressive aerial activity. Continual small attacks on the Manchukuoan 8th Border Guard units continued. Finally in mid-June GEN Komatsubara requested, and received, Army permission to take the offensive and "restore the border".

After the disasters of May Kwantung Army decided to take no chances in June. 23rd ID was reinforced with two tank regiments, two artillery regiments, and four infantry battalions (26th IR plus 2/28th IR) from 7th ID. The date for the attack was set for late June or early July, and with the preponderance of force the Kwantung Army expected a sokusen sokketsu, a short and decisive battle that would end the fighting.
Instead, the assault, initiated on 2 JUL, was met with a sharp and bloody Soviet counterattack. Again the Japanese plan was for a double envelopment; the right wing consisting of three infantry regiments supported by engineers and artillery would cross the Halha and swing southeast while the left - four infantry battalions and the armor (with an artillery and engineer regiments in support) would sweep down the east side of the Halha. The two forces would meet near the Kawamata Bridge over the Halha, the objective of the Azuma force in May, cut off, and destroy the enemy forces.

Instead the right wing was stopped by combined arms counterattacks and forced back across the Halha by 5 JUL. The left wing managed to push aside weak Soviet and Mongolian defenses for the first two days of fighting but were counterattacked and stopped cold short of the Halha on 5 JUL.

The IJA would never again manage to advance past the river.

The IJA left wing continued to try and batter past the Soviet defenses for the next five days or so, including a night infantry assault on 10 JUL. It got nowhere.

Logistical nightmares made everything difficult, especially rounds for all the artillery and anti-tank guns. Indeed, Japanese anti-tank weapons and ammunition supply were so deficient that many, perhaps most, of the Soviet tanks disabled and destroyed were by teams of infantrymen attacking with explosives and firebomb "Molitov cocktails".

These insanely heroic groups were fortunate in that the Soviet BT-5 and BT-7 tanks were poorly protected against fire; their gasoline engines tended to "brew up" much more quickly than the T-34 which succeeded them.

For the next two weeks the Soviet and IJA forces engaged along the east bank of the Halha stretching about 2 to 3-miles north of the Holsten River conducted a series of small scale, back-and-forth actions without result.

The troops of the IJA 23rd ID suffered miserably throughout this period. Except for the units along the Holsten River they often had to count on the infrequent rain for water; no water reached the Nomonhan front from the Japanese railheads and the waters of the Halha and its nearby wetlands were too saline to drink. Rations and ammunition came in painfully small quantities. The Soviet logistical train, on the other hand, included over 2500 trucks to haul supplies to the fighting front.

Finally GEN Komatsubara tried again.

On 23 JUL 23rd ID kicked off another offensive, this time a division-sized deliberate attack. With nasty memories of the devastating Soviet steel rain of early July Kwantung Army had sent 23rd ID substantial artillery support, bringing the IJA fire support up to four regiments including the 23rd ID divisional artillery (82 cannon, including 16 x 105mm howitzers, 16 x 150mm howitzers, 6 x 150mm guns, and 12 old Type 38 120mm howitzers). Under this fire the 64th and 72nd Infantry Regiments attacked the Soviet troops defending the Kawatama Bridge; largely the 5th Machinegun Brigade and 149th Rifle Regiment.

IJA artillery fired 15,000 rounds on 23 JUL, a total of 25,000 rounds over the next two days to try and shoot in the infantry; a heavier weight of metal than any fired by IJA artillery since the assaults on Port Arthur in 1905, a barrage that shot up half the Class V (ammunition) stocks in the Manchurian theatre, to try and blast open the Soviet defenses.

They failed.

The assault made small gains but ground to a halt on 25 JUL. Not only had the "big barrage" failed to smash the Soviet infantry (who showed the facility for digging in deep that so frustrated the Germans two years later) but the Soviet counterbattery and defensive fires were heavier than all but the most intensive IJA concentrations.

