Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Chaos Under Heaven

Josh Rogin (1) is a foreign policy opinion writer for the Washington Post, a self-declared "agnostic Democrat" and a China hawk.  We listened to Bari Weiss interview Rogin on her podcast and which got me intrigued enough to read Chaos Under Heaven, his book on U.S.-China relations during the Trump administration, a book I recommend to others.

Rogin's starting point is that the China regime is a threat to the U.S., a threat that has greatly accelerated under Xi Jingping, and a threat that has compromised many U.S. institutions and public figures.  The author puts it this way:

Virtually everyone I interviewed for this book had an awakening story; a moment in their personal or professional lives when they realized that the grand strategic competition between the United States and China was the most important foreign policy issue in the world and the most important project they would work on in their lifetime.  Many also said this was an awakening to the aggressive and malign character, behavior, and strategy of China's leadership: the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), a hundred-year old revolutionary organization that is determined to expand its influence and increase its power, and which has few limits to the methods it will use to advance its own interests.

Put simply, a China that is militarily expansionist, economically aggressive, internally repressive, and increasingly interfering in democratic societies poses enormous challenges for the United States along with all of our allies, friends and partners.  The effects are already seen in our national security, our investments, our industries, our schools, our media, and even our elections.

. . . Washington had lost the bet it made twenty years ago, when it had granted China permanent normal trade relations in the hope that helping China expand economically would cause it to liberalize politically and that would lead to peaceful coexistence.
I largely agree with this assessment though it was not my view twenty years ago.

The author views the Obama administration as being "played" by China into viewing the relationship being between competitors with room for cooperation while, in reality, China is inherently hostile to the U.S. 

We saw this play out in the relative evaluation of Russia v China between the Obama and Trump administrations.  The incoming National Security Advisor for Trump, Michael Flynn (2), thought China a bigger threat than Russia; the Obama administration thought the opposite.  In her House Intelligence Committee testimony of September 8, 2017 Susan Rice, Obama's NSA, complained about her meeting with Flynn:

"We spent a lot more time talking about China in part because General Flynn's focus was on China as our principal overarching adversary. He had many questions and concerns about China. And when I elicited - sought to elicit his perspective on Russia, he was quite, I started to say dismissive, but that may be an overstatement. He downplayed his assessment of Russia as a threat to the United States. He called it overblown. He said they're a declining power, they're demographically challenged, they're not really much of a threat, and then reemphasized the importance of China." (pp.46-47)

I suppose Rice thought, particularly in the context of 2017, that her anecdote was clever.  It doesn't look that way now.

After that setup we move quickly to the Trump administration.  Early on, Rogin writes of his invitation to join meetings of mid-level bureaucrats trying get the administration to take a tough line on China, with Josh acknowledging both his sympathy toward them and his access being based on his willingness to write in support of their desired policies.

I'd summarize his take on the Trump administration as making some of the right steps to reverse the course set by the Bush and Obama administrations but beset by flawed implementation due to the erratic nature of Donald Trump and his inability or unwillingness to spend the time needed to understand the details of the relationship between the two countries, though the president's instincts seemed supportive of the hard liners, as well as unresolved conflicts between those in his administration promoting a much harder approach and those, primarily linked with Wall Street, who favored a more accommodating stance.  The hardest of the hardliners were people like Peter Navarro, Steve Bannon and Michael Flynn who, according to Rogin, were willing to blow up the entire relationship while another group centered around Mike Pence, Mike Pompeo, Matt Pottinger and Robert O'Brien in promoting a more aggressive approach towards resetting the relationship.  The Wall Street crowd was lead by Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Gary Cohn, a 25-year Goldman Sachs executive who headed Trump's National Economic Council for two years, Larry Kudlow, and other friends of Trump from the Street like Blackstone Group CEO Stephen Schwarzman who were outside the administration but had the President's ear at times. (3)

Rogin describes the policy arguments and political infighting all under the eye of the unpredictable and erratic President.  Given Rogin's personal policy preferences and the nature of this type of reporting generally I can't say whether he gets it all accurately portrayed in every detail but given the personalities involved and what I saw of the administration's actions his overall picture rings true to me.

The book reaches its climax with the Covid-19 pandemic, for which Rogin condemns the China government's obfuscation and obstruction during the initial phases of the outbreak and then in preventing an investigation of the causes (Rogin thinks a lab leak is the most likely source).  

