Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Battles That Changed History: Bun'ei (文永の役 Bun'ei no eki or First Hakata Bay) 1274

文永の役 (Bun'ei/First Hakata Bay)

Date: 19 NOV 1274AD (Bun'ei 11, 20th day of the 10th month)
Note on dates: Traditional Japanese dates are based on a 年号, nengō, literally a "year-name" that was typically chosen by the Imperial court to celebrate important occasions such as the accession of a new emperor or some auspicious event in his reign. 文永, Bun'ei, was the name chosen for something - frankly, I have no idea what - that occurred in the reign of 亀山天皇, Kameyama-tenno, Emperor Kameyama, 90th in the traditional succession. You'll note that in the Imperial calendar the date would have been rendered as 20 OCT - the 20th day of the 10th month...but by the Western Gregorian calendar the date is 19 NOV, one month later. Before you think "that's weird" remember that the Julian calendar was nearly a month different from the Gregorian when the changeover took place in most of the Western world in the 18th Century.
Forces Engaged: Japanese - The Japanese defenders that met the Mongol invaders at the shores along Hakata Bay were drawn from the gokenin, the household troops of the various clans of the island of Kyūshū. From the paucity of sources - we'll get to that in just a bit - it's difficult to tell how many of these troops and what type were on the north shore of the island that day.

We can discount the Mongol statements of 100,000 or more found in the Yuan Shi. This is pure propaganda designed to excuse the failure of the first invasion. The combined strength of the two sides at the Battle of Sekigahara fought nearly 300 years later, at a time when Japanese feudal militarization was at its height, was something like 160,000 all arms; I doubt if the bakufu could have raised 100,000 troops from all of Japan in 1274.

We have no direct strength reports from the Japanese sources. In the absence more modern estimates run from somewhere in the mid-thousands, 4,000 to 6,000, to as high as 10,000-12,000 all arms, a maximum I find easily believable, because:

1. The 鎌倉幕府, Kamakura bakufu or Kamakura shogunate, was a damn good military organization for it's time. Japan typically fought "above its weight" in the premodern period simply because the Japanese feudal organization was better logistically and organizationally than many of its contemporaries. The 13th Century shogunate was hardly the sleek military bureaucracy of the Tokugawa Era, as we'll see, but it was still well able to field, supply, and feed a significant force for some time, and

2. The battle took place in October after the harvest was in and the bulk of the peasant footsoldiers (that would eventually become the 足軽 ashigaru of the high feudal wars of the 16th and 17th Centuries) would have been freed of their agricultural responsibilities, and

3. The invaders had been knocking on the door for some time; this wasn't a surprise attack. Mongol embassies had arrived in Japan in March and September of 1269, again in September of 1271; and finally in May of 1272, each time with a message from the court of the Khan that pretty much boiled down to "Nice little island you got...shame if anything happened to it."

The Wiki entry for the Mongol Invasions notes that
"The Kamakura shogunate (Bakufu) under Tokimune ordered all those who held fiefs in Kyūshū (the area closest to Korea, and thus most likely to be attacked) to return to their lands, and forces in Kyūshū moved west, further securing the most likely landing points. After acknowledging its impotence, the Imperial Court led great prayer services, and much government business was put off to deal with this crisis."
So let's guess that the Japanese defense consisted of somewhere around 6,000-10,000.

This might be on the high side - Turnbull (2010) gives 4,000 to 6,000 as his guess - but clearly the Japanese force numbered more than a couple of thousand (that would have been blown away within hours) but less than "tens of thousands" (that would probably have managed to hold at the beaches without much trouble).

The problem, though, is even guessing the total that we still have no real notion of how this force broke down.

We know that the hard core of the Japanese defense was the 武士, bushi; the armored warrior we know as samurai; let's use the latter term as the more familiar to a Western reader.

Whatever you called them, at the time of the invasion these troops would have been primarily armored mounted archers, the bow (弓, yumi) the principal weapon. The better-known 刀, katana or "samurai sword", was not in widespread use during the 13th Century, the mounted man preferring the 太刀, tachi or longsword but preferring the bow to both.

The method of engagement was long-range arrow fire, the idea being to pick off your enemy with a superbly placed shot while riding around him. At some point the two sides got stuck in at handstrokes, but the ride-and-shoot part was the best part as far as these armored knights were concerned.

And I should note that in his general attitude the high-status 13th Century Japanese warrior was more-or-less a close relative of his contemporary the feudal European knight. He was NOT the fanatically-loyal-and-obedient automaton of the 17th Century. He was feudal in the military sense to the ends of the tassels on his agemaki; all about his own glory and his rep. His whole thing was battle, specifically, single-combat with an equal enemy whose death would bring him fame and riches. He was aggressive as hell but even then, as we'll see, the problem wasn't getting him to fight, it was trying to get him to fight where and when and how you wanted him to.

He was a pain in the fucking ass, frankly, and a hell of a lot of Japanese history can be explained by trying to figure out what the right answer would be to the simple question "How do we control these kami-damned samurai?"

The samurai families were about 10% of the population of Japan in the 18th and 19th Centuries but the group would have been at significantly over-represented at Hakata bay in Bun-ei 11. Japanese troops had little experience at that point fighting outside Japan or enemies other than Japanese, and the primary objective of the bushi was, as I've said, individual glory and single-combat; the notion of a "tailored force package" was gibberish to the 13th Century Japanese commanders. So it's very probable that the Hakata force was samurai-heavy, full of guys looking for glory and Mongol heads.

Let's assume that half to more than half the defenders - somewhere between 3,000 and 5,000 - were mounted samurai. So here we've got a whole bunch of homicidal armored bowmen standing around that November day looking to mount up and kill something.

The quality of these soldiers would have been generally high but somewhat variable, ranging from well-trained, well-armed wealthy men with a fairly substantial fighting tail numbering in the dozens to single individuals who could barely scrape together enough money to afford the arms, armor, and mount, but all would have been fairly to very effective at the sort of individual mounted combat they specialized in.

But what about the rest of the gang?

Well, some of them would have been armored footsoldiers, probably another 2,000 to 3,000 or so. These would have been the poorer armed retainers of the local clans, not the large units of organized ashigaru infantry of the later Muromachi and Sengoku Periods. Their armor would have been the much less elaborate, probably the 胴丸, dō-maru style rather than the 大鎧, ō-yoroi, type worn by the knightly class and their primary weapons would probably have been some sort of polearm, 槍, yari, the straight-bladed spear or 薙刀, naginata, the glaive or curve-bladed spear with a sword in reserve. Some would have been archers, some, the humbler, might have had no more than a sword or two. Effective fighters in an individual sense, but not "infantry", much less an infantry unit or units in the way we think of them.

That would leave almost all of the remaining 2,000 or so as the rice-farmer sort of peasant levy. These poor sods would have been the humblies from the local samurai estates and usually dragged off their farms with all the enthusiasm of their European equivalents.

It's worth noting that raising the peasants was probably much less difficult for this fight than for the usual inter-clan feud; the Mongols had been very naughty on the way over to the Japanese home islands and the results of a Mongol landing would have been ugly even by Japanese-peasant-standards.
However even with their blood up the fighting value of these levies was probably debateable and their impact on the events of Bun'ei 11 questionable. Some probably had real spears or naginata but probably a bunch with nothing but a sharpened bamboo spear, a rice-flail, or a pitchfork. Their ability to do more than more than stand in place is unlikely; even moving short distances without their becoming a mob is hard to imagine. But, as we'll see, much of the fighting for the Japanese side consisted of standing in one place.

