Category: This Day in World History

Incheon, 1950: Where the freedom of 50 million stood in balance

One of the most daring amphibious military operations in human history took place 57 years ago this month, between 15 and 19 September, with 70,000 UN combatants going into harm’s way that day. Few amphibious operations surpass the Incheon Landing-sure one can point to D-Day on Normandy in Northern France, but that was years in the planning and preparation and at the close of the most costly, bloody, and horrendous war in human history with 160,000 allied troops going to do battle with the Nazis. The Incheon Landing was done on the fly-12 weeks after North Korean forces had pushed South Korean (ROK) forces all the way to the tiny and isolated Pusan Perimeter, encapsulating said city of Pusan (Busan)-we had US boots on the ground giving then leader (ostensibly not yet “eternal”) Kim Il-sung hell served up with all the tenderness, tact and civility that US Marines are world renowned for. 

As a prior service US Marine, I can attest to the importance that the United States Marine Corps places on her history in regards to the Korean Conflict, and the Incheon Landing is definitely a large part of Marine Corps lore. In boot camp, we had these small green binders that a recruit could fit into their cargo pockets (and we DID, mostly out of requirement) called “The Big Green Monster.”  We ran around the recruit depot for three months carrying that thing in our cargo pockets. In it were uniform regulations, advise on how to live in the new culture that we found ourselves in-and Marine Corps history. The Korean Conflict and the Incheon Landing were among those events that made those books thick. 

General Douglass MacArthur was quick thinking in assuming that he could effectively dissect the Korean Peninsula, thereby bringing relief to Pusan Perimeter. One of our most firebrand generals who exhibited his own unique brand of compassion-once calling the Filipinos (Pinoys) his “little brown friends,” he also recommended “strategic nuking” of key cities along the coast of the Peoples’ Republic of China in order to bring about a swift end to the Korean Conflict. Love him or hate him Stateside, it is hard to find a detractor of him on the ROK where people live in freedom thanks to UN actions and MacArthur wit and US optimism. 

There is a huge monument in front of the main gate leading to Suwon AFB about an hour south of Seoul that proudly proclaims, “We defend the freedom of 50 million people!” Had it not been for the Incheon Landing, those 50 million would probably be living under the all-encompassing tyranny of Kim Il-sung’s grandson.

Feature photo of First Lieutenant Baldomero Lopez scaling the seawall. Lopez, who would give his life in the Battle of Incheon, was awarded a Medal of Honor posthumously. Photo by a fellow Marine, public domain.

Why Confederate monuments should be taken down

American South and Japan share uncomfortable response to historic wrongs

The controversy over Confederate monuments isn’t new, but it has flared up in the past few years, and once again here it is front and center in the news. Because it’s not new, I wrote about it in 2015, and my thoughts are more or less the same today. And, as it happens, today is also the anniversary of Japan announcing its surrender in World War II.

This September [2015], China will host a military parade to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II. The United States will celebrate not just the anniversary of World War II, but also that of the end of the American Civil War. April 9 marks 150 years since Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Northern General Ulysses S. Grant, unifying the United States and bringing about the end of slavery (although fighting continued under other generals).

Both wars played a role in ending brutal repression. Both wars preserved their respective federal government’s sovereignty over (most of) their land. Yet there is one more shameful similarity between the two wars, and that is this: neither Japan nor the former states of the confederacy have fully come to terms with their history.

In America, there remains an affinity among some southerners for the “lost cause of the south.” When The New Republic’s Brian Beutler wrote an article arguing that April 9 should be a national holiday, some conservatives, southerners, and southern conservatives reacted angrily. Rick Moran, an editor at PJ Media, accused Beutler of “hating the south.”

It shouldn’t be this way. After all, the Confederate States of America no longer exist and only existed for five years. The last living Confederate veteran died in 1951. No one today has any connection to the Confederacy.

Every country has made mistakes. In America’s case, slavery was a big one. At the same time, there is a natural desire for people to be proud of their ancestors and their history. Americans celebrate winning their independence from Britain and defeating the Nazis and Japanese imperialists in World War II.

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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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