Sebastian P. Breit's Blog

May 12, 2013

Days after Hitler’s suicide a group of American soldiers, French
prisoners, and, yes, German soldiers defended an Austrian castle against
an SS division—the only time Germans and Allies fought together in
World War II. Andrew Roberts on a story so wild that it has to be made
into a movie.

most extraordinary things about this truly incredible tale of World War
II are that it hasn’t been told before in English, and that it hasn’t
already been made into a blockbuster Hollywood movie. Here are the basic
facts: on 5 May 1945—five days after Hitler’s suicide—three
Sherman tanks from the 23rd Tank Battalion of the U.S. 12th Armored
Division under the command of Capt. John C. ‘Jack’ Lee Jr., liberated an
Austrian castle called Schloss Itter in the Tyrol, a special prison
that housed various French VIPs, including the ex-prime ministers Paul
Reynaud and Eduard Daladier and former commanders-in-chief Generals
Maxime Weygand and Paul Gamelin, amongst several others. Yet when the
units of the veteran 17th Waffen-SS Panzer Grenadier Division arrived to
recapture the castle and execute the prisoners, Lee’s beleaguered and
outnumbered men were joined by anti-Nazi German soldiers of the
Wehrmacht, as well as some of the extremely feisty wives and girlfriends
of the (needless-to-say hitherto bickering) French VIPs, and together
they fought off some of the best crack troops of the Third Reich. Steven
Spielberg, how did you miss this story?

‘The Last Battle: When U.S. and German Soldiers Joined Forces in the
Waning Hours of World War II in Europe’ By Stephen Harding. 256 pages.
Da Capo. $25.99.

battle for the fairytale, 13th century Castle Itter was the only time
in WWII that American and German troops joined forces in combat, and it
was also the only time in American history that U.S. troops defended a
medieval castle against sustained attack by enemy forces. To make it
even more film worthy, two of the women imprisoned at Schloss
Itter—Augusta Bruchlen, who was the mistress of the labour leader Leon
Jouhaux, and Madame Weygand, the wife General Maxime Weygand—were there
because they chose to stand by their men. They, along with Paul
Reynaud’s mistress Christiane Mabire, were incredibly strong, capable,
and determined women made for portrayal on the silver screen.

are two primary heroes of this—as I must reiterate, entirely
factual—story, both of them straight out of central casting. Jack Lee
was the quintessential warrior: smart, aggressive, innovative—and, of
course, a cigar-chewing, hard-drinking man who watched out for his
troops and was willing to think way, way outside the box when the
tactical situation demanded it, as it certainly did once the Waffen-SS
started to assault the castle. The other was the much-decorated
Wehrmacht officer Major Josef ‘Sepp’ Gangl, who died helping the
Americans protect the VIPs. This is the first time that Gangl’s story
has been told in English, though he is rightly honored in present-day
Austria and Germany as a hero of the anti-Nazi resistance.

book’s author, Stephen Harding, is a respected military affairs expert
who has written seven books and long specialized in World War II, and
his writing style carries immediacy as well as authority. “Just after
4am Jack Lee was jolted awake by the sudden banging of M1 Garands,” he
writes of the SS’s initial assault on the castle, “the sharper crack of
Kar-98s, and the mechanical chatter of a .30-caliber spitting out rounds
in short, controlled bursts. Knowing instinctively that the rising
crescendo of outgoing fire was coming from the gatehouse, Lee rolled off
the bed, grabbed his helmet and M3, and ran from the room. As he
reached the arched schlosshof gate leading from the terrace to the first
courtyard, an MG-42 machine gun opened up from somewhere along the
parallel ridgeway east of the castle, the weapon’s characteristic
ripping sound clearly audible above the outgoing fire and its tracers
looking like an unbroken red stream as they arced across the ravine and
ricocheted off the castle’s lower walls.” Everything that Harding
reports in this exciting but also historically accurate narrative is
backed up with meticulous scholarship. This book proves that history can
be new and nail-bitingly exciting all at once.