Over 5,000 Japanese troops had been killed or wounded around the Halha since late May. When the artillery rounds began to run short GEN Komatsubara called off the attack.

What happened and why; assessing the IJA's performance

Again, the IJA operations staff made a succession of critical errors in both planning and execution. Again, IPB was pathetically faulty. The attackers had no real notion of the defenses they were attempting to breach. Little intelligence collection was done, even less planning was done to reflect that intelligence rather than the preconceptions of the Kwantung Army and 23rd ID highers.

Again the IJA assault of 2 JUL was planned as a double envelopment that depended on everything going perfectly. Instead the plan ran into the worst sort of trouble; a strong defense capable of defeating each wing in detail while the two attacking wings were unable to support each other.

Artillery support, while much improved, continued to suffer from a lack of tactical coordination. We haven't discussed this in much detail, but both combatants on the Halha noted that the biggest single difference between the two sides' artillery was that the Soviet gunners were much more nimble at adjusting onto new targets as well as working together with infantry and armor. Japanese fires, while often deadly accurate, tended to be sparse and limited by what their gunners could see around them. Japanese field guns also tended to have short ranges for their sizes; Soviet artillery was able to shoot counterbattery fires at ranges that IJA cannon of similar calibres could not reply.

One thing I should mention here that had a major impact on the fighting around the Halha and that was the terrain.

One of the first things I was taught as a soldier was; know the ground. And the second thing; know the ground. As simple a matter as a hill here and a valley there can make the difference between living and dying in combat, between winning and losing battles. And for all that there wasn't much in the Khalkhin-Gol region by way of terrain, what there was mattered, and that was that the west bank of the Halha was seriously higher than the right. See?

Possession of the high western bluffs allowed the Soviets to overwatch every Japanese movement on the low ground to the east, and the Japanese learned quickly that if you could be seen you would be shelled. The failure to appreciate the critical terrain and make a more determined attempt to seize it was another IJA planning error.

But of all the other fuck-ups perhaps the single poorest performance was put in by the Japanese tankers.

While the crewmen were individually brave and (in the case of the the Type 97 Chi-ha mediums) the tanks not thoroughly outclassed IJA tank doctrine had barely progressed beyond the waddle-alongside-the-infantry style of WW1. The IJA had just never bothered to develop tank-infantry-artillery combined arms warfare, but even the simpler coordination between infantry and armor was beyond the IJA tank regiments at Nomonhan. Add to that the light armor and low-velocity cannon of the Type 89, the most common IJA medium at Nomonhan, meant that if they could not fight in teams (and typically they could not; Japanese radios were poor even when mounted) they were vulnerable to the higher velocity cannon of the Soviet BT-5 and BT-7 cruiser tanks.

July - August: Stalemate

For about the next month the two sides fought a nasty WW1-style positional battle. Raids, minor assaults, artillery "hates", air-ground attacks. The Soviet artillery continued to pound the IJA positions with 2,000-odd rounds a day, a rate and volume of fire the Japanese could not hope to match or even aspire to. Japanese troops dug in and suffered the relentless fire, Soviet attacks, and probably most of all the misery of an undersupplied army in bad terrain.
"Apathy began to set in..."
reports Drea (1981)
" all that the (Japanese) soldiers could think of was eating white rice again and washing it down with fresh, clean water. In fact, the battalion (2/28th Infantry) collected rainwater in oil drums or helmets but since their move to Noro Heights (about a week before) there had been only one day of rain. The troops, desperate for water, drank from stagnant, discolored pools and got amoebic dysentery. The two battalion doctors were overwhelmed...thirty or more bloody bowel movements a day might not be considered serious enough to be sent to a rear area field hospital...typhus cases were reported. The continual Soviet shelling left the troops no choice but to defecate in their foxholes...and Japanese officers forbade cooking fires for fear of betraying their positions. At times the soldiers were reduced to eating grass."
Amazingly enough the Japanese infantrymen continued to fight hard and, when they could meet their Soviet enemies on equal terms, well. Drea (1981) describes a night engagement on 8 AUG where elements of No. 7 Company, 2/28th Infantry surprised a Soviet infantry platoon and artillery observers attempting to infiltrate 2/28 defensive lines. Machinegun and battalion gun fire hammered the surprised Soviets, whose approach had not been as stealthy as they had assumed. The fire lifted and shifted to allow a platoon of 7/2/28th to close assault the Soviet force with bayonets and swords.