Rogin reports that during the early phase (January-February) China and the U.S. tried to cooperate but he relates a February 6 call between Xi and Trump that is startling.  According to Rogin, in that call Xi "asked Trump not to take any more excessive actions that would create further panic".  He "also told Trump that China had the coronavirus outbreak under control, that the virus was not a threat to the outside world, and that it was sensitive to the temperature and therefore would likely go way when the weather got warmer".  Four days later, at a White House meeting with state governors, Trump said, "Now, the virus that we're talking about having to do - you know, a lot of people think that goes away in April with the heat - as the heat comes in", without revealing that "a lot of people" meant Xi.

At the same time the administration was being very careful in its public statements because in private discussions China diplomats were threatening the halt of exports of badly needed medical supplies if the U.S. said the wrong things.

Finally becoming aware that he was being misled by Xi, on March 18 President Trump referred to Covid-19 as "the Chinese virus", although it was only in mid-April that administration officials first stated publicly that a leak from the Wuhan lab was a possible origin of the pandemic (statements triggered by a April 14 column in the Washington Post by Rogin based upon his obtaining a document leaked from his government sources).(4)

It remains unclear to me what the Biden administration posture on China is.  In fact, it may be unclear to the participants.

What is the nature of the threat?

I spent a lot of time in China between 2000 and 2011.  At the start I was cautiously optimistic, but by the end of the decade my views were changing.  And since the ascension of Xi Jinping it has become evident that rather than China becoming part of the existing world economic system it is seeking to reshape that system to both protect the role of the Chinese Communist Party and to dominate that system.  The levers it controls are much broader and more effective than the Soviet Union, which was a military power but an economic and technological pygmy.  

The intertwining of China with the global economy has enabled China to make global companies advocates for its policies, continually promoting even deeper economic ties.  This was a phenomenon I recognized during the decade I spent involved with that country.  My responsibility was running global environment and safety programs that were consistently applied no matter where we operated.  In that role, I was increasingly interacting with social responsibility "stakeholders".(5)  In our meetings they seemed to believe that multinational companies would be able to influence China government policies on environment and safety.  After a few years on the ground in China, my view was the opposite.  I knew that any global company would, if China said "jump", ask "how high?".  These NGO stakeholders had the power equation reversed.  It remains true.  American and European companies fear the China government much more than that of the United States.  They've been converted into lobbyists for China.

It is difficult enough for manufacturing companies to disentangle from complex global supply chains centered on China, even if they want to, but the American financial services sector is engaged in active collaboration with the regime.  Americans investing their savings and retirement accounts into managed plans are often investing in China companies whether they know it or not.  Virtually every large American bank and financial services company is strongly linked to China or working to improve those links.  And they know who calls the shots.  Recently, Jamie Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, quickly apologized for making a joke that offended the Chinese Communist Party, something he would never do in similar circumstances in the United States.

Just as in the Trump administration, the Wall Street crowd wields power in the Biden administration.  In the case of Biden, while Goldman Sachs plays a role, as it does in all administrations, it is BlackRock execs who are most closely tied to both the administration and China.  BlackRock, the largest money manager in the world with $7.8 trillion under management, was recently approved as the first foreign-owned company to operate a wholly-owned business in China's mutual fund industry, a move that drew criticism from George Soros who called it a "tragic mistake" that would "damage the national security interests of the U.S. and other democracies".  Brian Deese of BlackRock (I worked with his mother many years ago) runs the National Economic Council and Adewale Adeyemo is #2 at the Treasury Department.  The White House Office of Presidential Personnel, which manages all political appointments for the administration, is run by Catherine Russell.  From 2009-13, Russell was Chief of Staff to the Second Lady, Jill Biden, and began working as a staffer for Joe Biden in 1987.  Russell is married to Tom Donilon, National Security Advisor to President Obama from 2010 to 2013 and currently Chairman of the BlackRock Investment Institute, the firm's global think tank.  Donilon's brother Mike is a Senior Advisor to President Biden.

The issues around disentangling ourselves from China are complex.  I don't understand all of them, nor their implications.  I hope someone does.  Just as we have levers with China, China has levers with us.  I do know the failure to take control of our own actions will just result in a deeper dependence on China.  Here is one example.  If the U.S. were to try to greatly expand its development of solar and wind power and the use of batteries, technologies requiring enormous quantities of metals and rare earths, it will face a choice.  Either expand domestic mining and milling operations or become dependent upon China, particularly for rare earths, letting that country determine our future.

