Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Sage Going Native

Sage (or is it Kurtz) going native
I am mostly posting in my other blog during my summer travels.  I'm sorry that I am not able to keep up with folks blogs at this time.  When I get a chance, I'll drop by to say hi.  I thought I would post a photo of me in my current location (Cambodia).

Monday, June 20, 2011

Bloggers bringing the world together...

On a beach in Malaysia, the blogger poet CyclopsSeven (in middle) and Sage (to the right) along with a friend and colleague of Cyclops offers a toast to their blogger friend and Detroit blogger “The Walking Man.”   Ileana, the red-headed Cuba and another fellow blogger, was also in our thoughts!  It was a wonderful meeting. Greetings from a most magical place!

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Japan's Greatest Victory, Britain's Worst Defeat (A Book Review)

Colonel Masanobu Tsuji, Japan’s Greatest Victory, Britain’s Worst Defeat, Margaret E. Lake, translator, H. V. Howe, editor (Japan: 1952; New York: Sarpedon, 1993), 271 pages, 24 pages of photos and numerous maps. 

One summer, when I was in Junior High and spending a few weeks with my grandparents, I found myself reading a book that a friend of my grandmother’s had written.  If I remember correctly, she was the librarian in Pinehurst.  She was Dutch, but grew up in Indonesia and was a child when the Japanese invade the country.  Her little book (it was less than a hundred pages) told about her experiences living in a Japanese concentration camp.  It was my first experience of such a camp outside of Hitler’s (I’d later learn we interned Japanese too).  At least the Japanese weren’t gassing the Dutch, but life was brutal as they were worked hard and fed little and punished for any small infraction of the rules.   After reading that book, I read a book about the fall of Singapore and found myself, for the first time, learning about a strange and new part of the world.   Last month, as I was planning for my trip, I started looking for another book that would bring this part of the world back to life and discovered that the staff officer in charge of operations for the Japanese Army’s Malaya campaign had written a book.  So I ordered it and read it on the flight over to Indonesia.

First of all, this is revisionist history at its finest.  The author, writing in the early 1950s, credits the Japanese for having “liberated” much of Asia from its colonial powers.  There is some truth to that, as the colonial world did collapse after the Second World War, but Japan’s intention wasn’t so noble.  The author makes a great deal about Asians being freed by the Japanese, but their freedom didn’t come about until after the fall of Japan. At best, Japan was just another colonizer that happened to be of a similar race.  That said, I found this to be an enlightening book and would recommend it to anyone interested in the war in the South Pacific. 

Colonel Tsuji had read Churchill’s account of the war before he began to write his own account and often, throughout the book, attempts to correct Churchill’s misunderstandings about the Malaya campaign.  He gives the timetable for the planning of the campaign (less than a year from the point they began planning to their having captured Singapore).  Also misunderstood by the British was the Japanese ability to fight in the jungle as most of the units who participated in the Malaya campaign had been fighting in the north of China prior to being deployed south.  He is also openly critical of Japanese shortcomings, especially the jealously between the Army and Navy (although he notes that they worked together well in this campaign, such cooperation caused him and his commander grief from the powers back in Japan).  Furthermore, at times, it seems that Colonel Tsuji saw all the action pivoting around him as he describes times he was in dangerous situations.  While he may have inflated his own importance, I would expect that anyone who’d been in combat would perceive the battle primarily from their own position, which looms in their psyche. 

Tsuji also gives some humorous credit to the British, crediting their good roads and cheap Japanese bikes for the outcome of the campaign.   The bikes allowed the Japanese to out-run the “long-legged” British.  He describes how the Japanese army constantly threatened to move behind the British lines, forcing the British to abandon defensive positions quickly and allowing the Japanese to capture key bridges and transportation systems before they could be destroyed.   The Jitra Line, which the British thought they could hold for a month, while they reinforced Singapore’s defenses, was captured by the Japanese in five hours.  By the time the Japanese army had moved down the peninsula, it was stronger than at the beginning from captured British goods.  The operations portion of the campaign was also critical, as the Japanese worked quickly to rebuild bridges (when they captured sawmills, they’d put them immediately to work sawing bridge timbers).

The Japanese kept their eyes on Singapore.  It was a city with strong defenses along the beaches, but the back of the island wasn’t heavily protected at all.  The Japanese wasted no time pressing their objective, never allowing the British soldiers an opportunity to create a defensive position.  When the battle was over, a much smaller Japanese army defeated a much larger British army.   Tsuji also believes that the tough defenses on the seaward side of Singapore was a part of the reason for the war, along with the United States cutting Japanese oil imports in 1940, leaving the nation without fuel for her military.  

One of the interested things in the book is Tsuji’s belief that discipline is necessary and that Japanese soldiers who broke discipline and raped and pillaged were treated harshly.  I remember in reading the book on the fall of Singapore how the British, knowing what happened in other places where the Japanese army captured a city (such as Hong Kong), had all the alcohol destroyed before they surrendered, fearing  a drunken rampage (which never happened in Singapore).  He is critical of the breakdown of discipline that often occurred within other Japanese armies.   Tsuji also grieves for the lost of friends and colleagues, including a British officer who died in as a POW and asked him to get a message to his wife in Singapore.  He noted his attempt to find her after the capture of Singapore and learned that she’d fled the city on a ship that was sunk by the Japanese and was presumed dead.

