Wednesday, April 01, 2015

Chrysanthemum Crescendo

As the U.S.-led Allied two-pronged march across the Pacific drew inexorably closer to the home islands of the Empire of Japan in the Spring of 1945, both sides' increasing desperation for an end to the monumental waste of blood and treasure was matched by the increasing intensity of the fighting to bring about that end.

By this date 70 years ago, MacArthur's drive from Australia up through New Guinea and back to the Philippines (as he had theatrically promised when chased out by the Japanese three years earlier: "...I shall return.") had climaxed with a destructively brutal wresting of Manila from its unbending defenders. To the East, Nimitz's Central Pacific campaign had seized Iwo Jima in an unbelievably bloody 6-week prize fight whose purse was possession of a sulphurous island with only one redeeming feature -- an airfield halfway between Tokyo and the US heavy bomber base in the Marianas Islands.

Now, all eyes turned to the last major objective short of Japan itself -- Okinawa.

The Japanese viewed Okinawa in much the same way we Americans view Puerto Rico. It was centuries-long held territory, but its inhabitants weren't considered full-fledged Japanese. The Japanese Imperial high command intended to sacrifice the Okinawan people (unlike most of the Japanese-held islands on the way to Tokyo, Okinawa was heavily populated) along with 100,000 Japanese soldiers in a final battle that would give the Americans a taste of just how horrible invading the Japanese home islands would be.

Early in American Pacific War planning, the island of Formosa (Taiwan) was considered as the final island objective and jumping-off point for campaigns against Japanese forces in China as well as Japan itself. As the staggering cost of men and materiel mounted in Europe and the Pacific, war-planners shelved the idea of landings on the very large island of Formosa and subsequent land campaign on the Asian mainland in favor of seizing Okinawa and its large airfields, adequate anchorages, and large-enough troop staging area.

The Americans called the Okinawa campaign "Operation Iceberg."

The Japanese called their kamikaze defense of Okinawa "Falling Chrysanthemums."

The Okinawan people called the battle "The Typhoon of Steel."

On this date, seventy years ago -- April 1, 1945 -- four US divisions, 2 Army and 2 Marine, went ashore virtually unopposed across beaches on the western side of the island. By the end of the day, 60,000 Americans were on Okinawa at the price of a handful of casualties.

It was Easter Sunday in 1945. It would be the last peaceful day for months.

The commander of the Japanese forces on Okinawa had decided against exposing his troops to pre-landing naval and air bombardment in a defense of the beaches. Instead, he constructed elaborate defenses in depth along terrain bisecting the island in successive lines.

While American soldiers and Marines fed themselves into meat-grinding assaults against the most formidable Japanese defensive positions of the Pacific War, the 1300-ship (yes, one thousand, three hundred ships) of the supporting Allied fleet were subject to the crescendo of Japanese airpower, the majority of which were kamikaze strikes. US Navy dead (nearly 5000) exceeded that suffered by either the Army or Marines ashore.

The vast majority of the Japanese defenders were killed or committed suicide by battle's end.
Upwards of 100,000 Okinawan civilians (a third of the population) died.

As the light on Okinawa died by the middle of July, a new light flashed in the New Mexico desert.

A month later, Japan surrendered.

Friday, March 27, 2015


The Colonel is a knuckle-dragging, monosyllabic-grunting, died-in-the-wool Philistine. 

He knows it. 

He ain't smart and you can't make him.

The Colonel reticently remains rooted in the past. He glories in it. He spends so much time looking back that he is in constant peril of tripping over the most minute present ripple in time.

Don't get him wrong -- the Colonel loves a lot of the neat nifty things about modernity and looks forward to the next neat nifty things that will make his life even more leisurely and laconic.

But, the past is ignored -- and reviled -- at the peril of the future.

In our past, we find the traditions -- the very foundations -- upon which our futures are safely built.

Safely built. Our future cannot be safely built if we destroy every traditional vestige -- in the name of "progress" or "political correctness" or some other misguided attempt to equalize outcomes regardless of effort -- which, heretofore, served as unifying points around which society rallies.