For further reading on China:

Balding's World

Tanner Greer 

Michael Pettis 

Henry Gao

China - U.S. Relations in the Eyes of the Chinese Communist Party 

Groping the Elephant of Common Prosperity 

The Triumph and Terror of Wang Huning 


(1)  Let's get this out of the way right now.  I'm continually getting confused between Josh Rogin, Seth Rogen, and Joe Rogan.  They need to caucus and decide who has to change their name.  Please guys, do this for me.

(2)  Yes, I know, he's nuts.  How much of that was always there and how much induced by the Mueller gang's persecution which broke him financially and apparently emotionally, I can't tell.  But he was correct in his relative assessment of Russia and China.

(3) Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump make only passing appearances in the book but my sense is that their views were probably closer to the Wall Street crowd.  One can only imagine what a real press would make of Hunter Biden's China connections.

(4) The chronology also undermines the retroactive attempt to pin discussions of the lab leak theory on Trump's "xenophobia".  We now know that on January 31, 2020 virologists were communicating among themselves, and with Dr Anthony Fauci, that a lab origin was possible.  After Fauci arranged a conference call (the details of which remain unknown) a couple of days later, the same scientists, on February 4, completely ruled out a lab origin and then began the media campaign denouncing anyone believing such a release was a possibility as a conspiracy theorist and racist.  With the revelations of NIAID's relationship with the EcoHealth Alliance it is evident that the conspiracy and racist charges were deliberately made to divert attention from the connections between the Alliance, Fauci and the Wuhan lab.  All of this happened before references by Trump to the Wuhan or China virus.

(5) "Stakeholders" in this context refers to self-appointed NGOs who actually don't care about the future of a particular company but have larger ideological goals in mind.

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Japan Decides On War

First posted in 2016.  Though some aspects of the decision making process reflect specific Japanese cultural attitudes, I was struck with the similarities when reading HR McMaster's account of how America became mired in Vietnam, Dereliction of Duty.   My own experiences with group decision making also alerted me to commonalities with what is described below.

"The navy cannot afford to fight.  There is a feeling that, if possible, the navy would want to avoid a Japanese-American war.  If we pass up this opportunity, war will be impossible to avoid."

- Rear Admiral Takamatsu Nobuhito to his brother, Emperor Hirohito; November 30, 1941, seven days before Pearl Harbor
The die was cast nearly three months earlier.  On September 6, 1941, an imperial conference was held in Tokyo with the Emperor, prime minister, foreign minister, finance minister and the army and navy ministers, along with their chiefs of staff.   The outcome was Hirohito's approval of "Essentials for Carrying Out the Empire's Policies", a document agreed to three days earlier by the members of his government.  It provided:
1.The empire would not refrain from war with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands and would prepare for war.
2. While those preparations moved forward, the empire would try its utmost in diplomatic efforts with the United States and Britain, guided by an attached document.
3. If diplomatic efforts did not succeed by early October, the empire would launch a war at the end of October with the United States, Britain, and the Netherlands.
The attached document contained Japan's negotiating demands and limits of concessions, including:
Noninterference by the United States in Japan's war settlement with China
A request to close the Burma Road [Nationalist China's main line of supply to the outside world]
Japan's promise not to use French Indochina as a base for further military advances into SE Asia
As long as the Soviet Union remained neutral regarding Japan, Japan would not use force against it.
By placing war preparations ahead of diplomacy, the September 6 conference set Japan on the path towards Pearl Harbor, despite the private misgivings of many of those in attendance, including Hirohito, a story told in riveting fashion by Eri Hotta, in her 2013 book, Japan 1941: Countdown To Infamy.  While most of the author's research is not new, she has pieced it together into a compelling narrative. Hotta, from Random House)

Ms Hotta is clearly distressed by her story; of a government blundering its way into a conflict with the United States, making choice after choice that narrowed its options, panicking when faced with deadlines it had needlessly imposed upon itself, with no coherent strategy for achieving victory and with most of the major players having little confidence in achieving it in any case.  With its emphasis on not saying publicly and directly what many thought privately the system, as described by Hotta, led to disaster for Japan, as she concludes:
Japan's leaders must be charged with the ultimate responsibility for initiating a war that was preventable and unwinnable. 
By the summer of 1941, Japan had been at war in China for four years; a conflict it anticipated winning quickly.  Instead, its army was bogged down, inflicting defeat after defeat on Chaing Kai-Chek's forces, but with little long-term gain to show for it, while suffering significant losses, and at great economic cost.  The thoughtless way Japan entered into war in 1937 was to be duplicated in 1941, even as the principals in those discussions knew the 1937 decision was a mistake and refused to draw the obvious lessons.