So; perhaps 2,000-5,000 armored missile cavalry and another 2,000-3,000 armored melee infantry with a light infantry contingent of perhaps another 2,000 or so under the overall command of several of the 守護, shugo or military officials, of Kyūshū including Shimazu Hisatsune (shugo of Satsuma, Hyuga, and Osumi provinces) and Otomo Yoriyasu, shugo of Bungo, Buzen, and Higo provinces. The notional commander of this force would have been Shoni Tsunesuke, shugo of Hizen, Chikuzen, and Chikugo provinces as well as the islands of Ikishima and Tsushima, but my understanding is that this officer had no direct role in the combat at Hakata Bay.
A Brief Note on Provinces and Their Adminstration: The ancient internal divisions of Japan have a tangential relationship with the modern prefectures; there's a hint of similarity in the areas but the extents and the names are very different.

県, ken, or prefectures are the modern internal divisions of Japan, established in the 19th Century; Kyūshū has eight, including Okinawa. The modern prefectures are shown on the map at the beginning of the post. Go ahead and take a look. I'll wait.

OK, got it?

The older divisions were called 国, kuni, which is typically rendered into English as "provinces" or "counties". Of these, Kyūshū also had eight back in the day but the boundaries were very different. Here they are:

There's Hakata again, the orange circle in Chikuzen no kuni, Chikuzen Province.

In 1274 these administrative divisions were typically run by two representatives of the military government at Kamakura. The shugo you've heard already; this was the guy with the police and military powers, a sort of combined state adjutant general and state police commissioner and, especially in a remote province, the local magistrate.

His counterpart was the 地頭, jito, whose function was more administrative; he collected the imperial taxes and was more concerned with estate management, but he would also have been of the bushi class and was at bottom a fighting man. Both typically were appointed from the 御家, gokenin, military "nobility" that are described in the Wiki entry as "...descendants of former (independant land)owners, former peasants, or former samurai, who...were rewarded (with land and/or position). They also collected local taxes and ruled over territories they were entrusted with, but nominally didn't own (those lands). Because the shogun had usurped the emperor's power to nominate them, they owed loyalty only to him. As long as they remained faithful, they had considerable autonomy from the central government."

The defenders of 1274 would have been these gokenin, the feudal troops of the military ruler; nominally loyal to the Emperor and "Japan" but, in practice, owing their livelihoods to the bakufu and it's leaders and considering themselves men of their clan, first, then their region, and only lastly "Japanese". The men who defended the beach that day were not just removed from us in time; they were very much men of the Japan of 1274, a Japan which bears some likeness but as much or more difference to the Japan of 2014.

Forces of 大元, Dao Yuan, the Great Yuan Dynasty - 忽必烈;, The Great Khan, Kublai, had proclaimed the beginning of the Yuan Dynasty three years earlier in 1271 as part of the long conquest of the Chinese heartland by the Mongolyn Ezent Güren, the Mongol Empire founded by Genghis Khan in the early 13th Century. At the time of the Battle of Bun'ei Kublai's forces were still fighting to conquer the southern Song state in what is now the parts of China south of the Yangtze River. The Yuan had, however, already invaded and largely subdued the Korean peninsula and put a Yuan Quisling on the throne there. This will have an impact on the battle for Hakata Bay, as we'll see.

The hard core of the invasion force was probably roughly between a Tümen and one-and-a-half Tümen of the sort of Mongol troops that had swept out of the steppe of central Asia and conquered half the Eurasian world by the last quarter of the 13th Century. A Tümen was the basic grand tactical Mongol unit; 10,000 troops divided into decimal sub-units down to a 10-man aravt or squad.

The image we have of the Mongols of the 13th Century is "This Guy":

The squat, hard-faced horseman with his shaggy steppe pony, his floppy fut hat and his bow, peering patiently down from the ridge onto the peaceful village below, grim harbinger of Death.

The Mongol of our imagination is part of a Horde of light horsemen, swarming out of the dust and the forest, bows sleeting a deadly hail of arrows. That image impressed itself on the peoples of eastern Europe for more than a century and it's actually, for a popular conception, remarkable accurate.

The central strength of the Mongol Empire was that horseman; hardy and rapid moving, tactically flexible, well-disciplined, and ferociously violent. But he was not the only weapon in the Mongol arsenal in 1274.

By 1274 the waves of light horse-archers were backed up by a mailed fist of heavy armored mounted lancers; the equivalent of the Byzantine cataphract cavalry or the Ottoman or Mamluk heavy horse; armored men on armored horses armed with lances as their primary weapon that charged into close combat. The ratio of light to heavy cavalry in the Mongol armies of the 13th Century seems to have been roughly 3:2.
Our only source for the number and composition of the Yuan expeditionary force is the Yuan Shi, that gives the Mongol and Chinese numbers as 15,000. We don't have a better breakdown that that, but given that the conquest of China was fairly recent and the Northern Song troops fairly newly incorporated into the new dynasty I suspect that most of the "Mongol and Chinese" troops were, in fact, Mongol.

Another 1,600 of the expedition are listed as Korean. Korea was even more recent a conquest than China, and the reliability of Korean grunts would likely have been pretty low. I suspect that some of the Koreans listed were crew for the some 900 ships that conveyed the invasion force from the embarkation ports to the Japanese shore as well as infantrymen.

Here's the thing about this force, though. All the sources we have for this battle suggest - or show - that many of the Mongol forces 1) fought on foot and 2) in compact formations.

This doesn't sound like the sort of swirling mobile tactics the Mongol horse archers were known for; it sounds a lot more like the kind of infantry tactics used in Song Dynasty China as well as in Goryeo Korea. This tends to change our ideas of this force. Perhaps the conquered peoples - Chinese and Korean - provided more fighting soldiers than they otherwise would have.

Or...maybe the Mongols left their ponies at home.

That's my thought. Without modern steel vessels and specialized horse-transport ships its difficult for us, in our mechanized society, to conceive of the difficulty for a preindustrial society of transporting horses by sea.

Horses don't like to stand on an uneven surface. Unless they've been rigorously trained to do it they typically don't go up and down things like ramps willingly, and they don't like to jump up or down onto a wooden deck from a dock or quay, or over railings into the water.

They tend to be exceptionally poor sailors, nervous in the confinement of a small stall and a wooden deck overhead, and spooking at the sudden movement of the ship or the strange noises of wind and wave. When frightened they will typically attempt to run and, if restrained, will fight to escape, kicking, rearing, and plunging, and a terrified thousand-pound animal can do a tremendous amount of damage to a wooden ship.

Frankly, I have serious doubts about how many horses the invasion force brought along. I suspect that a lot of the Mongol troops were dismounted for this expedition. That wasn't an automatic deal-breaker as it might have been with some other nomadic armies; the Mongols were known for their siegecraft, very much a footsoldier sort of task, and they had considerable experience with infantry, if only to attack them. So while I have no doubt that some of the Mongol soldiers brought their mounts along with them I strongly doubt that this number was large or significant as a tactical factor in the engagement.