[T]he French VIPs finally put aside their political differences and
picked up weapons to join in the fight against the attacking SS troops.

their personal enmities and long-held political grudges, when it came
to a fight the French VIPs finally put aside their political differences
and picked up weapons to join in the fight against the attacking SS
troops. We get to know Reynaud, Daladier, and the rest as real people,
not merely the political legends that they’ve morphed into over the
intervening decades. Furthermore, Jean Borotra (a former tennis pro) and
Francois de La Rocque, who were both members of Marshal Philippe
Petain’s Vichy government and long regarded by many historians as simply
pro-fascist German puppets, are presented in the book as they really
were: complex men who supported the Allied cause in their own ways. In
de La Rocque’s case, by running an effective pro-Allied resistance
movement at the same time that he worked for Vichy. If they were merely
pro-Fascist puppets, after all, they would not have wound up as Ehrenhäflinge—honor prisoners—of the Führer.

Read the rest here. ...and why isn't this a movie already?!?!
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Published on May 12, 2013 21:24 • 225 views

February 22, 2013

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Published on February 22, 2013 12:14 • 150 views

February 9, 2013

Me: You sure about that?

“Obama’s trying to emulate Roosevelt,” Burton Folsom Jr., a history
professor at Hillsdale College in Michigan, tells Newsmax. “Obama likes
Roosevelt. He often talks about these programs that he’s instituting
being the greatest number of programs, sometimes he’ll say, in 70 years.
In other words, he’s making a reference to Roosevelt.”

Doesn't give you the maximum of objective news...

I try my very best not to comment too often on US politics and opinions, but sometimes I just can't hold back. The above quoted article is so full of generalizations and just plain wrong conclusions I had to say something. Yes, it's Newsmax, I know. Even as a foreigner I realize criticizing a Newsmax article is like beating a one-legged blind man in the 100 meter race, but come on!

“He thinks highly of Roosevelt and the New Deal,” Burton Folsom tells
Newsmax of President Obama. “He likes the idea of increased
intervention. And he very much thinks that the president ought to have
more power.

“Part of why we wrote “FDR Goes to War,” we thought there were lessons
and parallels to Roosevelt,” he adds. “We were speaking to Americans
today about a pattern of executives grabbing for power, how to stop it —
and the negative consequences of when it happens.”

Every executive ever has always grabbed for more power in one way or form. Even as someone who finds Obama way overrated and unfit for his job this isn't a really a valid criticism of only his or democrat-led administrations in general.

“Roosevelt was mainly concerned with being re-elected — and if he could
suspend civil liberties, if it would help him win re-election during
wartime, he seemed to have regrettably chosen that path.”

Didn't Lincoln also suspend civil liberties during wartime? Somehow I don't see Roosevelt being that much concerned with being re-elected. Considering he won the electoral vote in a landslide and had a nice margin in the popular vote I don't see how the imprisonment of a single newspaper owner would have made much of a difference.

“What we did in the United States that got us out of that Depression was
that we freed-up our economy,” Folsom adds. “The high tax rate, the 94
percent income tax rate on top incomes during the war, we sliced that.

“We cut the corporate income tax from 90 percent to 38 percent. We
freed-up the economy — and because of that, we had developments in
television, Xerox machines, and later McDonald’s and Holiday Inns, and
ballpoint pens.

“There were all sorts of investments, in addition to the iron and steel —
cars and the usual housing recovery — that got us out of the Great
Depression. We only had 3.9 percent unemployment in 1946 and 1947.

“We freed-up the economy,” Folsom says. “We cut the tax rates. We cut
federal spending by more than half — and that ended the Great

I... uh... no. Just no. Granted, you won't find me favoring 94% income tax rates or 90% corporate income taxes. But this here is basic bullshit logic. Cutting taxes and cutting federal spending didn't get you out of the Great Depression. Becoming the warehouse and manufacturing center for the rest of the war-ravaged world, however, did. For almost a decade you were the sole go-to address for everybody who wanted to buy, well, anything. And quite frankly, your great technological developments (and I'm not bad-mouthing American ingenuity, folks)? Maybe they had something to do with, say, the thousands of pre-war immigrated European scientists? The thousands of high-class scientists and engineers whisked away by Operation Paperclip and others like it? The 340,000 (!!!) German patents you appropriated? You know, either that or Tea Party Thomas Jefferson Boyaa! What sounds more reasonable?
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Published on February 09, 2013 06:35 • 76 views

January 11, 2013

Not me, though I'll try and do my best to get some posts up and running with regularity again. No, the Führer is back in Timur Vermes best-selling book Er ist wieder da (He's back), soon to be available in English.