In preparation for the September imperial conference, the army and navy chiefs of staff were called to a meeting with Hirohito on the prior afternoon to explain the war plan.  Hotta reports the following interchange between Army Chief of Staff Sugiyama and Hirohito, whom she describes as "displaying the incisiveness he was capable of when utterly compelled - which did not happen often", when the emperor inquired of the duration of the planned war: 
Sugiyama:  Sir, we intend to complete [our mission] in the South Seas in three months.

Hirohito: When the China Incident broke out, you were our army minister.  I remember you telling me then that the conflict would be over in about a month.  But after four long years, it hasn't ended!

Sugiyama: China has a huge hinterland.  That was why we couldn't carry out our plans as we had originally envisioned.

Hirohito: If you say that China has a huge hinterland, the Pacific Ocean is even bigger.  On what basis are you now telling me three months?
Sugiyama had no good response yet, once again, the implications were not engaged by the participants. Hirohito)

How had Japan reached this situation in September 1941?  Partly due to its baffling governmental structure which seemed designed to maximize the ability of its members to avoid clear responsibility, and to the role of the "all-powerful" emperor, which, in reality, was limited by his courtiers who wished to shield Hirohito and the reputation of the throne from the dangers of Japanese politics.  Government cabinets consisted of both civilians and military, and technically all ministers reported individually to the emperor, including the army and navy ministers.  Parliament had been neutered through a series of actions in the 1920 and 30s, and the military carried inordinate power in decisions.

Partly due to history.  Since the late 1800s, Japan sought territorial expansion on the Asian mainland.  In 1910, it annexed Korea, beginning a brutal occupation that only ended in 1945, and which Koreans resent to this day.  In 1931, the army launched a coup in the northeastern China province of Manchuria (see The Mukden Incident), taking over the entire region and establishing a puppet government.  Six years later, the army used an incident near a bridge outside Peking to launch an attack on the rest of China.  That war was to last eight years, creating a quagmire for Japan and resulting in the death of more than ten million Chinese soldiers and civilians due to combat, torture, massacre, biological warfare, starvation and flooding.

Throughout the 1930s, the United States became more disenchanted with Japan.  It furiously denounced the occupation of Manchuria, and the China war that began in 1937 evoked a great deal of American sympathy for the Chinese (don't underestimate the impact of Pearl Buck's 1931 novel, The Good Earth, the best selling novel in America for two years, and its successful 1937 film adaptation, in creating a favorable image of China).

At the same time, the militarization of Japan proceeded apace, fed by a growing fear of encirclement by its perceived enemies; the United States, the British Empire, the Netherlands and the Soviet Union.  To neutralize this threat, Japan grew closer to Nazi Germany.  After the fall of France in June 1940, Japan saw an opportunity to improve its position in Southeast Asia and occupied the northern part of French Indochina (what was later North Vietnam and Laos) on September 23, 1940.

Japan's move prompted immediate retaliatory action by the United States just three days later - increasing economic support to China and embargoing scrap metal exports to Japan.  The following day, Germany, Italy and Japan signed the Tripartite Pact,  After realizing it would not be able to invade Britain, Germany became the driving force in arranging the Pact, seeing an alliance with Japan as a way to deter the U.S. from entering the European war, while Japan viewed it as providing a balancing alliance against its enemies and improving its negotiating position with the U.S.  Initially opposed to the alliance, the navy assented once it was clear that the Pact did not automatically require Japan to participate in a war if Germany was attacked, and by the promise of a large budget increase.