So, roughly 16,500 to perhaps about 20,000 all arms. Probably somewhere between several hundred to several thousand mixed light missile and heavy melee cavalry with the remainder a varied mix of light missile infantry and heavy melee infantry. The commanders are virtual cyphers; we know some of their names from the Yuan Shi: Chinese general Liu Fuxiang, Korean officer Kim Pang-gyong, and Mongol officers Hu-tun and Hong Ta-gu...but beyond the mere names we have no real idea who these men were and what their abilities were. Turnbull (2010) dismisses them with the observation that "(t)he Khan's leading generals were fully engaged in the main struggle against the Song..." so we are left to conclude that both the troops and the leaders of the 1274 expedition were likely less than the best that the Yuan Dynasty could field.

The Sources: Three. Or very nearly.

I'm not kidding. As far as I can find out there are only three major sources of information on the Battle of Bun'ei; one from China and two Japanese. All three suffer from the usual failings of medieval chronicles; excessive reliance on hearsay and anecdote, relative innumeracy, and the disconnect between the men who fought the fight and the men who wrote about it. No reports from the commanders to their rulers, no casualty returns, logistical tallies, orders of battle, or morning reports; none of the sort of technical and tactical records we expect from modern military forces.

Add on the difficulty for a Western reader to access sources written in Japanese as well as a Chinese work (the Yuan Shi) that was compiled by Chinese scholars reading Mongolian records.

From the Japanese side there are also a small collection of minor sources such as the accounts of the then-controversial Buddhist monk 日蓮Nichiren, samurai family histories, and surviving official records of the Kamakura bafuku.

You can imagine the difficulties.

From the Mongol side the only real source is a chronicle of the Yuan Dynasty called the 元史, Yuan Shi, or History of Yuan, a work with a plethora of problems.

First of all, despite its title it was not written by a Mongol, or during the Yuan Dynasty. So far as we can tell it was begun about two years after the fall of the Yuan and the accession of the first emperor of the succeeding Ming Dynasty. Talk about history being "written by the victor"...the supposed eyewitness account of the Mongol rule of China was written by the Chinese who kicked the Mongols out.

Adding to the obvious bias on the part of the authors was the haste with which the Yuan Shi was compiled. The entire 200-odd chapter compilation took less than a year to finish. The Wiki entry says:
"The History of Yuan has been criticized by imperial Chinese scholars for its lack of quality and numerous errors, attributed to the haste with which it was compiled. The Qing-era historian and linguist Qian Daxin commented that of the official histories, none was more quickly completed - or worse in quality - than that of the Yuan dynasty. Wang Huizu, another Qing-era scholar, compiled a work on the history pointing out more than 3,700 factual and textual errors in the text, including duplicated biographies for important figures such as Subutai, as well as inconsistent transliterations of the same name - Phagspa, for example, was transliterated in three different ways."
If that wasn't trouble enough the actual manuscript is extremely rare: only two copies are known to exist today, both in the Mongolian National Library and extremely difficult to access. Try as I might I could find no image of the original text on the Internet. So it's difficult to assess how accurate the original history of the expedition was, and what, if any, inaccuracies crept in in the seven centuries since its creation.

The primary Japanese source is a piece of official propaganda from the Hachiman shrine at Iwashimizu called the Hachiman Gudokun and is principally concerned with convincing the bafuku that the prayers offered to Hachiman were the main reason the invaders were licked. I am not entirely sure if there exists an English translation of the full text, which though composed in the early 14th Century is known only from a manuscript copy from the Late 15th.

Additional contemporary Japanese sources are said to exist in family records as well as in the Imperial archives as well as in the libraries of temples and monasteries.

Perhaps the must controversial, confusing, and delightful record of the events of Bun'ei 11 is a collection of images with explanatory text - a sort of military historical strip-cartoon called the 蒙古襲来絵詞, Moko Shurai Ekotoba, the "Illustrated Account of the Mongol Invasion" or, more commonly, the "Mongol Invasion Scrolls".

This work seems to have been commissioned in the late 13th Century - the year 1293 is cited on the second section - by a guy named 竹崎 季長, Takezaki Suenaga, a gokenin samurai from Higo Province.

This joker Takezaki seems to have either been one of history's biggest shameless douchebags or a man with absolutely no filter between his mind and his mouth. His conduct on the battlefield is certainly fierce - to the point of lunacy, at time - but is characterized by a ridiculous amount boneheaded tactical stupidity, chicanery, and disobeying the orders of his feudal masters. Keep in mind that the story recounted is his version of the events; as Turnbull (2010) puts it: " would not have been surprising to have read the the Mongol Invasion Scrolls were compiled by his commanding officer so that Suenaga could be have been adequately disciplined."

In common with other medieval manuscripts the Scrolls have had a tough life over the ensuing seven centuries. Campi (2002) recounts this:
"The scrolls were kept at the Kaito shrine until seized in the 1360s by the Nawa and placed in the Aso shrine. The work ha(d) suffered extensive water damage and the glue that held the pages together dissolved. The Suenaga scrolls were rediscovered late in the eighteenth century, but there (wa)s no clear order for the images and passages.

In 1793 the scrolls were dispatched to Edo [Tokyo] and copied into the documents that exist today. However, the work was only divided into two scrolls in 1797, so there is some confusion as to which invasion story some illustrations belong. The scrolls were returned to Higo province in 1825 until presented to the Japanese Meiji emperor in 1890. Only
in 1989 were the scrolls bestowed to the nation and placed in the Museum of the Imperial Collections (Sannomaru Shozokan)"
Thomas Conlan has produced a worthwhile little study of the Invasion Scrolls, In Little Need of Divine Intervention (Conlan, 2001). I enjoyed the work, the reproductions of the Scrolls are invaluable, but it is not without its critics, and his conclusion - that the Japanese defeated the Yuan invasions based on military superiority alone and that the famous kamikaze was more myth than fact - seems to me poorly supported.

A number of worthwhile secondary works have been produced on the Invasions; all undoubtedly suffer from the same paucity of primary sources as does this one. In preparation of this post I used the Conlan book as well as the 2010 Stephen Turnbull The Mongol Invasions of Japan 1274 and 1281 published by Osprey and found both as useful as could be.

I encountered a scattering of worthwhile resources on the Internet that cover the Mongol invasions in general. Bowdoin College has a lovely little site that presents Takezaki's Invasion Scrolls, providing nice images of parts of the manuscript as well as some useful insight into the difficulty in reassembling the original from the various versions and revisions extant.

The Wiki entry appears to be acceptable for its setting though with some peculiar assertions. For example, it cites the 日本王代一覧, Nihon ōdai ichiran, or Table of Rulers of Japan as the source for the Japanese belief that the invasion was defeated because the invasion force ran out of arrows - a frankly unbelievable assertion and one hard to credit the gokenin who were on Hakata beach as seriously proposing - without mentioning that the Table of Rulers was written in the late 17th Century. While useful as a general introduction it contains little of real military value.

Although not really pertinent to the events of 1274 the Archaeology website has a good little article on the modern investigation into the wrecks of the great storm of 1281. Another good naval archaeological site is maintained by one Ramdall Sasaki; the pictures alone are well worth investigating.

That's pretty much it. As with the sources, little has been published on the Internet about this engagement. I figure I might as well be the first.

The Campaign: One good first question to ask would be; what the fuck did Kublai Khan want with Japan, anyway?

No kidding, really; Kublai, what the fuck, man? Your Mongol Empire was as continental a polity as ever was, run and ruled by a bunch of steppe-nomads and hacked out of Eurasia by a bunch of guys on horses with bows. You needed a navy and an island outpost like a duck needs nuclear weapons, and trying to get them got a lot of your good troops killed. What was the attraction?