Cutting ourselves loose from the moorings of our past may seem the most "modern," "civilized," or even "humane" approach to safely navigating the rocks and shoals of the next age, but that course only leaves us adrift at the whims of the fickle popular winds. The future drives us then, sucking us into eddies and whirlpools of idiocy.

There are, certainly, many idiotic beliefs and behaviors from our history that must be relegated to the dust bin of of discredited social norms. But, the valuable, society-rallying traditions far out-weigh the idiotic ones and should not be discarded solely because a tyrannical minority's overactive sense of sensitivity damns all tradition by association.

The Colonel's relative point to this rambling rant, for which you, dear reader, have long endured, is this:

Leaders -- really good ones -- know the importance of anchoring an organization to the largely innocent traditions that make it unique and distinguishable in the raft of flotsam in the sea of society.

So, we turn to the sad political melodrama once again elevating the state of Mississippi in general, and its flagship university -- University of Mississippi ~ Ole Miss -- specifically, onto the derisive national skyline.

The arcane state bureaucracy responsible for overseeing the plethora of important issues impacting the institutions of higher education in Mississippi, rather than focusing on ensuring the survival of affordable education for the State's future, picked a fight completely unrelated to that end.

They fired the leader (our "tradition" is that we call that person "chancellor" -- not "president," like the rest of the indistinguishable flotsam of public universities) of the University of Mississippi (which, it must be said, is their charter) for reasons not fathomable by the Colonel nor any of the other far more intelligent citizens with whom he shares residence in this great state.

To be sure, the Colonel has been foremost among the vocal critics of Dr. Dan Jones' tactical decision-making since he took charge more than five years ago. The Colonel vehemently disagreed with his high-handed dismissal of Ole Miss traditions, in the name of "social progress." Dr. Jones seemed not to know, or care to acknowledge, the difference between pride and prejudice.

But, dang it, Jones was OUR chancellor. He might not have been born a natural citizen of Rebel Nation by virtue of undergraduate matriculation, but we "naturalized" him with a baptism of intra-familial political fisticuffs. 

He was learning to be a Rebel.

To the good ole boys in Jackson, Butt Out!

Dan is our man, and we'll take responsibility for his education.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Iwo Payback

The iconic image of the flag-raising atop Iwo Jima's Mount Suribachi was snapped by war-photographer Joe Rosenthal, seventy years ago today.

Two and a half years before, the United States had begun its march across the Pacific in the War against Japan -- landing on Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands.  Guadalcanal had but one resource or feature of any strategic significance -- an airfield that put Japanese bombers within reach of Australia.  

Wresting Guadalcanal and its airfield from the Japanese halted their advance in the South Pacific and gave American airpower a land base from which to carry the fight north toward Japan. 

Like Guadalcanal, the island of Iwo Jima had but one resource or feature of any strategic significance -- an airfield, roughly midway between the large air bases on the recently captured islands of Saipan and Tinian. 

Nearly seven thousand American Marines and Navy Corpsmen died taking Iwo.  

In fact, because the island was too small for use as an Army or Marine staging base and had no significant port facilities, many historians and strategists discount the worth of taking Iwo.

But, that view is narrow and short-sighted, in the Colonel's not-so-humble opinion. 

Heavy U.S. bombers attacking mainland Japan, could just make the long over-water hauls from Tinian to Tokyo and back. Any damage suffered over Japan, or any non-battle mechanical trouble (the long-range B-29 bomber -- then the most advanced of its kind -- had notoriously unreliable engines), often meant ditching in the expansive Western Pacific with little hope of rescue. 

Over the course of the next several months, as the Army Air Corps stepped up its bombing campaign over the Japanese home islands, over a thousand B-29 bombers -- each with an eleven-man crew -- made emergency landings on Iwo's airfield.   

Thousands of U.S. Army Air Corps fliers owed their lives to thousands of Marines who died taking Iwo. 

The favor was returned -- the aerial assault, culminating in the atomic strikes in August of 1945, brought the surrender of Japan and eliminated the need for horrendously costly amphibious assaults on the home islands of Japan.