Category: History (Page 1 of 2)

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.

Mr. President, George Washington was no treasonous Confederate

I never thought I’d hear this argument from the President of the United States, much less from a Republican whose fans fancy themselves hardcore patriots, but Donald Trump compared George Washington and Thomas Jefferson to Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson yesterday.

The moment came during his off-the-rails press conference in which he doubled down on his “many sides” take on the violence in Charlottesville.

TRUMP: Those people — all of those people –excuse me, I’ve condemned neo-Nazis. I’ve condemned many different groups. But not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me. Not all of those people were white supremacists by any stretch. Those people were also there because they wanted to protest the taking down of a statue of Robert E. Lee.

Q Should that statue be taken down?

TRUMP: Excuse me. If you take a look at some of the groups, and you see — and you’d know it if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you’re not — but many of those people were there to protest the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee.

So this week it’s Robert E. Lee. I noticed that Stonewall Jackson is coming down. I wonder, is it George Washington next week? And is it Thomas Jefferson the week after? You know, you really do have to ask yourself, where does it stop?

There are only two groups of people who compare Washington to Lee: those who want to take Washington’s statue down by attaching to it the baggage of Lee, and those who want to keep Lee’s statue up by painting on the varnish of Washington. Trump either thinks Washington is just as bad as Lee or Lee is just as great as Washington.

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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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No, British National Anthem is not promoting any far-right ideology

Back in October, a Student Union leader of King’s College London wrote a Facebook post, saying he thought the National Anthem should be banned because it promoted far-right ideology, white supremacy and xenophobia. He also said that nation states are a really bad idea.

First, why does this trivial issue occupy someone in a position like the vice president for welfare and community at the KCL SU? Surely this post requires a lot of time? Doesn’t he also have some studying to do?

Anyway, I disagree entirely with Mr Abdullahi’s premise and argument. As such, in response to his use of his right to free speech to criticise what he sees as an out-dated institution, I’ll use my right to free speech to rebut him.

His entire position seems to revolve around the fact that he finds the anthem racist and a remnant of the British Empire. It also apparently empowers far-right nationalists who glory in the old and timeworn idea of the nation state.

First of all, if Mr Abdullahi had actually looked into the history of the national anthem, he might find that it was written during the Jacobite rebellion in the 1740’s. If anything it is an anti-Scottish anthem more than anything else, as it was penned in reaction to Bonnie Prince Charlie storming south to retake the English throne for the Stuart dynasty.

Incidentally, if he wants to see examples of national anthems with less than savoury lyrics maybe he should look at the Chinese, the Mexican, the Algerian, the Turkish and the Vietnamese national anthems. These have some blood curdling lyrics that make Britain’s look meek in comparison.

The second issue with Mr Abdullahi’s misguided comments concern his “f*** the nation state” statement. By this comment, I guess Mr Abdullahi is against all forms of national sovereignty and identity. In other words, he seems to want to live in the world of John Lennon where there are no countries and we are all just one big happyfamily.

I’ve got bad news for him: the nation state is arguably the single biggest protection against external and inter-tribal violence in the history of humanity.

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Korea’s impeached president Park Geun-hye arrested

Does the law apply to presidents?

Former president Park Geun-hye, who was removed from office on March 10, was arrested this morning, South Korea time, in connection to the corruption scandal that caused her impeachment. She is facing 13 potential charges, and she can be held for up to 20 days before she must be either released or indicted. She is suspected of having coerced companies like Samsung to donate US$70 million to groups linked to her aide, Choi Soon-sil, who has also been arrested, in exchange for providing political favors.

Park becomes the latest in a long line of disgraced ex-Korean presidents.

The last time South Korean presidents were arrested was 1995, when Chun Doo-hwan and his successor Roh Tae-woo were charged and convicted in relation to the coup that brought Chun to power and the Gwangju Massacre of 1980, a military suppression of a protest-turned-riot that killed hundreds. Both were pardoned in December 1997, in an effort to bring reconciliation to the young democracy.

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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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Where I was on 9/11

Originally published on September 10, 2014 at China.org.cn.

I was in class in middle school when there was an announcement over the loudspeaker that airplanes had struck the World Trade Center towers in New York. The principal used delicate language when addressing the students, but I knew it was an attack. Commercial airline pilots don’t hit skyscrapers by accident. The rest of the day was surreal. Rumors circulated that a hijacked plane was heading towards my hometown, Cleveland, Ohio, but it turned out to be a false alarm. Even after watching the images on TV when I got home from school, the magnitude of the attacks was hard to comprehend.

It was like life stood still for the next week. All news was 9/11 all the time. The National Football League and Major League Baseball canceled all sporting events that week. I went to the Cleveland Browns game the next weekend. I remember the patriotic songs they played all throughout the game. “I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m free…” Lee Greenwood’s song became familiar at sporting events and was inserted into the seventh inning stretch at baseball games. Using the restroom, I could hear the guy next to me saying we were going to get bin Laden.