Certainly one reason may well have been what we'd call today "national security". Once the Song Dynasty was overthrown the Yuan controlled all of the mainland from Korea to Vietnam; the only real military threat to the east was Japan. While the Japanese showed little interest in military conquest on the mainland they were really the only state that might, and as we here in the United States know only too well it takes little more than an ambitious ruler to insist that a smoking gun may become a mushroom cloud at any moment and decide to invade to prevent that fantasy of danger.

Another might simply have been momentum; the Mongol armies had conquered all before them to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Why stop there? Certainly there must have been a sort of "manifest destiny" faction at the Yuan Court that believed that it was just natural for Mongol rule to extend as far as there were people to rule, Japanese included.

Turnbull (2010) suggests that Japan's wealth was a reason. He cites Marco Polo as claiming that the Imperial Palace was paved with gold and that these riches were part of Kublai Khan's motivation. This, given the incredible wealth for the taking in Song China, seems frankly unbelievable.

One more plausible reason is that Japan had both the capability to intervene on the side of the Southern Song (in 1274, at least) as well as military power that would be helpful in defeating the Song if properly re-directed. So by taking control of Japan the Khan would further his greater goal of the complete subjugation of China.

Whatever the reasons, Mongol pressure on Japan to join the Coalition of the Willing began as early as 1266 and, as we've discussed, accelerated in the years between 1269 and 1272. The messages were couched in the usual diplomatic flannel but the steel beneath the niceties was tangible. The message from 1269 concludes with the admonition: "...if we should not establish friendly relations between us...(w)ho would care to appeal to arms?"

These messages, along with warnings of Mongol preparations from the Korean government-in-exile (to the island of Ganghwa in the Han River delta) until the final conquest of Korea, were dealt with not by the Emperor - who was a figurehead and had been since the Genpei War of the 12th Century - but by one of the samurai military elite that had taken power. In 1274 this was not even the ostensible military ruler, the shogun - a mook by the name of 惟康親王, Prince Koreyasu - but his 執権, shikken (regent), a guy named 北条 時宗, Hōjō Tokimune. Tokimune, the regent for the regent, mobilized the gokenin of Kyūshū some time after the threatening messages in the late 1260s or early 1270s, but the gokenin of southern Honshu only late in 1274.
Meanwhile the Mongol invasion fleet and its troops sailed from harbors along the south coast of Korea on 2 NOV 1274 (the 3rd day of the 10th lunar month) to begin the operation. Two days later the fleet was sighted off the island of Tsushima.

The fight for Tsushima was brief, and brutal. A couple of hundred defenders - 80 mounted samurai and their footsoldiers - met about 1,000 Mongol, Chinese, and Korean troops on the beach near the town of Sasuura. The fighting was hard, and the attackers are said to have been badly mishandled, but the entire Japanese force was butchered.

The invasion force spent about a week enjoying some casual plunder, murder, rape, and the other traditional prerogatives of the victor before sailing on 13 NOV to arrive at the small island of Iki the same afternoon.

Same shit, different day; Mongols and their Chinese and Korean troops pile ashore, Japanese kill as many as possible before being overrun. The usual atrocities ensue. By nightfall the next day the invasion force lands on the Matsuura peninsula and do their usual killing and burning before re-embarking and sailing for the larger settlements around Hakata Bay, which they reached some time on 19 NOV.
The Engagement: As with the other aspects of Bun'ei 11, what we don't know about the actual fighting is extensive. What we do know is the outline of the Mongol and Japanese movements and some tactical details of the fighting.

We know that the Mongol commander landed a detachment within Hakata Bay but west of the main landing site in what is now Imazu Bay, near the modern towns of Imajuku and Shimoyamato. We don't know how large this force was or how it was organized, except that at least some of this force may have been mounted. The Hachiman Gudokun says: "The Mongols disembarked from their ships, mounted their horses, raised their banners and began the attack." However, it seems that another portion of the Mongol force consisted of massed infantry. The Hachiman continues: "Halberds and long-shafted weapons were carried with no empty space between them..."

We can assume that the Japanese commander - or whoever was in command of the western elements of the Japanese force - sent out a portion of his command to intercept this Mongol attack as it marched eastwards. Whatever this force was and whatever it did the mission was either unsuccessful or the commander's intent was a purely delaying action, because the western Mongol force attacked successfully eastwards to meet the main landing at the southeastern arc of Hakata Bay near the modern Port of Hakata.

At this point both of the combatants began to notice the real difference in the way the two sides fought.

The Mongols (and their Chinese and Korean subject troops) fought as units under the command and control of their officers. The Yuan Shi says: "...(the Mongol) generals gave command by beating drums and the troops advanced or retreated according to the beat of the drums". The Hachiman notices the same thing: "The commander-in-chief of their army took up a position on high ground, and when they had to pull back he beat the drum of retreat. When they were going to advance he struck the attack gong."

The Japanese gokenin, on the other hand, were still thinking largely of personal glory. One of the samurai opened the main engagement in traditional Japanese warrior fashion by firing a signalling arrow - an arrow tipped with some sort of whistle - over the Mongol formation. This was to alert the kami that men were going to do great deeds. The invasion force - probably worried that this joker was going to skewer someone - laughed their asses off when the whistler looped overhead.

The chronicles note that the gulf between the two sides was technical as well as tactical. The Mongol force had adopted Chinese artillery; what the Chinese supposedly called "chien tienli" and the Japanese "tetsuhau".

These were some sort of rocket with a warhead made of ceramic or cast iron filled with black powder, a sort of 13th Century Congreve Rocket. The effects of these early RAP-rounds seems to have been as much psychological as physical; the Hachiman says that between the explosions, the drums, and the gongs the Japanese horses were utterly bugnuts and almost uncontrollable. All the accounts agree that the samurai tried their usual ride-around-and-shoot style and managed to kill their share but were usually unable to kill enough people - to "attrit", in the term soldiers prefer to "butcher", the Mongol force - enough to disorder their units and alter their movements.

We don't know exactly what happened, but my guess is that the Mongol bowmen would drive off the samurai cavalry to enable the melee infantry to move forward and then the blocks of spearmen would provide protection for the foot-archers as they forced the Japanese back from handstrokes. Without artillery, without an equivalent mass of infantry, and without either horse archers acting in groups or heavy cavalry capable of riding down footsoldiers (the samurai cavalry doesn't seem to have acted in mass, and individuals or small mounted groups trying to ride into infantry are dead once their movement stops; unable to use their greater mass and surrounded by more numerous enemies they will eventually be pulled down and killed) the Japanese really had no tactical "solution" to the advancing Mongol infantry units.

So between the mismatch of close-order infantry and armored missile cavalry, and the better tactical organization of the invaders, the defenders were pushed off the beach and down the Mikasa River to the southeast.

This was bad. The regional capital was just southeast of Hakata Bay at 太宰府市, Dazaifu-shi. Loss of the admin center at Dazaifu would have caused real problems for the defense of the island, and would have given the invaders a fortified place to spend the night.

As it was, the defenders seem to have managed to fall back on and hold what was called the ミズキ, Mizuki, or "water castle".

This thing wasn't really a castle but rather a rock curtain wall constructed across the valley of the Mikasa River.