Of the 51 Soviets in the unit only one was taken prisoner.

The grinding stalemate continued through August. Heat, blowing sand, thirst, vicious insects, and the constant drain of deaths and woundings - "normal wastage" in the callous language of WW1's Western Front - continued. Still the Japanese forces tried to fight the sorts of savage close combat fights they had trained for.

For this I recommend to you Drea (1981) pages 66-70; Night Attack II, a well-detailed report of the night raid conducted by No. 6 Company, 2/28th Infantry over 18/19 AUG. The action demonstrates the ability of the IJA infantry to conduct a precise and effective action over difficult terrain, at night, against a well-dug in enemy well-supported with artillery and automatic weapons.

The ironic thing about it was that the entire action was planned and executed because "...the enemy seemed to be preparing for some new action." (Drea, 1981). The raid was a "spoiling attack", designed to disrupt a planned enemy offensive. And for the eighty-some Soviet casualties in the 603rd Rifle Regiment it certainly did just that.

What the Japanese had not figured out is that the Soviet forces had been preparing a surprise for them beyond anything in their worst nightmares.

What happened and why; assessing the IJA's performance

The single biggest IJA shortcoming revealed by the static fighting of late July and early August was logistical. Japanese officers had never been taught to respect supply and transportation, inglorious province of those not "heroic" enough to actually fight. The realities of industrial war, however, took hold of the poor bastards in the Japanese positions on the Halha and literally choked the life out of them. While individual infantry units continued to fight well long after they should have fallen apart the lack of food, medical supplies, water, and ammunition meant that although valor and infantry skills could delay defeat they could not prevent it. Logistics had been the foundation of industrial warfare since the mid-19th Century and because of its sword-swaggering attitudes the IJAs foundation, as it proved at Nomonhan, was built on nothing firmer than the sands of the Halha valley.

August: Disaster

The 2/28th was right; the Soviets were "up to something". Kwantung Army intelligence had been intercepting Soviet radio traffic all through the end of July hinting at a general offensive in the works. A more aggressive aerial reconnaissance and patrolling effort would likely have revealed that the Soviets were reinforcing the Khalkhin-Gol front. The IJA intel weenies neither believed the intercepts nor harassed their recon elements.

So when some 200 Soviet aircraft hammered the 23rd ID positions in the early morning of 20 AUG the IJA defenders had no idea what was coming at them.

And what was coming was pretty brutal; the First Front Army had massed two rifle divisions and three cavalry divisions supported by two mech brigades and seven artillery regiments in the first echelon; the second had another rifle division and five more mech or armor brigades. These units now hammered down on both ends of the IJA defenses, manned by little more than a single reinforced infantry division.

A large part of the Soviet surprise was Japanese logistical ignorance. Remember how the Japanese didn't believe you could supply an army in Manchuria more than a day or two's drive away from the railheads? Well, the nearest Soviet logpac assembly areas - the centers for supplying the Nomonhan fighting - were Borzya on the Trans-Siberian rail line and Ondorhaan on the "main road" east from the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator. Both were some 600 kilometers or more from the Halha:

And yet the Soviet commander, Zhukov, managed to assemble his corps-size assault force and all their food, fuel, ammunition, ash, and trash in a month. The Soviet secret?


First Front Army had over 3,000 trucks by the end of August, including some 1,000 fuel tankers. The IJA literally couldn't imagine such a wealth of vehicles; the idea just didn't fit into the way their brains worked.

