Friday, June 24, 2016


Congratulations to the English, not always the wisest but always the bravest of people!

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Private Shimura and the course of history

One of the hardest jobs in publishing is building an index, which is rivaled only by the chore of proof-reading it. The book in question is Flying Tigers: Claire Chennault and His American Volunteers, 1941-1942, which will soon be out in its third edition. I find that the index has a typo in the personal name of Shimura Kikujiro, sigh. I will certainly have to fix that, because:

Shirmura was the private in the Japanese Imperial Army who, while stationed near the Marco Polo Bridge outside Beijing in September 1937, went off to take a pee. Somebody noticed he was missing and demanded an explanation from the Chinese troops stationed nearby. This became a gun battle, which became the second Sino-Japanese War, which caused the United States to apply economic pressure on Japan, which convinced Japan that it needed to invade  and occupy Southeast Asia, which made it imperative to put the US Navy out of action, which led to the Pearl Harbor attack, which led to the US declaration of war against Japan, which led to the German declaration of war against the United States, which led to ...

Well, among other things, it led to the Battle for Burma, where among the hundred thousand or so Japanese who died was Shimura Kikujiro.

The moral of that story is, if you want to go off to pee, be sure to tell somebody where you're going. Otherwise, you never know what might happen.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

The moving finger wags, and having wagged, moves on ...

The enduring image of the Obama presidency is that wagging index finger, as the president does his best to explain a difficult concept to his dim-witted audience, whether it be the U.S. Congress, the Supreme Court, or the world at large. The British seem to have noticed it, as Reuters reports today:

British support for staying in the European Union has fallen by two percentage points to 51 percent according to a poll, a decline that may suggest U.S. President Barack Obama's words in favor of UK membership had yet to have an impact.
Yet to have an impact? Well, perhaps. Or perhaps there's another and simpler explanation: that Mr Obama's words have indeed sunk in. It may be that Brits are like everyone else and don't appreciate having foreigners tell them what to think.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Goodbye, Andy; hello, Harriet!

The Wall Street Journal is having fun with the notion that Harriet Tubman will replace Andrew Jackson on the $20 bill, given that Ms Tubman was a devout Christian who was guided by visions from God, who voted Republican, and who carried a gun. Her Wikipedia portrait shows her with a rifle of uncertain provenance, but actually she favored a revolver. By her own account, she once had occasion to point the weapon at the head of a fugitive slave who wanted to quit and return to the plantation. "You go on or die," she said, and in time she delivered him safe to Canada.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Three "unknowns" may be Flying Tigers

On Monday, four graves at the Punchbowl national cemetery outside Honolulu were exhumed and the remains taken away for DNA testing. The bodies came from the former St. Luke's graveyard in Toungoo, Burma, and three of them very likely were the pilots killing in training accidents in September and October of 1941, as they prepared for combat with the Japanese air forces in China. The relatives of Pete Atkinson, John Armstrong, and Maax Hammer have tried for years to repatriate the graves, but it turned out that all along they had been on American soil. They were exhumed after the war, temporarily buried in India, and then moved to Honolulu, where they were listed as "unknown." That may cease to be the case in a month or two, when testing is concluded.

Atkinson and Hammer joined the American Volunteer Group from the U.S. Army, while Armstrong was a former Navy aviator. Not often noted is that the Flying Tigers lost only four pilots to enemy action in air-to-air combat. That almost as many were killed in training accidents is testimony to the hazards of flying a 1940s warplane.

It's a puzzle whose remains are in the fourth casket, but most likely a civilian or British military resident of Toungoo, included by error in the postwar repatriation.

Sunday, April 10, 2016

Something less than a full-throated defense

I'm sure Bernie Sanders and perhaps even Donald Trump would agree with that!

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Eagerly awaiting Cleveland

It now seems unlikely that Donald Trump will have enough votes to win on the first ballot in Cleveland, which should bring joy to the heart of every student of government. The delegates will decide! Good for them, and may they do their job well.

I fear they will nominate Ted Cruz, for he is after all a Republican, who has reaped a lot of votes in the primaries and in the caucuses. (I am more impressed by the caucuses. Most primaries are open now, and open primaries mean very little. I have a left-leaning friend who boasts about voting in the Republican primary when there's no excitement on the other side, just in hopes of spoiling the outcome. I suspect this is fairly common, on both sides.) Personally, I would rather see John Kasich get the nod, or Mitt Romney, or Paul Ryan. Still, Cruz v. Clinton would not be the worst choice we've ever had, though God knows it's pretty bad.

It's still a great system, though, isn't it? Donald Trump hijacked the Republican primaries with his bullying and his bluster, but we still have a firewall to stop him: it's not the voters who get to choose the nominee, but the delegates. The national parties are not public institution, controlled by the government, at least not yet. Each is a private club. It has its rules, and within those rules the delegates can do whatever they think best for the country. Let's hope they do.