This fortification is described as "...a fortress on a mound, 1.2km long and 14m high, surrounded by a bulwark. It had a moat (on the northwest side) with a width of 60 meters and a depth of 4 meters and was filled with water..."

The Japanese defenders were still holding this fortification as night began to fall. According to the Hachiman at this point Shoni Kagesuke also seriously wounded one of the Mongol leaders, Liu Fuxiang.

At that point the invasion force withdrew to their ships.

I mean, so far the fighting had been hard and the invaders taken some - perhaps significant - casualties. But they were beating the Japanese, had pushed them off the beach and several miles up the Mikasa to the Water Castle. It would seem to me as a simple cannon-cocker that there was no real reason to assume that the next day would change things assuming the two sides remained roughly equal.

So what was it? Were the invasion force commanders unwilling to spend the night on a largely unknown hostile shore? Had the resistance of the Japanese been fierce enough - and both sides agree that it was fierce, even if more disorganized than it should have been - to convince the Mongol leaders to sod this for a game of soldiers? Were these leaders also worried that the Japanese might be gathering troops (a not unreasonable suspicion) and that the next day they might be facing not 2.5:1 or 2:1 odds but more like 1:1, or even worse?

Or was the intent all along to just see what would happen on a single day of fighting? Was this nothing more than a big raid, a vast reconnaissance-in-force, designed to gather whatever information about the defenders and defenses of the northern Kyūshū coast could be had in a day?

The Yuan Shi presents a Ming scholar's reconstruction of the council of war that took place in the Mongol CP as night fell on 19 NOV.:
"Kim Pang-gyong remonstrated with Hu-tun and Hong ta-gu, saying, "Our forces are small in number, it is true, but that are already on the emeny's land. They are battle-minded now. Let us therefore fight it out." Hu-tun replied, saying, "They say if one puts up a strong fight with a small force, one ends up being captured by the large force. To drive on fatigued troops into the enemy ground is not safe tactics. It is better to draw back our forces."
Whatever the reason, the invasion force pulled back, not just to the beach but to their ships.

Presumably the Japanese defenders set into the sort of restless night typical for soldiers in close quarters with an armed enemy; the guys who can sleep snoring and twitching and thrashing in the nightmares that follow a day of fighting, many of the other trying to just lie down and rest bodies exhausted from the hard physical work of hand-to-hand combat and the mental strain of spending a full day in the immediate presence of death and grievous wounds.
And, of course, all the other sorts of military bullshit that keeps the joes from sleeping; the asshole from HQ who trips over you while shouting for some guy you know is not in your unit, the nosy NCO looking for some idle bodies for a detail, and the random noise and confusion of any outfit on the first night in the field.

Then there would have been the pre-dawn stand-to, as the dirty, tired, sleepy, probably hungry, probably nervous (and some, the braver, excited) Japanese troops were shaken awake to fall into their positions. Undoubtedly there was a mutter of conversation ranging from pure nervous chatter and bad jokes to some variation of "Wonder what that fuckin' genius (insert shifty offier's name here) has planned for us today?" to some variation of "For what we are about to receive may the kami make us truly thankful." Hands would have tightened around hilts and shafts, or adjusted and re-adjusted bowstrings and armor.

But when the first sunlight of 20 NOV showed Hakata Bay the invasion fleet was gone.
Again, we don't really know why.

Again, possibly this was a planned withdrawal. Possibly this was a tactical decision; the ground troops may have been so badly mishandled the day before that the invasion commanders had decided that a full withdrawal was their only real choice.

Possibly the plan was to have re-landed on 20 NOV but the weather had turned during the night; the Yuan Shi says: "...that night there was a great storm and our fighting craft were dashed against the rocks and destroyed in great numbers." although the problem with this is that some of the Japanese sources - especially the Hachiman that never fails to mention any sort of divine intervention - make no mention of any storm along the Japanese coast and says that the local people we surprised to find the invaders gone except for a single ship that had run aground. Certainly November is not typical typhoon season, and even normal winter storms tend to come from the west or northwest, suggesting that a big winter storm would have driven the invasion fleet ashore rather than drive it off to the north or west. However, an imperial court diary uses the term "a contrary wind" and notes that this contrary wind "left some on land".

This storm may have struck after the invasion commanders chose to withdraw for tactical reasons. The force is reported to have lost heavily (Turnbull (2010) cites a "contemporary record" as claiming that this number was 13,500 and one-third of the invasion force, which seems extreme given what we think was the initial strength of the invasion) though whether these losses were during the engagement or the voyage to and from the islands is impossible to determine.

Regardless of the why, the danger to the Japanese home islands was over. For now.

The Outcome: Japanese tactical victory
The Impact: Well, we know that the "impact" in strategic terms was minimal. The Mongols returned in August of 1281 with an even larger force. This force was not just defeated but destroyed, supposedly largely by the kamikaze, the typhoon that has since been famous as the "divine wind" that showed the gods were on the side of the Japanese.

I'd like to suggest, though, that the events of Bun'ei 11 had several long-term effects - beginning in 1281 but continuing down through the centuries.

First, the bakufu reorganized the defenses of Kyūshū, including building a series of defensive walls along the north shore of the island so as to provide tactical strongpoints similar to the Mizuki, and raising additional gokenin from both Kyūshū and across the Home Islands.

And, second, the samurai had learned some of what worked and what didn't against a massed infantry force. All that feudal caprioling and promiscuous arrow dueling went by the board . The second invasion was met at the water's edge by massed bowfire backing armored infantry in fortified positions; unlike 1274, in 1281 the invasion force couldn't even manage to force a beachhead and had to return to their ships again that evening where the kamikaze could destroy them.

Perhaps the single most significant impact was, eventually, on the Japanese national character. The stories of the invasions of the 13th Century passed into lore and eventually legend. The legend as Japan as the 神国, shinkoku or land of the gods, the favored people and polity of Heaven.

I'll go ahead and say straight out; any people, or any nation, that is convinced that "God is on our side" is setting themselves up to make appalling political mistakes, whether you say it as "shinkoku" or "Gott mit uns" or "God Bless America". The Japanese conviction of divine sanction - born of the events of the 13th Century - that mere Japanese-ness was enough to ensure rightness and goodness led eventually to the horrors of Nanjing, Unit 731, and Death Railway.

Touchline Tattles: As you can imagine, the only piece of entertainment to emerge from the events of the Mongol invasions comes from our pal Takezaki Suenaga, the Bad Samurai of Higo.

He managed to get recognition for doing not-much in 1274. In 1281 he was back at it, still trying to win fame and fortune by lopping Mongol heads. But things didn't work out all that well for him, again.

After the repulse of the initial landings the fighting was transferred to the bay itself, where samurai swarmed the invasion fleet in small boats. But our boy Takezaki hadn't bothered to get himself a boat, and he quickly found that getting a ticket to the fighting wasn't easy. Turnbull (2010) describes Takezaki's adventures:
"Time and again Suenaga tried to negotiate for a place while successive boats...set off without him...when he spotted a boat bearing the flag of Adachi Yasumori. Suenaga commandeered a messenger boat to row him out...and proclaimed that he had been sent by the shugo and had been ordered to get on the next available boat. No one on board believed this (when) Suenaga jumped on to Adachi's boat...several men tried to throw him back."
Adachi finally orders Takezaki the hell of his boat and our hero reluctantly retreats to his rowboat.