The intel pukes weren't the only screwups; weather and bad luck played a part. Drea (1981) notes that
"From August 12 on, there had been only one day of clear weather. On August 19, Japanese pilots did spot a concentration of Soviet vehicles on the Halha's west bank, but their reports were still being evaluated at higher headquarters on August 20. Potentially significant intelligence data gathered by lower echelon units...was not expeditiously reported...most likely because there was no battalion intelligence officer to evaluate or disseminate such information."
The IJA infantry battalion had a very lean staff organization which did not include officers for either what a U.S. battalion would have identified as Operations (S-3) or Intelligence (S-2). The IJA infantry regiment had a staff officer identified as responsible for "Code and Intelligence", which sounds like a guy as much in charge of commo as intel. Only at division level did an IJA organization have a purely Intel staff position.

The Soviet attack, rather ironically, was designed as another double envelopment. As you can see from the map, the main force - 57th Rifle Division plus nearly three brigades of motorized infantry and armor with artillery support - would drive north through the 71st Infantry Regiment on the Japanese left.

Fixing attacks would keep the Japanese center pinned along the Halha, while a secondary attack would swing southeast to link up with the main effort around Nomonhan.

Well, it took the Soviets about ten days.

Here's Drea (1981):
"The Soviet armored attack, skilfully directed by General Georgi K. Zhukov of later World War II fame, rapidly turned the southern flank of the IJA's 23rd Division. To the north, progress was slower, but after vicious fighting on Fui Heights, where flame-throwing Soviet tanks finally dislodged and routed the Japanese defenders, the "Red juggernaut" rolled up the Japanese right flank. At the village of Nomonhan, the Soviet armored columns met and sealed off the 23rd Division."
The 23rd ID and its attachments were virtually destroyed. The U.S. Army in WW2 considered a unit "destroyed' - that is, completely combat-ineffective, so degraded by deaths, wounds, and terror that it would need to be disbanded or completely rebuilt - if it suffered more than 30% casualties.

The IJA units engaged at Nomonhan suffered 73% loss. Some even more; 2/28 Infantry lost 86% of its original compliment. The 71st Infantry Regiment lost over 90% of the men who had marched out towards Nomonhan in May.

Had Zhukov not halted his forces at the end of August there is no military reason why he could not have brushed aside the shattered remnants of 23rd ID and pushed further into Manchukuo; the Kwantung Army had no combat-effective units within a day's road-march at the closest, and it was purely due to Soviet contentment with its August gains that more of the Mongolian frontier was not lost.

Despite this, the Kwantung Army reinforced the Nomonhan sector. Fighting continued in the region, and the Army was planning another offensive when the Imperial Foreign Office negotiated a peace deal with the Soviets in mid-September. The war in western Europe had broken out and the Soviets had signed a pact with Japan's ally Germany. Suddenly getting valuable soldiers killed in border battles on the Manchurian steppes seemed pretty pointless.

The defeat at Nomonhan - in fact, the entire engagement at Nomonhan - was a nasty wake-up call for the Imperial Army and the Japanese government. The visible failure of the Hiranuma government to both anticipate the Nazi-Soviet Pact or control its Manchurian army forced the resignation of the Cabinet.

The effect of the defeat on the Kwantung Army command and staff was mixed. The IJA General Staff moved against the Kanto-gun; its commander, Ueda and many of his senior staff officers were either replaced or forced into retirement. But the failures of Nomonhan and particularly the poorly-thought-out aggression that caused them, were not really punished, and the issues raised by the insubordination and incompetence of the Kwantung Army at Nomohan were not made public.

Many of the architects of Nomonhan remained influential in the IJA and through the Army on Japanese foreign policy: "It is generally acknowledged by those who held contemporaneous High Command posts that the officers responsible for the Nomonhan debacle became strong advocates for launching the Pacific War" (Coox, 1985).