In The Sun (yeah, it's a tabloid, I know...) Gerrard Williams correctly claims that the comic novel [...] has
shot to the top of the German book charts.

In it, Hitler awakes from a coma in 2011 but people assume he is an impersonator.

He’s Back — soon to be published in English — is proof the Germans FINALLY feel able to poke fun at the former Fuhrer.

But having just read it, I can confirm that author Timur Vermes, 45, won’t be writing for UK comedy shows any time soon.

The real novelty of the novel is that it was written by a German for Germans. It has smashed a long-standing taboo among those from the country Austrian-born Hitler dominated and destroyed.

He created a generation burdened by the guilt of the death factories of Auschwitz and Dachau.

Now a new generation are able to have a laugh at his expense.

But to Brits raised on Basil Fawlty’s “Don’t mention the war!” gags, Mel Brooks’ Springtime For Hitler song and TV’s Gestapo-French Resistance farce ’Allo ’Allo!, He’s Back has all the allure of a windswept Scottish coastal caravan site in winter.

The “plot” is pure farce. The once-mighty Fuhrer does not die in his bunker in the flaming ruins of Berlin in April 1945.

Instead he goes into hibernation, waking in 2011 and expecting to find the city swarming with Russian troops. He wanders around until a newsagent takes pity and lets him sleep in his kiosk.

While people recognise him as Hitler, they assume he is a lookalike. His monologues spark amusement — unintentionally — and he is given a slot on a Turkish-born comedy star’s TV show and proves a hit. There follows stardom on YouTube and, after winning the backing of a tabloid newspaper, he goes into politics, whipping up hatred against speeding drivers and the fouling of pavements by dogs.

The “humour”, such as it is, is sub-schoolboy. Take this extract from when Hitler recalls an old First World War comrades meeting:

“Two war veterans meet.

“‘Where were you wounded?’ one asks the other.

“‘In the Dardanelles,’ says the second veteran.

“To which the first replies: ‘Oh, they say it’s terribly painful down there!’" 

The stereotype that Germans have no sense of humour seems to be born out by this book.

But it’s been highly lucrative for Vermes, the son of a German mother and Hungarian dad.

It is best to regard the book as an experiment.

For years after the Second World War, Germans tried variously ignoring Hitler, diminishing Hitler or praising Hitler — in fact, there are plenty of far-right fanatics who still choose the latter.

Now they are laughing at Hitler and while we may not get the punchline, it’s about time they did.

I've yet to read the book - it'll be some time, I've got quite the backlog - but I'll tell you if it's any good then.
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Published on January 11, 2013 02:52 • 184 views

December 30, 2012

A statue by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan shows Adolf Hitler praying on his knees in Warsaw, Poland, on Friday Dec. 28, 2012.

I'm not exactly sure who ever got the brilliant idea of thinking that a statue of Hitler - even on his knees, praying - would be a great addition to the ghetto of Warsaw. But whatever drugs were used on the occasion must have been quite potent.

One Jewish advocacy group, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, this week
called the statue's placement "a senseless provocation which insults the
memory of the Nazis' Jewish victims."

"As far as the Jews were concerned, Hitler's only 'prayer' was that
they be wiped off the face of the earth," the group's Israel director,
Efraim Zuroff, said in a statement.

However, many others are
praising the artwork, saying it has a strong emotional impact. And
organizers defend putting it on display in the former ghetto.

Fabio Cavallucci, director of the Centre for Contemporary Art, which
oversaw the installation, said, "There is no intention from the side of
the artist or the centre to insult Jewish memory."

"It's an artwork that tries to speak about the situation of hidden evil everywhere," he said.

It's Hitler. In the ghetto. I suppose there's a time and place for everything. This is not it!

