Category: This Day in World History

Upon a Windswept Shore: The Falklands War 35 Years On

It was 35 years ago. Margaret Thatcher was in power, but only precariously so. The country was fractious, and the economy was still struggling to emerge from the subterranean depths it had plunged to in the 1970’s. A war on the far side of the world was fought and won, against all the odds, and showed the world that Britain would not sit idly by as its sovereign territory was invaded by a belligerent dictatorship.

The first signs of trouble came on March 31, 1982, when news came of Argentinian naval vessels fast approaching the few rocky and windblown islands at the bottom of the world, 8,000 miles away from the UK. The islands were home at the time to around 1,500 people who considered themselves British.

This move by the Argentines came at a bad time. Britain was still weak after the disaster of the 1970’s when even the USSR didn’t want to buy our goods because they were so poorly made. As a result of this, the armed forces, and particularly the navy, had faced budget cuts and were untested since the 1950’s. A victory was not inevitable or even looked possible. The task before Thatcher’s government and the armed forces, in purely logistical terms, let alone in military capability, was immense.

Thatcher had to wage a two-front campaign, both within her own cabinet in order to determine Britain’s response, and also against America, whose interests in the region ran counter to Britain’s. If she had made a mess of either situation, the consequences would have been extremely severe. However, the way Thatcher managed the crisis mirrors the performance of the soldiers, sailors and airmen who fought; they rose to the task, drew a line in the sand and refused to accede to the thuggish behaviour of a dictatorial totalitarian regime.

The cabinet and members of the Foreign Office were already resigned to defeat, showing the prevailing idea from the 70’s of Britain being a nation in decline and that they were just there to manage it. Admiral and First Sea Lord Henry Leach forced his way into the meeting in the House of Commons in full uniform, showing that at times like this symbols of authority such as this are needed to galvanise people into action. He was emphatic: “I can put together a task force of destroyers, landing craft, support vessels… It can be ready to leave in 48 hours.”

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The long legacy of the Nanjing Massacre on Asian politics

“When will Japan’s war with China become history?”

Today, as with every December 13 for the past four years, Chinese officials gathered at the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall and rang the bell for the up to 300,000 killed by Japanese imperial soldiers who invaded and captured Nanjing in 1937.

The conquest of the Republic of China’s capital six months after the Second Sino-Japanese War started inspired joy and complacency in Japan. Just weeks earlier the Japanese had completed their capture of Shanghai, a three month battle. Nanjing fell in less than two weeks. General Iwane Matsui was confident that taking Nanjing would result in China’s surrender. (It didn’t, and the war went on for seven more years before Japan surrendered.)

Upon victory on December 13, soldiers committed random acts of violence throughout the city. Civilians fleeing were shot in the back. Homes were invaded, women raped and then stabbed. Pregnant woman were bayoneted in the stomach. Dead bodies were thrown in rivers. Much of the city was destroyed by looting and arson.

Japanese soldiers rounded up masses of men on the grounds they were suspected of being soldiers. Some soldiers had indeed thrown off their uniforms and tried to blend in with civilians, but many more of those taken out to be executed had never fought in the first place. Hundreds of POWs were tied up and shot to death by the Yangtze River on December 18.

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This Day in World History: The birth of Park Chung-hee

99 years ago today, South Korean strongman and father of today’s president Park Chung-hee was born.

Born the seventh, and youngest, child of a fallen scholar-official (Yangban) family in the years of Japanese colonialism, Park had dreams of leadership and military exploits from a young age. While attending a progressive “new-style” school, he became class captain and figured out how to get his classmates to “submit unconditionally to whatever I said.”

Interested in war heroes and military history, including that of Japan, he quickly developed the dream of becoming a soldier. When the Second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, with the Japanese pushing south of Beijing and taking Tianjin and Shanghai, Park enrolled in Japanese military academy. Upon graduating as one of the best students, he was made a lieutenant in the Manchukuo Imperial Army in 1944 and served Japan in its last gasps of World War II. Though forced out of the military upon returning to Korea, he got back in when North Korea invaded the South. He rose quickly, and by 1960 he found himself Chief of the Operations Staff of the South Korean Army.

That same year, the Korean public rose up in protest after years of authoritarianism by Syngman Rhee, the first president of South Korea, who presided over the young nation’s defense in the Korean War but didn’t open up room for democracy. With the success of the April Revolution, Rhee was forced out of office and a parliamentary system replaced him. But with the economy ailing and protests continuing to rack the country, and fearing that he would soon be retired, Park and his allies took initiative and launched a coup on May 16, 1961.

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