If seeing 3,000 of our fellow countrymen murdered in broad daylight and landmarks of New York City’s skyline disappeared from the sky wasn’t enough, the rest of the year featured anthrax letters and an attempted shoe bombing by Richard Reid. “Panic” might not be the right word — the threat posed by international terrorist organizations was real — but there were major changes made to people’s lives that seem unnecessary in today’s light. A school field trip to Washington, DC was canceled. Many Americans weren’t traveling anywhere, let alone to the capital.

Now, thirteen years after [now fifteen], the weight of the attacks has been fading for Americans. Much of the public is tired after years of war and tightened security procedures at airports. Yet the attacks left a lasting legacy on American politics and a feeling that will not soon leave. If we needed a reminder that radical theocratic terrorism remains a problem that can’t be ignored, ISIS provided it with their surge through Iraq and the murder of two American journalists and thousands of Syrians and Iraqis.

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Brexit, Slovakia, and direct democracy

However unpleasant and undesired the British popular decision to leave is, the post-referendum analyses only confirm the long held EU-wide trends.

In the light of the decades of survey reports shelved in the EU archives, the outcome should not have caught anyone by surprise. The fact that it did, indicates the lack of attention to public opinion expressed by the means of surveys and polls. Local and national experience could have been similarly utilized to avoid repeating the common miscalculation in national strategies which do not address the faltering public interest in politics. The Union has been investing in Eurobarometer surveys for over four decades without actually delivering the message to national governments; and sadly, also without actively committing itself to solving identified problems. Worse, in line with the knowledge collected through polls, misinformed public involvement sprinkled with a pinch of frustration normally has catastrophic longer-term repercussions. The British referendum, power of Robert Fico´s faction stretching over the third consecutive term and penetration of the Slovakian decision-making structures by far-right neonazi party, all illustrate the dark side of neglect of public opinion and subsequent misinformed participation in major decisions.

If sufficient attention had been paid to polls, it would have been clear that on the European scale, most people feel insufficiently informed about what happens in the Union. Low EP election turnouts confirm the survey´s conclusion; lack of knowledge and information on processes and impact on an individual and the country results in one of the two possible scenarios. The first is a neutral attitude towards the Union and related lack of interest in participation due to the uncertainty regarding the individual´s role. The second scenario is the opposition to integration based on circumscribed or misrepresented information and the lack of more in-detail knowledge on internal functioning. The general trend then goes as follows: the more interested the one is in developments unfolding in politics, the more positive attitude towards the Union he harbours. The higher the education he acquired, the more supportive of the EU and further integration he is. This relates not only to better information regarding overall benefits the Union offers to its member states, but more specifically to a personal gain from skills in the larger market. Full-timers are generally more optimistic about the integration prospects. Further, the older the individual is, the less enthusiastic about the whole European project he is likely to be. Local and national political elites influence public opinion and the attitude towards the European Union tends to reflect the one held towards national government.

Finally, media should responsibly fill in the knowledge gap; however, the record of fulfilling the function is rather vague. 

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On Hiroshima and Apologizing

In the final year of his presidency, Barack Obama took the liberty to do what it had been speculated that he would do for some time: visit Hiroshima and give a speech on the atomic bomb. It should be emphasized that he “gave a speech” and didn’t “apologize,” but nonetheless, “apology” is the word of choice, especially across the right side of the blogosphere.

Nowhere did Obama take a stand on whether or not it was right to drop the bomb. That wouldn’t have been the place to do it. You don’t respect your allies by reasserting the righteousness of your might in the place where 60,000 civilians were incinerated. Even if that was necessary to end the war, it was a tragedy that it had to happen and that it did happen.

Acknowledging that tragedy was what Obama did. “We come to mourn the dead,” Obama said. He included the victims of the Nagasaki bombing, too, in reciting the death toll and made specific note of the one dozen American POWs killed (and made no mention of the British and Dutch POWs).

“Yet in the image of a mushroom cloud that rose into these skies, we are most starkly reminded of humanity’s core contradiction. How the very spark that marks us as a species, our thoughts, our imagination, our language, our toolmaking, our ability to set ourselves apart from nature and bend it to our will — those very things also give us the capacity for unmatched destruction,” he said.

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Weekly Reading List: So, I got published in War on the Rocks and Nottspolitics

Big week, as I mentioned before, with a couple of major publications coming, other than my regular columns.

To start with, the biggest one till date, my essay on War on the Rocks, where I write a Neo-Realist critique of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov’s latest revisionist history lesson. And was then called a Neo-Con for some reason, in the comments. But that’s another issue.

The second big one was my guest post at the official blog of the University of Nottingham, Dept of Politics and IR, where I talk about a foreign policy course for Philippines and how it should balance between China and US.

Other than that, here are my weekly columns.

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