But that's not the end for our enterprising samurai. He sees another boat and has his oarsman row like Hell to catch it, whereupon he "...first claimed that he was on a secret mission from the shugo, hence his solitary role, and then that he was, in fact, the deputy shugo. The boat in question was already full but the commander, who was eager to get into battle, allowed him to clamber on board."

So full, in fact, that Takezaki had to leave not just his footsoldiers behind but his helmet, as well. Oh, well; our boy wasn't going to let the lack of a brain bucket keep him out of the slaughter - he strapped a couple of shinguards around his head!

On the way to the hackfest Takezuki proceeds to regale his probably-irritated companions about his experience fighting Mongols, which I'm sure they all enjoyed - nothing is as entertaining for a GI as listening to a someone else's war story.

But the man could at least back up his talk; here he is shortening a Mongol by a head - notice his field-expedient shinguard-helmet coming loose...

We don't know how effective Takezaki's cartoon tale of heroism was at securing him the recognition he clearly felt he clearly deserved; so far as I know there is no record of whether or how well he was rewarded for his somewhat ridiculous adventures at Hakata Bay.

But give the boy credit for this - it he didn't get his props wasn't his fault. Suenaga was livin' the Code of Bushi StreeT: Get Riches and Glory Or Die Tryin'.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Jukebox: Goodbye Edition

This torchy grind works like a mechanical ass-kicker for me this cold, rainy Friday.

First, a guy that I've worked with for years is jumping to another firm. He's a good man, and a good friend, and one of the few people at the place I now work that doesn't seem to have a delight in playing silly reindeer games. I'll miss him.

And second don't get me started about the goddamn idiocy going on in the usual idiot places about "immigration".

If I had a nickel for every bone-stupid, prion-disease-moronic thing to come out of a Republican's mouth this week...shit, I'd OWN the Nickel Arcade.

"Goodnight was just a little word you learned.
Somewhere somebody that you burned
Was all too happy with a lie.
But love, you know you never got it right.
I don't know why you say goodnight;
You only mean to say goodbye."

Hope you've had a better week than I had...

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Cold Feet

Yesterday the cold wind blew in.

As I was saying; we get these clear days in the Black Months every so often. This type - when the polar high blows in off the interior - is the more common. Typically we get anywhere from a day to a week of brilliantly clear, frigidly cold days and nights before the Rains return in a horrid pelter of ice and sleet and automobile wrecks. Oregonians are awful drivers in any sort of slick weather; they won't stay home but they won't chain or snow-tire up, either. Portland becomes a sort of Fellini movie only with more dented chrome.

The hard crystal-sunlight is almost worth the bitter cold.

Yesterday was Veteran's Day (you're welcome, and I happily accept American Express, VISA and Mastercard...) and the kids had the day off. We were drilling up in the West Hills and from the look of it several of the surrounding residences contained daughters in the same grade; fourth or fifth would be my guess. This little troupe came scampering out into the cold about mid-morning, raced through our work site in the winter coats and jammie bottoms - the last in line barefooted - up the steps to one of the girls' home where they proceeded to bounce shrieking on the outdoor trampoline for about three-quarters of an hour or so.

The girls slowly bounced to a stop and, after a pause for discussion and the hunting of coats and slippers (for those who had worn them), trooped back through our part of the street en route to another girl's house.

As the last girl, the one in the sock feet, reached the sidewalk she paused for a moment and looked around at the stained-glass leaves glowing in the late morning light.

"My feet are so freezing." she said to no one in particular, and then sprinted down the street to catch up with her friends.

Monday, November 10, 2014


The autumn is deep upon us and, with it, the Rains.

Once the return to Standard Time spells the end of evening light the clouds that lour upon our house seem all the lower and more lour-y, the rain more incessant, and the season chillier and more inhospitable. This isn't really as awful as it sounds; its just what happens in the Northwest in the waning of the year, and, by and large, we're both used to it and accepting of it.

But...that doesn't mean we enjoy it, and our delight in the rare sunny autumn day is the proof. This past Saturday was a lovely, sunny and mild autumn day and it seemed like all of Portland got out to bask in it.

Perhaps except for me; I had to work that morning, so I spent the first half the day in a muddy field outside the permanent traffic-tie-up that is "Tualatin" keeping an eye on people making the field less muddy.

The heavy fog lifted by mid-morning and the lowering sun strengthened from watery to warm. The dank earth steamed, the dark coffee in my hands steamed as well, and I stood in pleasant lassitude watching the work. The contractor knew perfectly well what his crew needed to do; my presence was purely decorative, a sort of large finial or an ambulatory bit of trimming designed to make the work prettier for the owner. So like any good eye-candy I promenaded about looking attractive, made an occasional note or three, and generally bided the time until I'd put in enough of an appearance to justify my paycheck.

The only upside to working a weekend is the relative emptiness of the freeways. Portland, sadly, is becoming more like our neighbors to the north and south; where once serious freeway traffic was restricted to circumscribed morning and evening "rush hours" random congestion is now both more common and vastly more random. I have encountered parking-lot-grade jams at midday and at midnight, on weekend mornings and weeknights in the early single-digit darkness.

Saturday the pavement was delightfully untenanted; I rattled north into the downtown enjoying the velocity while fretting slightly over the odd noise the old pickup truck was making. The drawback of an owned-free-and-clear-ten-year-old vehicle is that you have reached the age where anything may fail catastrophically and often will. What once was a small but annoying squeak now may be a wheel bearing announcing its imminent death or a leaf-spring suggesting that iron oxide has overcome the elastic properties of the metal.
(And I should notes that it is just this sort of fretful irruption from which wealth provides such insulation. Mister Micawber would have recognized it; the natural consequence of having to worry about whether you can manage to make ends meet on that twenty pounds. You listen to that squeak with the cold understanding that it may mean penury somewhere else, a new bearing rather than a new toaster, or a new leaf-spring rather than a coveted book. This is the reason that freedom is and always will be dependent on wealth; being forced into decision by straitened finances is not practically different than being forced into decision by a fist or a law. Being a wage-slave is, in many practical ways, less unpleasant but no different than being a chattal-slave.)
So it was with a small feeling of relief that I pulled into the sunny street outside the big bakery on 12th Avenue.

A soft white cloud of yeast followed me across the street and down the sidewalk paved with gold. The Boy's team was playing on the field beside the Edwardian pile of Portland's technical high school, and so I turned right and up the stone steps towards the noise.

The Boy's team had won that morning. The task at hand was to defeat some outfit with the terrific name of "Psychic Pineapples", which had already become my favorite kid-soccer-team name. But, honestly...the sun was warm and the turf was soft, and the crowd was happy and busy so the business of winning and losing seemed less than pressing. The Boy's team scored. The Pineapples scored. The play was, as it usually is in these upper-grade-school games, an ungainly collision of deft and clumsy.

The Boy himself is not a skilled player; certainly not the worst on his team at the fundamentals of what is, really, a very simple game but not really anywhere near as good as even the average player on his outfit. I try to retain the fond eye of a parent rather than the critical one of a long-time player and observer of the game, but there is little denying that my child will never be essential to the fortunes of his team. He plays with a lanky enthusiasm, however, and makes several good tackles and with that I am content.

The final is 3-all; the Boy's side went up 3-1 near the half but conceded twice - actually, three times but had a lucky break in that one of the Pineapples went over the touchline on the way to scoring - late in the match to settle for the draw. Scoreline forgotten almost instantly the group briefly convenes for a photo then disperses to homes and entertainments in the sunny afternoon.