The most amazing thing about this campaign is the timing and that it completely caught the Western powers by surprise.  The Malaya campaign, along with the campaigns in the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines and the attack on Pearl Harbor, all began within a few hours of each other.  To be able to maintain such secrecy while mobilizing large armies and navies is truly remarkable. 

I will only be occasional posting here this summer as I am using another blog for my travels.  If you didn’t get an email of that URL, drop me a line.  I've been over here (in Indonesia) for ten days now and haven't taken the first Imodium AD!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Traveling Over...

He sat beside me on the plane, from San Francisco to Taipei. At first, I assumed he was Chinese and going to Taipei. He was resetting his watch shortly after taking a seat, so I asked him if he knew what time it was in Taipei. He didn’t and said he was still on Oklahoma time. Despite his accent, I could also pick out a bit of twang. He’d lived most of his life in Oklahoma City and was going back to Vietnam for the first time in over 30 years, taking with him his wife and three children, ages 17 to 27. He had graduated from high school in ’66 and was called up into the South Vietnamese army during Tet, in 68, serving as an officer in the Quartermaster Corp. He remained at his post as the surrender occurred, until relieved by the victors. For having done his duty, he was rewarded with a year in a re-education camp where he said he was forced to do hard work in the rice fields and on other projects deemed worthy by the conquering army. And he’d been hungry, always hungry, which was how they tried to control them. All former officers spent at least a year in the camps, he said. Some were there as many as five years. The first chance he got, like thousands more of his countrymen, he fled his homeland, taking a risk on a boat in the South China Sea. He made it to Malaysia, where he spent a year in a refugee camp. There, he met the woman who would become his wife. He noted that she was Chinese, although she’d been born in Vietnam as had her father and grandfather. They married after they were resettled to the United States and have been together for thirty years. He was excited but unsure of going home, of what he might find. “Vietnam is dangerous,” he said. He was leery about traveling with just his family and booked a tour so that his children can see the country from which their parents had come. But was only for a visit, for a month, afterwards he’d go back home, to Oklahoma. “The United States is the greatest country in the world,” he bragged proudly of his home.

The trip began at the Grand Rapids airport with a ticket agent that wasn’t having her best day. She argued with me over my ticket-saying that it was because I was changing carriers that the full flight wasn’t showing up. I argued, since it showed me flying to Taipei, but not Jakarta, and I was on the same carrier. She wanted to send my bag to Taipei and have me re-check them. No way! Finally, she realized that it was because of the day change and said she’d have to manually enter my bags into the system to get them to Jakarta… GCK was the code and something didn’t look right. It said, “Garden City,” but I had no idea where that was at. My wife looked up on her phone and discovered that it was in Nebraska (or was it Kansas?). Needless to say, it wasn’t in Indonesia, so it was back up to the woman and she agreed that her coding could be a problem and recoded the bag to CGK (for Jakarta)…

From the train, between Jakarta and Yogyakarta

Somehow, I safely made it here. After a day in the capital city, which is hot and crowded and smoggy, I escaped over the mountains on a magical train ride and am in Yogyakarta (I keep thinking Yogi the Bear will show up any minute, which may not be farfetched as they showed an Indonesian version of Thomas the Tank Engine on the train!). More to come…

Sunday, June 05, 2011

Heading Out...

Needless to say, blogging hasn't been high on my list for the past week or so. On Wednesday, I began my official sabbatical and celebrated with a trip into Chicago to see the Cubs play. My daughter had wanted to go to a Major League game (this was her first) and I'd never been to Wrigley Field... So we took the train into the city and the Red Line out to the ballpark and watched the Cubs get beat by the Astros. Afterwards, we made a stop by American Girl store, the place where I hold on tight to my wallet (actually, I let her and her mom shop as I read), then had dinner and walked around the lake shore before returning via the Southshore, taking the 8:40 PM train. It was a late day--as we had 2 hours to drive after we got off the train, but it was worth it.

I needed to write more about the trip, especially the ads in the urinals at the Goose Island brewpub, but I don't have that notebook with me (Sorry Bone, I know you live for such tidbits of info, but it was too much to see a service advertising rides instead of DUIs at the boot of the urinal). I also took photos (and then changed out my card in my camera and hadn't load the photos onto the computer) of me packing for my 13 week trip across Asia and Europe. It's pretty light--a backpack and a day pack that can be strapped to the larger pack. The photo of my medical kit is pretty impressive. I can take care of most things this side of surgery.

And a trip wouldn't be a Sage trip without some last minute drama, this time provided by the visa service folks (the guys who gets visa from various embassies. They got me my passport back today at 10 AM (my flight was at 5:40 PM). I am now in the airport in San Francisco, waiting a flight for Taipei and then will board another flight for Jakarta. On the 16th, I'll move to Singapore and begin my journey up through Southeast Asia with the goal of making it to Beijing by July 24, when I meet a group for the Trans-Siberian Trip. I'll be back in the US in September. I still don't know how much blogging I'll do, but I have a netbook with me and will try to occasionally drop a line and add a photo.

Speaking of photos, here's some from C-town! I hope I can sleep on this flight across the Pacific!

Look at the old style scoreboard at Wrigley Field

What a view!

Chicago lakefront at sunset