It was an enormous miscalculation.  Japan's membership in the Tripartite Pact convinced the American government that Japan was an enemy and the goal of U.S. negotiations became to obtain Japanese repudiation of the Pact.  These miscalculations were only to grow over time, a curious situation in light of the American connections of many senior government officials.  For instance: Minister Konoe from britannica)
  • Prime Minister Konoe, head of government for most of the period from 1937 to 1941, whose  eldest son attended Lawrenceville Prep and then went on to Princeton.
  • Foreign Minister Matsuoka emigrated to America as a 13-year old, living in Portland and Oakland with American families, with whom he remained close, converting to Methodism and obtaining a law degree from the University of Oregon, graduating second in his class.
  • Admiral Yamamoto, planner of the Pearl Harbor attack, attended Harvard from 1919 to 1921, was posted to Japanese embassy in Washington from 1926 to 28, a great admirer of the U.S., who personally identified with Abraham Lincoln. 
And how did America view Japan in 1940-1?  The public was sympathetic towards China, as was President Roosevelt personally.  He viewed Japan as a threat in Asia and the Pacific, particularly in light of the Tripartite Pact, and wanted a settlement of the China War and Japan's withdrawal from the Pact.  At the same time, FDR and American military leaders viewed Nazi Germany as the much more serious threat to the United States, convinced that American involvement in the European War was coming, the only unknown being the timing.

For that reason, FDR did not want to trigger a war with Japan and, in the event of war involving both Germany and Japan, it was already agreed that America's primary effort would be directed to the defeat of Germany (the figure often used was 85% of American resources for the European conflict).  Even within this framework, there was an ongoing tension between FDR and the military.  FDR's aggressive diplomacy, including embargoes, raised fears among the military that our diplomatic actions were too far ahead of our relatively weak military capacities in the Pacific, and they worried that if war did come, our forces would be overwhelmed.

The critical turning point was July 1941.  On June 22, Germany, to Japan's surprise, attacked the Soviet Union.  Initial reports anticipated a decisive Nazi victory and the attack also eliminated the risk of any Soviet attack against the Japanese army in Manchuria (for more on this, read The Secret of Khalkin Gol).  The government saw an opportunity to further bolster its strategic position in Southeast Asia, deciding to occupy the southern portion of Vichy French Indochina.  It was viewed as a low risk, high return operation that would provide access to more natural resources and bringing Japanese forces within range of the strategic British naval base at Singapore and the oil fields of the Dutch East Indies.

Even then, not every element of the government agreed with the Indochina action. Though the language of the document approved at the imperial conference on July 2, included this stirring passage, "The Empire shall not flinch from war with Britain and the United States", the navy was not in agreement, though it did not voice its dissent at the conference.   After the meeting, the Vice Navy Minister recorded this conversation:
"I was surprised [at the 'shall not flinch' passage] and asked Navy Minister Oikawa about it.  He said he was against war, but considering the army's general preoccupation with the north . . . we had to say that much to stop the policy from slipping out of [the traditionally south-inclined] navy's control."
Throughout these months, Minister Oikawa was to repeatedly express his reservations about the drift towards war, but mostly privately, and even when doing so in conference, always tempering his comments.  Though constantly complaining, he refused to resign, which would have sent a strong signal to the emperor, and triggered the fall of the cabinet.
Oikawa koshirĊ.JPG(Navy Minister Oikawa)

In advance of the formal occupation, President Roosevelt met on July 24 with Nomura, Japan's Ambassador to the U.S., telling him that if Japan refrained from entering southern Indochina, he would obtain declarations from China, Britain, the Netherlands and the U.S., declaring all of Indochina neutral and thus reducing Japan's fear of encirclement.  This proposal never reached the cabinet in Tokyo.

The Japanese were taken aback by the ferocity of the American response; freezing Japan's assets in the U.S., naming General Douglas MacArthur to head the new U.S. Army Forces in the Far East command and, most importantly, embargoing petroleum exports from America to Japan.  This was potentially devastating, as more than 90% of Japan's oil supplies came from the U.S., and without adequate supply its navy would be immobilized.

Though many in government realized a mistake had been made, and a withdrawal could have be done easily, particularly as no blood had been spilled in the occupation, no one person took it upon themselves to push for it.  Hotta writes:
Despite surface bravado, there was now a growing sense within the military that the southward advance had been an error in judgment.  Although no leaders would assume blame for the mistake, they would have conceded to a reversal, especially if diplomatically arranged.
Typical of the confused and contradictory approach were the statements of Navy Chief of Staff (and former Navy Minister) Nagano to the emperor, when they met to review the war plan on July 31.  Nagano told Hirohito he was opposed to war with the U.S., as well as to Japan participating in the Tripartite Pact, but also said, "If our petroleum supplies were cut off, we would lose our stock in two years", so there was "no choice but to strike", though "I am uncertain as to any victory".