In the line at Voodoo Donuts I am pleased to see that at least one Portlander has her sandals on, her bare toes defying the passing of the year. She reminds me that we here in the Rose City do not give in to the rains easily; we sieze upon the slightest hint of sunshine to shed the layers and glower of winter.

The sagging truck smells of fresh bread, and the Boy and I enjoy the sight of the honey-brown loaves emerging from the oven.

We agree that although neither of us particularly craves plain white bread that the leavened aroma has us hungering for that simple taste. The day slows to a stop as I tell my son about my fifth-grade field trip to the old Sunbeam Bread bakery in Philadelphia. He tells me about his fourth-grade field trip to the zoo. In the long light of late afternoon as golden as the loaves of bread we sit companionably together, unhurried, waiting for Missy and Mojo, listening for footfalls loud in the quiet street that announce the slow arrival of his sister and my wife.

Named in vain

"Ashkenazic Jews were among the last Europeans to take family names. Some German-speaking Jews took last names as early as the 17th century, but the overwhelming majority of Jews lived in Eastern Europe and did not take last names until compelled to do so. The process began in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in 1787 and ended in Czarist Russia in 1844.

In attempting to build modern nation-states, the authorities insisted that Jews take last names so that they could be taxed, drafted, and educated (in that order of importance)."
Its easy for Americans to forget the vast weight of Jew-gentile history in Europe given the degree to which the Nazi death regime so destroyed the Ashkenazic world. But it is just this history that helps make the present relations between Europeans and Israel so fraught, and still throws out little complications to the relationships between Jews and Gentiles in general.
For centuries the Jews of Europe were in but not of the places they lived, kept apart by a combination of tradition (much of it horrible) and law (much of it unjust and punitive). The tradition of patro- and matronymics rather than surnames was just one small part of that strange world where an entire people were held at lethal distance from their neighbors through generation after generation.

In our own country we can still see the deep scars left by the imprisonment of one race by another, even now, more than a century after the formal dissolution of that bond. What scars did the imprisonment - both physical, in places like urban ghettoes as well as within entire regions such as the Pale of Settlement, and social - of the Ashkenazim leave on both the "prisoners" and their "jailers"?

It is difficult for me to imagine how this must have seemed at the time. Did a man of my age and nature resent being told to take some name that meant nothing to him in contravention of hundreds of years of tradition? Or would he have seen it as just another day in the life that offered little justice and less mercy from the goyische world the surrounded him? Would hearing his new "name" have produced tooth-grinding rage, or a resigned sigh?
We know so much of our relatively-recent past and, yet, things like this remind us that we often know much less than we think we know.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tarnished franchise

I voted in this election a week ago.

And, no, Rush, I didn't pull some sort of vote-fraud trick. Oregon elections are now done almost exclusively by mail. I don't think I've gone to an actual physical polling place for years. The ballot shows up, you spread it out on the kitchen table, scratch your head with the eraser end and you fill in the little ovals, then stuff it in the envelope and stick the stamp on (you think the State of Oregon is gonna pay for the postage? Shame on you, you tax-and-spend liberal, you) and you've exercised the franchise. You don't get the little sticker, but nothing comes without a price.

This year's ballot was notably free of freaks and whackos (unlike last year's special election where the idiot factor went to eleven). And, as always, there was no real "race" in any sense of the word. The Oregon Republicans are an utter shitshow; in thrall like the rest of their party to the Teatards and Christopaths in a state where oligarchic fucktardry and bible-belting are about as popular as the clap. Outside of the unpaved parts where the Morlocks clutch their Rugers and their Bibles it's a blue, blue Oregon, so I never feel like my vote really counts for much.

Another grain of sand on the beach, maybe. At least I voted against the piss-poor anti-GMO measure.

Thninking about this election perhaps the most depressing part of this entire electoral season here in the Beaver State has been the Strange Tale of Monica Wehby.

The linked article does a good job of detailing how this woman's candidacy - which, given her vita, should have been a strong one - fell apart. She seems like she had some real personal flaws that her party should have picked up on. But they're a shitshow, remember? So, yeah.

That's not the depressing thing. Here's the depressing thing; Wehby's stand on the "issues".

They are, per her website and in order:

"Jobs" - which are, apparently, a problem but not a problem because of the rapacity of financiers and rentiers, regulatory and fiscal policies that favor capital flight, offshoring, and outsourcing but because of "...needless red tape, mindless regulation, tax, government bureaucracy...and mandates that come out of Washington D.C." Republican, right? Plutocracy, good! Regulation, bad! To grok these gomers you gotta think like a damn third grader.

But that's the good part. Things go downhill from here.

"Term Limits" - since the best solution to a Congress that has largely either given away its authority or is paralyzed by Dr. Wehby's party's insistence that no government is better than letting the Kenyan Usurper actually govern is to ensure that the Congress is packed with political neophytes. Can't see how that'll go wrong.

"Guns" - This one is actually labelled "Constitution/2nd Amendment" but since the only specific part of the document specified is the one about the bullet-launchers I thought I'd just correct the header to reflect what this is supposed to say to the guntards.

"Health Care" - because our emergency rooms are SO Awesum, we don't need no Obamacare negro welfare handout!

Yeah, the actual text that's in there is different, but the actual text is so bizarrely freaking meaningless that it might as well be written in cuneiform. Here's the good doctor's position on "health care":
"Monica was a prominent opponent of the ACA in 2009, when Obamacare was rolling down the legislative track. She was enlisted to be in a television commercial that ran nationwide, warning people about the dangers of that bill. Monica got a lot of hate mail for that ad campaign and had to change her home phone number, but her warnings have come to pass."
Try and figure out what the fuck that means, if you dare. You note the lack of actual ideas on, you know, "health care"? Yeah, me, too. Basically it seems to mean that "Doctor" Wehby's position on "health care" is the GOP bog-standard issue; if you have no insurance, don't get sick. If you do get sick, die quickly.

I can't make anthing else out of that hot mess. Moving on...

"Veterans" - are SO Awesum! SO Awesum that Dr. Wehby will put the "needs and care" of these "brave men and women front and center". Absolutely, positively no kidding but did she mention that not to the point of unbalancing the budget (see below). Sorry, Joe, sorry, Molly, we have to "live within out means". Because...Greece!

"Balanced Budget" - because "(i)f we don’t do something to end this fiscal insanity our entire country will end up like Greece or Detroit!" Never mind that neither one has any similarity to the federal government (which this person is supposedly wanting to get involved in running) in that in the EU Greece doesn't control its financial destiny and neither does Detroit in the US...unlike the, you know, actual US.

More GOP nonsense, like comparing the US government - that can change its income by law - with a "household" where trying that with your employer would get you, like, fired. This is third-grader economics and the second-worst zombie idea in fiscal policy but beloved of GOP rank-and-filers so, there.

"Education" - abolish the Department of Education! Again, there's a bunch of other goofy verbiage, but Doc Wehby pretty much just wants to complain about the Feds getting all up in the grille of local schools telling them that they have to educate those damn negroes an' retards an' stuff. Oh, and Common Core!

"Foreign Policy" - Big Stick.

Seriously; Doc Wehby quotes Teddy as a way of saying that our troops are So Awesum! that we need to throw them large amounts of taxpayer cash. That's it; we're not even talking third-grade level here, we're down somewhere in the preschool years or on the backside of the planet Mongo or something. Based on this the woman needs to be kept away from anything even faintly resembling foreign policy, or foreign food, for that matter. What the hell she'd do with falafel is a horrifying thought.