The Soviet Union held the ground they had taken in 1939 until the final days of August 1945, when the T-34's of the 6th Guards Tank Army ground the bones of dead men into the sandhills above the Halha River on their way to destroy the Kwantung Army and Imperial Japan.

The Outcome: Decisive Soviet grand tactical victory; the defeat at Nomonhan had some degree of impact on Japanese grand strategy in World War II.

The Impact: The most widely held opinion of the larger effects of Nomonhan was the defenestration of the "Northern" faction - the Army officers heavily represented in the Kwantung Army - from Imperial foreign policy and the ascendency of the 南進論, Nanshinron or "Strike South" faction that was largely centered around the Imperial Navy. In fact, Coox summed up this point precisely in a 1992 lecture:
"I feel that if at Nomonhan their affairs would have gone successfully, they would have initiated an offense against us." (Coox here is quoting from a postwar interview with Zhukov) "Their far-reaching plans included the capturing of the eastern part of Mongolia, cutting the Siberian main railway line." The Tokyo war trial jurists agreed and said, in memorable prose that as the door of opportunity closed in the north, the southern gates began to open for Japan." (Otterstedt, 2000)
I will be contrary here.

While I agree that the rough handling that the 23rd ID received from the Soviets at Nomonhan surely had the effect of cooling some of the hot heads that dreamed of an Imperial Japan stretching west to Lake Baikal, the economic and logistical realities of 1941 were that the Imperial armed forces needed reliable access to petroleum most of all. At the time no significant reserves were known in the Soviet Far East.

Militarily, politically, and economically the cost and difficulty of expanding the Imperial borders north and west far exceeded any potential gains to be had there. Siberia was then what it is now; a vast emptiness, difficult to traverse and costly to develop.

Add to that the fact that the "Southern" strategy was already part of the official policy of Imperial Japan and had been since 1936.

No question that the defeat at Khalkhin-Gol helped the Southerners. But I'm not really convinced that the "Go North, Young Nipponese!" notion was manifest destiny. There were just too many other factors against it.

I believe that the real military and political impact of Khalkhin-Gol was just what Zhukov said it was; to scare the IJA enough to prevent an opportunist move against the Soviet Union in the summer of 1941.

Simultaneous attacks from west and east would have been a hell of a nightmare for Stalin's STAVKA. At the very least, the counterfactual is that the units that arrived before Moscow in the autumn and early winter of 1941 would have been pinned down in Siberia. Whether that prevents the loss of Moscow...well, that's hard to say. But it sure narrows the margin for the Soviets.

Indeed, perhaps the most significant impact of Nomonhan was not on Japan and the IJA at all, but to train one of the craftsmen of the defeat of Nazi Germany in his craft. Then-GEN Zhukov took west with him the experience of assembling and employing a combined-arms force that he would continue to refine over the next six years. No question but that he was a blunt instrument. The Soviet Army was a hammer, not a rapier. But what worked on the Halha would work on the Don, and the Dnepr, and eventually on the Elbe.

What happened and why; final assessment of the Imperial Japanese Army of WW2

The August battles pretty much sum up my opinion of the Imperial Japanese Army of World War II; an anachronism of a force, a feudal warlord's fighting tail tricked out with a handful or tanks and aircraft but still fundamentally unable to fight a modern war.

Unwilling to change, unable to adapt, this costume-movie army muddled along until confronted with a decently-led, intelligently-organized armed force that knows how to fight industrial war.

At that point the IJA got handed its ass.

This happened over and over again between 1939 and 1945. It happened in the islands, it happened in New Guinea, it happened in India and Burma, and it even happened right here, again, in 1945 when the Soviets came storming back across the steppes.

In my opinion the IJA leaders were charlatans, tricksters who deluded their entire nation into thinking that somehow "spirit" and "warrior virtue" could defeat lead, fire, and steel. As culpable as any warlords in history whose hubris and folly led their peoples to their own destruction, the disaster they created and that destroyed them at least did Japan the favor of striking off its love of military posturing and the sort of chest-thumping "warriors" that have proved so disastrous throughout human history by being exposed for the frauds they were.