"Every criminal was once a tender, innocent and defenseless child," the center said in a commentary on the work.

So what?! Is that a reason to put up statues of Idi Amin next?

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Published on December 30, 2012 03:09 • 106 views

December 13, 2012

Just a little something I came across. Interesting footage.

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Published on December 13, 2012 00:14 • 69 views

November 25, 2012

And now for something completely different.

What can Star Wars teach us about war? Political bloggers can't help but look at the original trilogy through the lens of real-world counter insurgency tactics, leading them to wonder if the Rebel Alliance was fighting the wrong battles.

The conversation started with an email from the Center for a New American Security's Abu Muqawama's brother:

didn't the Rebel Alliance pursue a strategy of insurgency in their
rebellion against the Galactic Empire? I would argue that they pursued a
strategy of conventional war against the Empire and forwent every
aspect of insurgent strategy and tactics. They finally came around a bit
in the end by co-opting the Ewoks onto their side. Why hadn't they
pursued that strategy on a larger scale? Instead, they simply staged two
conventional assualts on the Empire's center of gravity: the Death Star. Although both attempts were successful, I think they got lucky.

Democracy Arsenal's Patrick Barry isn't convinced:

the intergalactic nature of the war between the Empire and the Rebel
Alliance, [is] a classic insurgency is even possible? If one of the
insurgent's biggest advantages is his knowledge of the local
environment, and the tacit support of the inhabitants of that
environment, then isn't that advantage pretty much negated in the vacuum
of space? I imagine that the space-based nature of war in the Star Wars
universe constrained the Alliance's strategic options, perhaps
significantly. I suspect that the rebels were pursuing the best set of
tactics available to them - waging asymmetric war against the Empire's
vulnerable conventional military assets.

Think Progress' Matthew Yglesias, meanwhile, takes the argument one step further:

say that the Rebel Alliance "simply staged two conventional assaults
on the Empire's center of gravity: the Death Star
" is, I think, to
misconstrue the situation. What's going on is that nobody on either side
of the war seriously disputes the notion that "fear will keep the local
systems in line. Fear of this battlestation."...Once it's clear that
the Empire can destroy planets wholesale, the rebels are in agreement
with Tarkin and the Emperor that sufficient firepower, deployed without
conscience, can, in fact, win the war. Thus, the rebels only hope for
staving off defeat is a bold attack on the Death Star itself. As Exum's
correspondent notes, "they got lucky" in terms of destroying the Death
Star so it made perfect sense for the Emperor to simply respond by
trying to build a new one. Here, again, both sides agree that a fully
operational Death Star can end the war, so again the rebels need to
mount a somewhat desperate attack. And they win!

But the lesson
here isn't that the rebels are being irrationally conventional; the
lesson is that there are limits to the logic of counterinsurgency
doctrine. Overwhelming force and brutality really can be applied to good
effect if you're really willing to unleash it in an evil way.

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Published on November 25, 2012 12:09 • 68 views

November 23, 2012

Whoops, found this in my To-Do List. Older article, but still relevant.

Tina Fordham, Senior Global Political Analyst at Citi, is out with her mid-year outlook, presenting all of the bank's views on all of the biggest political risks emanating from the world's key hotspots over the remainder of this year and into 2013. And I'm here to tell you whether she's talking bullshit.

* * *

Russia is still protesting Putin's recent rise to the presidency

The last time Russia staged protests as big as the ones over Vladimir Putin's recent re-election to the presidency, the Soviet Union collapsed. Fordham notes that protests have continued longer than most had expected them to, writing that "softening oil prices and plans for restrictions on free speech signal the possibility of a sustained period of tensions ahead, as Russia’s newly-energised middle class may seek to continue its challenges to the regime."

Those protests were primarily limited to Moscow, and even the largest of them brought an insignificant amount of people to the streets. Moscow has eleven and a half million inhabitants. The Russian hipster generation mobilizing a few ten thousand people for a couple of days are only the sign of revolution and change in the distorted perspective of the western press. A better litmus test of the mood would have been the Russian reaction to the "Pussy Riot" affair (also grossly mispresented in the western press) which saw them siding with the government and the Orthodox Church.