Misgivings and bad news continued to mount in August.  Prime Minister Konoe told a confidant :
I have made a big mistake on Japan's relations with China. I am so ashamed and cannot face up to my ancestors. I do not want to repeat such a mistake.  And I want to avoid war with the United States at all costs.
The same month, Army Minister Tojo, who became Konoe's successor as PM on October 17, received a report from the War Economy Research Office finding that America's industrial economy was 20 times the size of Japan's (other estimates placed it as much as 50 times bigger).  A prolonged war with the U.S. was unwinnable for Japan.

Near the end of the month, a team from the Total War Research Institute met with the cabinet at Konoe's home.  For six weeks they had investigated the country's war making capabilities and run a simulation of a U.S.-Japan war.  Over a period of more than ten hours, they reviewed, in detail, their findings with the top government officials, concluding that Japan would definitely lose a war with the United States after winning a few initial battles.  Yet this unwinnable war was made inevitable by the imperial conference decisions just ten days later.

The dual track thinking and a growing sense of panic continued beyond September 6, as government ministers realized they had trapped themselves by the war encouraging decision made at the imperial conference.

Even as the plans for Pearl Harbor were advancing, Admiral Yamamoto was telling naval staff, "a war with so little chance of success should not be fought."  On September 29, he told Chief of Staff Nagano:
. . . it is evident that a U.S. - Japanese war is bound to be protracted.  The United States will not give up fighting as long as Japan had the upper hand.  The war will last for several years.  In the meantime, Japan's resources will be depleted, battleships and weaponry will be damaged, replenishing materials will be impossible . . . Japan will be impoverished.

Hotta writes that the liaison conferences between the services "were becoming a tragic farce of keeping up appearance for appearances sake".   Chief of Staff Nagano told Minister Oikawa privately on October 2 that he preferred to avoid military confrontation, but at October 4 liaison conference demanded, "We should [set a timetable for war] right away!".

Two days later Navy leaders met and agreed it was "folly to start a war with the United States" and the army should begin withdrawing forces from China.

On October 7, the Army and Navy Ministers met.  Regarding the war plan, Tojo told Oikawa, "If the navy is not confident, we must reconsider it."  The following day, Tojo lamented to the Navy Minister:
"We've lost tens of thousands of lives over the China Incident.  To withdraw seems an unbearable option.  And yet if we do go to war with the United States, we will lose tens of thousands more.  I am thinking about withdrawing troops, but I just cannot decide."
At almost the same time, the commander in chief of Japan's army in China sent a message to Tokyo urging it to accept U.S. demands and settle the war with China.

"We must continue to seek a diplomatic settlement", PM Konoe said on October 12, "I have no confidence in a war such as this".  The same day, Foreign Minister Toyoda, who succeeded Matsuoka in August, bluntly told Konoe, "If I am allowed to be brutally frank, the imperial conference resolution [of September 6] was impetuous."
In a climatic meeting on October 14 Konoe met with Tojo, informing him:
I am greatly responsible for the China Incident. . .  I simply cannot agree to starting yet another great war whose outlook is very vague.  I suggest that we now concede to the U.S. withdrawal formula and avoid opening fire between Japan and the United States.  We really need to end the China Incident. Tojo from wikimedia)

By now, Tojo had made his decision - no withdrawal from China.  It was a matter of honor, in light of the thousands of dead Japanese soldiers in the war, as well as the disgrace if the army admitted it could not win the China war, and was thus responsible for Japan backing down to the demands of the United States.  As Hotta puts it:
The navy would not say it did not want war . . . The army, which would bear the bulk of public humiliation of troop withdrawal . . was accusing the navy of not clearly stating its opposition to the new war so that the army, too, would have to admit its weakness by saying it could not fight.
Tojo endeavored to find another path towards the same result, without the army making the recommendation, visiting the imperial palace to meet with Lord Kido, Keeper of the Privy Seal, and eminent advisor to the emperor.  Tojo urged Kido to seek resignation of the entire cabinet and they agreed, according to Hotta, "that to avoid war they had to ensure that the next prime minister would move away from the problematic imperial resolution".  Tojo recommended Prince Higashikuni for the position since the Prince was known to have strong antiwar views and, as the emperor's uncle, the prestige to carry out a change in course.  Kido rejected the suggestion, not wanting the imperial family involved in such a controversial decision.  Once again, no one in power position - whether in the imperial family, the civilian leadership, army or navy, was willing to take the lead in changing what was seen as a disastrous course of action.