How fraudulent..?

Where to start?

The IJA doctrine of light infantry aggression was as fatally flawed in 1939 as the French attaque à outrance was in 1914. While it might have promised a tactical victory or three in the larger picture it meant futile deaths for tens of thousands.

Technically the IJA never learned the lessons of Nomonhan - or any of the other engagements we've discussed. It never developed a fully-integrated air arm. It's armored force never rose above comical. Its artillery - while, like its infantry, well-trained on the tactical level - never mastered the complex fire control and fire support tasks that were routine for all the other combatant armies by 1945.

Above all, it remained logistically shambolic until the end. Japanese soldiers, sailors, and airmen routinely suffered and died lacking supplies that Allied, and even German and Soviet troops took for granted.

The Kwantung Army in 1939 was Japan's overall WW2 problem writ small.

Instead of being an instrument of its nation the Kantō-gun acted as if it were the nation, and made decisions that affected that nation for reasons no better than solving minor military problems. The officers of the Japanese Army in Manchuria - with no better understanding, knowledge, or wisdom about the geopolitical implications of dragging their nation into war with the Soviet Union over a piece of worthless steppe - chose to put their nation on a course it had neither planned nor prepared for.

As individuals the officers and commanders of the IJA of the late Imperial period were no different than any other human. Some were brilliant, some were idiots. Some were sweethearts, some were assholes.

But as a group; as an Army, they were a damn deadly dangerous group of people. They ran their country into a war that they could not win, that they should have known - that the brighter of them did know - they could not win. And in the losing of it they killed uncountable millions, many of them their own people. Seldom in the history of human conflict has a group of ordinary men been so viciously culpable for so many terrible crimes. All with the ideal that they were living the most virtuous of lives; lives full of "honor", "duty", "sacrifice", and "loyalty".

And on the altar of those virtues they sacrificed a world of lives.

Touchline Tattles:

There's just nothing much "human interest" about Khalkhin-Gol; its pretty much all blood and misery. Except this - we don't know today exactly where Nomonhan was.

The modern border between Manchuria and Mongolia is a restricted zone; the borderline is drawn close to the 1939 Soviet claims, very near First Front Army stop line in August.

The area is as lightly lived-in today as it was in 1939 or in 939, I suspect. (Stuart Goldman, whose work on this battle I have recommended, has a nice little blog post about visiting the site of the fighting. He mentions the museum in the little town of Khalkgol which seems to be something something of a shithole).

At some point the Soviets (or their Mongolian pals) threw up some one of those usual ginormously hideous concrete-and-steel war memorials that the Soviets seemed to have enjoyed so much over on the west side of the Halha. Pictures really don't seem to do justice to the butt-ugliness of the thing, which appears from a distance like a monstrous wingnut on a stick:

Birds, though? That seems to be another matter; the rare Band-bellied Crake seems to find a happier summer in the valley of the Halha than the troopers of the 23rd Infantry Division. From what I can glean from the Internet the eastern end of Mongolia is nice for birdwatching and grazing and not much more.

In general the plains around the Halha River seem as little worth fighting over as they were seventy-four years ago. Life seems very precarious there, and the little towns always seem to be that close to simply disappearing when the residents just lose interest one day and wander off. The habits of nomadism die hard.

That is what seems to have happened to Nomonhan at some point between 1945 and now.

So far as I can tell there is nothing visible at the 1939 site of Nomonhan today. I can find no pictures or snapshots taken by visitors, even of ruins. No village is shown on the maps. Satellite pictures do show a sort of wrinkle or small irregularity in the otherwise-featureless plain, but of roads, buildings, of any of the works of man; of the small town that once stood by so much fighting and dying...nothing remains now but the grass, the river, the wind, and the sky.