France's new Socialist government is characteristic of the new Europe

Eight of the nine eurozone countries that have had elections in the last year and a half (including France) have ejected incumbents from office. And France, like others, did it on anti-austerity campaign platforms. Fordham says the impact that the success of that strategy will have on future eurozone elections is is significant.

Fordham writes that "as pro-austerity and pro-bailout sentiment in the 'soft core' also weakens, we believe tensions between Germany and other eurozone member states could increase."

So what? It's not like anything would come out of these tensions except maybe us Germans being a bit more hated by the mouths that we feed. All established parties are so linked to the EURO and the European project that you won't see any change in the modus operandi until its probably too late.

Greece could become a 'critical fragile state'

Even if Greece leaves the euro, Fordham says it would probably still be on E.U. life support as a "critical fragile state" for a long time anyways. Fordham cautions, "More broadly, amid the sharp reversal of living standards, growing evidence of social dislocation, including hunger, homelessness and the risk of violent disruption in Greece is also a cause for concern." And it could go beyond just Greece.

And it most likely will.

The Netherlands has an important yet impossible-to-read election ahead

Fordham calls the upcoming Dutch elections on September 12 a "key signpost for public sentiment in one of the eurozone’s most important creditor countries," calling the victory of an anti-austerity party "a significant blow." However, due to the extremely diverse and unpredictable nature of Dutch politics, it's hard to get a read on the situation until after the election, according to Fordham.

I know too little about Dutch politics to give a qualified statement, but I do know that Geert Wilders' anti-Euro platform lost a good deal of seats.

Italy's political stability is key to holding together the eurozone

Fordham calls stability in Italy "critical," noting that popular support for anti-establishment opposition parties is on the rise and that popular opinion of Mario Monti's government and his "tough reform packages" is waning.

Although former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi is looking to return to politics, Fordham notes that "surveys suggest that his return to politics would not markedly affect the Right’s chances for victory." She also says the chances of early elections in November are low and that they will probably happen in the spring.

Ah, Mario Monti, the first head of government imposed by the EU on a people. Gee, I wonder would could go wrong with a massive organization pushing such anti-democratic means...

Egypt is extremely divided after its first democratic election in 53 years

Egypt's first democratic election in decades pitted Mohammed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, against Ahmed Shafik, Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister and a high-ranking official in the Egyptian military.

Morsi was only able to win the election by the narrow margin of 52 percent to 48 percent. Fordham calls this a sign that "Egypt’s post-Mubarak divisions are evident, suggesting Morsi faces significant challenges in unifying the country," saying that "In all likelihood, both sides will continue testing the other’s resolve in a continued political tug-of-war."

Given that 75% of the votes for the elections of parliament went to the Muslim Brotherhood and the even more radical salafist and they share a border with Israel and have a domestic economy on a path towards implosion I'd say we have other things to look out w/regards to Egypt than their domestic rivalry. By the way, Morsi? "The Koran is our constitution, the Prophet is our leader, jihad is our path and death in the name of Allah is our goal,” Morsi said in his election speech before Cairo University students. Yeah, doesn't that just smell like peace and stability...

Libya re-elected many of Gaddafi's former officials in July elections

Fordham says that many "key figures" in the new government in Libya that was formed after the July 9 elections are former Gaddafi officials, like Mahmoud Jibril, the opposition leader who "was himself Gaddafi’s top economic planner before becoming an early defector."

As Libya undergoes a transition from dictatorship to democracy, its connection with the outside world given its oil producer status could help facilitate a smooth changeover, according to Fordham.

Yeah, we've seen how smooth that's turned out so far, with the whole Benghazi affair and lots of the country being de facto out of the central government's control.

Syria is a ticking timebomb right in the heart of the Middle East

Syria has descended into downright civil war and up to 39,000 people have been already killed. To Fordham, a collapse of the Syrian state is looking like an "increasingly possible scenario," and the Syrian stockpile of chemical weapons could be a game-changer for international involvement in the conflict.