On October 17, Tojo, packing up his office in anticipation of the dismissal of the entire government, was summoned to meet with Hirohito and stunned to be asked to become prime minister.  Lord Kido's flawed reasoning in recommending the appointment was that since Tojo had been the most insistent the September 6 declaration, he would be best suited for the task of reversing and, indeed, Kido met with Tojo and Navy Minister Oikawa to inform them, "I must stress that it is the emperor's wish that in formulating the nation's policy, you would not be a slave to the September 6 imperial resolution." Seeming to further help things along, Tojo's picks for finance and the new navy minister (replacing Oikawa), only agreed to serve after being assured the new prime minister was committed to avoiding war with the U.S.

Yet Tojo was to prove incapable of changing course because he still resisted the army taking the initiative and blame for policy change, a failure compounded by his lack of insight into how Japan's negotiating strategy would be perceived by the U.S.

The September 6 decision was reconsidered in daily liaison conferences from October 23 through 30. Japan 1941 recounts the dreary, frustrating, and confused discussions, which seemed to constantly circle around the key issues, but never land.  It is as though the participants felt the decision was out of their control, though all of the deadlines and negotiating positions were of their own creation.  A final, 17-hour conference on November 1-2, set November 30 as the final deadline for negotiations.  In a final fittingly inept move, Japan's negotiators in America were given two plans, A and B, to present.  Only if Plan A was rejected (and it was clearly unacceptable to the U.S.), were the negotiators to present proposals from Plan B, and it was only explicitly with Tojo's permission that they were allowed to discuss the only aspect of Plan B which would get the attention of the other side - a pledge to immediately withdraw from southern Indochina (permission that was never granted, though the Japanese negotiators, disobeying instructions, informally presented it to Secretary of State Hull on November 18).  Further complicating the task of the Japanese negotiators is they were not initially told of the November 30 deadline.

On November 25, Secretary Hull prepared a response which provided for (1) a three month truce; (2) Japan's immediate withdrawal from southern Indochina; (3) reduction of northern Indochina forces to 25,000; (4) US unfreezing Japan assets; (5) resumption of economic relations.  But it was never delivered.  Instead, on November 26, the Japanese negotiators were presented with what is known as the Hull Note containing a series of stiff and uncompromising U.S. demands, which even if subject to negotiations would take months to resolve. Why the change?  Both China and the British opposed the terms in the November 25 draft but, more importantly, the U.S. had just received reliable intelligence that Japan was moving naval, air and army forces into areas south of Taiwan, in what was apparently the initial move of a military onslaught.  Combined with increasingly militant public speeches by Japan's cabinet members, and the interception of Foreign Minister Togo's message to the Japanese embassy that after November 29, events would proceed "in an automatic fashion", FDR viewed the entire Japanese negotiating position as a sham.  The President informed his advisers that Japan would likely attack the United States on December 1. moves south)

Although the U.S. had uncovered Japan's move south, it failed to detect six Japanese carriers leaving northern Japan on November 26 under radio silence; their objective - Pearl Harbor.

At a November 29 lunch with emperor, Admiral Yonai, convinced of the disaster a war with America would bring, spoke up, "Excuse me for speaking my mind in crude ways, but I think we mustn't become utterly poor in our quest to avoid becoming gradually poor".  The following day, Hirohito's brother conveyed his warning, but the countdown to war was on, and those who could have stopped it believed they were powerless to do so.

In frustration over the failure of diplomacy, in which the key issue of contention, the war in China, was known by the Japanese government to have been a strategic mistake, Japan set a course for war, with the forlorn hope that initial success against the United States would drive it to further negotiations, demonstrating, as Yamamoto warned on September 29, a fundamental misunderstanding of the American psyche, and knowing that their country was doomed if the war was prolonged.