"Natural Resources" - drill, baby, drill!

Again, the cuneiform reads
"We know how to strike the proper balance between meeting both our economic needs and our environmental responsibilities. But for some time, however, the natural resource policies coming out of Washington have been seriously out of balance and the result has been tragic for the state we love."
but you know as well as I do that for a Republican the "out of balance natural resource policies" that have been "coming out of Washington" are the ones that keep you and me from clearcutting the damn trees and damming the damn rivers and, shit, man, God gave us the fucking stewardship of Mother Earth and what the hell good is "stewardship" if you can't bend ol' Mom over when you're feelin' frisky and sink some shaft into that hot, gooey, natural resource-y goodness, amirite?
And that's it. That's all our supposed-Republican-Senator will do if we send her to D.C.; cut the funding for everything but aircraft carriers and petroleum subsidies and make sure that your basement arsenal is safe from the BATF.

Any concern about the going-to-hell condition of Oregon's highways and public buildings? Any interest in figuring out how Oregon's rural counties manage to stay in business? Any mention of Senatorial responsibility for keeping the nation out of fucking land wars in Asia? Or any other foreign affair other than hitting dusky heathens with a Big Stick?

Not just no but fuck no.

Of course not; the woman is a general-issue Republican. She could no more stake out a thoughtful position on things like taxation, inequality, public policy, foreign affairs, and social issues than she could show up at the New Century Club naked and do the haka.
This candidate's policy positions should have made her untouchable outside the lunatic Bircher Right and a handful of Oregon plutocrats. Given what she says she believes in she should legitimately get no more than, say, 12-15% of the vote - 20% at the very absolute outside, the same level of support that the really off-the-wall nutbar got last November.

But she won't. I'll bet you right now that she'll get damn near 45% of the popular vote; nearly half. The looney and filthy-rich 20%...and another damn-near-quarter of Oregonians who should know better than to vote for this lunatic Bircher.

Tomorrow we'll see if I'm right, but that means that damn near a quarter of adult Oregonians who should know better will have voted someone whose published beliefs would make their lives harder, meaner, and more chancy.

Mind you, it could be worse.

Hell, it IS worse - in Iowa the idiots there are going to elect a moron pig-deballer who believes that the UN wants to take away our golf courses and the climate change is a scam to make us wear sweaters.

Seriously. And that is the state of our nation circa 2014 where the best lack all conviction, while the worst are fucking bull-goose-looney whackadoodle nutbars who have not just their own opinions but their own facts. Even in Oregon, where the worst are among the best of the worst, they're still the worst.

And so many of Us the People insist on trying to make them our Masters.

We. Are. SO. Fucked.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Mortem et censito

Bob Farley at Lawyers, Guns & Money has a link to a Stanford paper titled State revenue and expenditure in the Han and Roman empires (Scheidel 2012).

The entire paper is pretty wonkish but worth reading for a glimpse into half of the supposedly inescapable pairing of this stuff with death back in the day. I'll cook it down here for you into the Clif's Notes version:
The bureaucratic tax-and-spend set-up of Han Dynasty China (a period that extended about 400 years, roughly spanning the 2nd Centuries BCE to CE) included a lot of individual ("poll" or flat taxes per person regardless of income) taxes collected and disbursed by a small army of relatively low-payed local officials. A lot of the money stayed in the place it was collected, a relatively smaller portion went to pay the senior officials both civilian and military, and significantly less went to direct military costs.
The early Roman imperium (from roughly the end of the civil wars period in the 1st Century CE to before the crises of the 3rd), on the other hand, tended to try and capture more easily-extracted revenues; things like tariffs and fees on goods and transfers, the profits from imperial enterprises such as mines, and "luxury taxes" on great legacies and the enterprises of the wealthy such as slaves on the huge latifunda.

However, a very much larger proportion of these revenues was spent on "big projects" - public buildings and the like - as well as directed to Rome (the infamous grain dole, "bread and circuses"), and military expenses, as well as a proportionally much higher amount on the pay of the highest levels of officialdom.

Roman senatorial appointments such as the Praetorian prefect and consul-level provincial governors made something like 8 to 18 times what their Han equivalents made. This discrepancy gets smaller but persists at lower levels. A 1st Century BCE Han company commander (who ran an outfit similar to a modern infantry company, about 100-120 troops) was paid between half and two-fifths as much as his 2nd Century CE Roman counterpart (a centurio who ran a smaller outfit, typically about 80 guys at full strength).

The really pointed observation comes in the final section. Here's what Scheidel (2012) has to say about the relative strengths and weaknesses of the two systems:
"By funneling resources towards high-level agents, a privileged capital city, and a military that were all far removed from local society, the Roman state weakened the nexus between taxation and spending. In the Han system...geography impeded massive transfer of staples, senior officials were paid less, the military less lavishly endowed and at least in times of stability more constrained by civilian leadership, and the local affairs above the village level were dealt with by formal state agents rather than self-governing urban elites.

This superficially paradoxical combination of greater cellularity and deeper state penetration may have strengthened the institution of the state at the local level. In the long term it may ultimately...explain the permanent dissolution of the Roman empire and the comparatively greater resilience or perhaps rather regenerative capacity of early Chinese state institutions."
You know I've remarked on what I see as some of the similarities of the late-republican United States and late Republican Rome. Well, here's what looks to me like some similarities between early imperial Rome and the early-oligarchic United States; a greatly increased social stratification and disconnection between the proles from whom the taxes are collected from (or who are simply too impoverished to pay more than local and state taxes - let's not forget that the really bullshit part of R-money's "47 Percent" bullshit was that federal income taxes are typically a small portion of what poor and lower-middle-class Americans pay; things like sales taxes, payroll taxes (the Social Security collection that is capped for the truly wealthy), gas taxes, state and local taxes, and property taxes (including the cost included in their rent).

In the place of the narrow Roman political elite we have an increasingly narrow American economic elite that has effectively captured the political process. Outside the truly brain-dead Teatards most Americans not in the two-yacht economy are well aware that the economic and political Game is rigged against them. It doesn't mean that they can or will stop playing. But it does mean that the tie between the citizen and the state is strained and frayed.
Add in the truly toxic Republican rhetoric about "government is the problem", the demonization of any taxation (and a deliberate drive to deflect inquiry into the actual structure and impact of taxation), and exaltation of the march towards open oligarchy as "Freedom!" and you have a system almost crafted to fail under pressure, either into a fractious anarchy or to a Man on Horseback.

I've said this before; my disgust lies not so much in the lies of the Right - after all, they're nothing but whores and whores lie to get paid - but that the rest of us, We the People, are happy to let those lies pass and let them become the language we use to "debate" our lives. At least the Romans had the excuse that they'd never seen this shit happen before.

The Short Sobs of the Violins of Autumn

The violins of autumn don't get much of a solo around here. More like a two-bar bridge and then it's off to the drizzling continuo of winter rain. "Fall color" lasts from about 2:45 to 4:50 on November 1 every year; after that the rains knock all the bright leaves down to where they form a glutineous mass in every catchbasin and a slimy coating on level ground.

I still love the autumn. But the Northwest version isn't the sort of thing that inspires poets and balladeers. It's just the introduction to the Dark Ages of winter, and much as we try and enjoy it the pleasure is fleeting.