For more on the early phases of the Pacific War, read Tarawa.
For the ending of the war, read Downfall: Ending The War With Japan.
For the nature of the war in the Pacific, read With The Old Breed.

Monday, December 6, 2021

Turn! Turn! Turn!


On this date in 1965 The Byrds released the album Turn! Turn! Turn!   The single featuring the song had been released several weeks earlier and reached #1 in December 1965.  The Byrds were one of my favorite bands in the 65-67 period and the first rock concert I attended was in March 1966, when The Byrds performed to a half-full auditorium in White Plains NY.  The closing song was Turn! Turn! Turn!

The song was composed by folk singer Pete Seeger in the late 50s.  Roger McGuinn, lead guitarist of The Byrds, came from the folk music scene which is why he adapted Dylan's Mr Tambourine Man for the band's first single.  In the case of Turn! Turn! Turn! he added a rock beat, made some alterations to the chord structure of the song and devised, with David Crosby, those beautiful harmonies.  You can listen to Seeger's original here.

What makes the song so unusual is that the lyrics are 2,500 years old.  Seeger took them from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Hebrew Bible, a philosophical reflection on life and its meaning.  You can read interpretations of the book's meaning here and here.  The lyrics are from Chapter 3, verses 1-8.  For the full text of Chapter 3 read this, and for one of many interpretations of the chapter you can read this.

Lyrics to Turn! Turn! Turn!

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to build up, a time to break down
A time to dance, a time to mourn
A time to cast away stones, a time to gather stones together
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time of love, a time of hate
A time of war, a time of peace
A time you may embrace, a time to refrain from embracing
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven
A time to gain, a time to lose
A time to rend, a time to sew
A time for love, a time for hate
A time for peace, I swear it's not too late
Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: 1-8 
To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

A time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

A time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

A time to love, and a time to hate; a time of war, and a time of peace.

Saturday, December 4, 2021

Across The Great Divide

He's gone away in yesterday
Now I find myself on the mountainside
Where the rivers change direction
Across the Great Divide

Nanci Griffith is the singer.  Composed by Kate Wolf.

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Forever Young

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.

Bob Dylan and The Band from The Last Waltz (1976).  For my grandson on his second birthday.

May God bless and keep you always,
May your wishes all come true,
May you always do for others
And let others do for you.
May you build a ladder to the stars
And climb on every rung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May you grow up to be righteous,
May you grow up to be true,
May you always know the truth
And see the lights surrounding you.
May you always be courageous,
Stand upright and be strong,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.

May your hands always be busy,
May your feet always be swift,
May you have a strong foundation
When the winds of changes shift.
May your heart always be joyful,
May your song always be sung,
May you stay forever young,
Forever young, forever young,
May you stay forever young.


Monday, November 29, 2021

Sandy Leaves

I was fortunate to watch in person many of the great National League hurlers of the 1960s - Spahn, Marichal, Drysdale, Gibson, Seaver, but never saw the greatest of them all, Sandy Koufax.  Fifty five years ago this month, Sandy announced his retirement at the age of 30, due to severe elbow problems.  Though I knew about it at the time, I'd never seen his actual announcement until a couple of days ago.  

In response to questions, Sandy is quite blunt about why he is retiring:

"I don't know if cortisone is good for you or not but to take a shot every other ball game is more than I wanted to do.  To walk around with a constant upset stomach because of the pills, and to be high half the time during the game because you are taking painkillers, I don't want to have to do that."

In response to a question about the impact of losing income from his decision:

"Well, the loss of income.  Let's put it this way.  If there was a man who did not have use of one of his arms and you told him it would cost a lot of money to buy back that use, he'd give them every dime he had."

During the 1964 season, Koufax experienced severe pain in his left elbow, a condition for which he was told there was no cure.  Prior to the 1965 season he asked his doctor to tell him when his condition got to the point where continuing to pitch would cause him to lose the use of his arm.  During the 1965 and 1966 seasons, in which he went 26-8 and 27-9, leading the Dodgers to the World Series in both years, Koufax's regimen included cortisone shots, powerful steroids, taking two codeine pills (one before each start and one in the 5th inning), and smearing his body with an ointment with high levels of capsaicin, the active ingredient in chili peppers.  At the end of the 1966 season he was advised that to continue pitching would cause permanent damage to his arm.

Sandy Koufax turns 86 on December 30.