Its location in the middle of a volatile region in the Middle East means there is concern for potential spillover effects into neighboring countries like Iraq.

Well, if the US wasn't so keen on supporting the Al Quaeda dominated rebels, thereby helping to prepare not only the coming genocide on the Alawites but also guaranteeing a war between whatever islamist regime arises after Assad and Israel, maybe one could keep this mess contained. Just an idea, you know.

There's a one in four chance that Israel strikes Iran before November

Israeli public support for a strike on Iran is low according to polls. However, given ideas among the Israeli leadership like the "zone of immunity"–a point of no return where it would be too late to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons–Fordham says "the risk of a unilateral attack is substantial."

Fordham writes that the chance of a strike is "as high as 25% in our view, and could increase in the first half of 2013 if no action takes place ahead of US elections."

Pfft, they've been beating that horse since the middle of last decade. With the Israelis engaged in Gaza and watchful towards the situation in Syria AND elections for the Knesset coming up I sincerely doubt anybody's going to attack Iran in the coming weeks.

Saudi Arabia's political transition could mean key changes on oil policy

Saudi Arabia's ramping up of oil production has been a major story for the oil markets over the past year and a half. Another big story is the recent death of Saudi crown prince Nayef bin Abdul Aziz al-Saud, which has led to new uncertainty over when the Saudi kingdom will pass power along to the next generation.

Fordham writes that "policy change [on oil] comes slowly in the kingdom and usually accompanies changes in leadership, and that "if oil prices fall to $90 or below (Brent basis) for any length of time, markets will focus on whether the kingdom raise its production or whether it will continue to pump oil at a rate that pushes prices down."

And I'm supposed to worry about that? We've had worse oil prices.

Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, may be really sick with cancer

Fordham is skeptical of the official line on the health of president Hugo Chavez, saying that the country faces elevated "key man risk" right now with his well-being in question.

Chavez has been behind the wheel in Venezuela for 13 years, and Fordham says that the aftermath of his death would be uncertain, writing, "It may be the case that the death of the leader before an election could trigger a postponement, opening up the possibility of a change in policy direction. It is less clear whether the death of the leader soon after the elections would be as orderly, with the more likely scenario being outcries over the fairness of the electoral process and a vying for positions among the ruling elites."

A death of Chavez certainly is a possibility. Too little is known about potential successors to determine possible paths of how the aftermath of his passing might play out.

New political leadership in both North and South Korea could decrease the tension

South Korea has a big election coming up on December 19. The current government is right of center and has taken a hard line against North Korea. However, Fordham notes it appears likely that a more centrist candidate, Park Geun-hye, will be the next president.

In North Korea, Fordham says she doesn't "think that a North Korean form of glasnost is emerging, but it may be that the younger Kim is seeking to differentiate himself from his father," writing that "regardless, new leadership in Pyongyang and a potential move towards the political center in Seoul provide scope for optimism over a reduction in tensions on the peninsula going into next year."

North Korea is a damned state srtumbling forward on its own momentum, unable to stop.

China is undergoing a major political transition while outside pressure increases

Hu Jintao, who has been president of China for ten years, is set to pass the reigns to a successor next spring. While a recent Pew poll showed that 82 percent of China is pleased with the way things are going there, Fordham notes that China faces some outside pressure.

Fordham says that "relations with China will also figure prominently in the US presidential campaign" and that tensions in the South China Sea are on the rise because "neighbouring Vietnam and the Philippines, in the midst of an offshore oil & gas boom, may seek to challenge China given the higher economic stakes."

Ironically, China wasn't much of a topic in the US election except for some statements by Mitt Romney, and China has been more occupied by tensions between it and Japan than with the Philippines and Vietnam.
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Published on November 23, 2012 05:22 • 65 views

November 20, 2012

On November 16 Prime Minister Noda Yoshihikowill dissolve the Diet (parliament) lower house and schedule a general election for December 16. Very likely Noda’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) will fail to win a majority of Diet lower house seats, and a new government will be formed by the coalition of parties in which the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will hold a dominant position, and LDP leader and former PM Abe Shinzo will once again be elected prime minister.

Considering that Japan is in the worst foreign policy and security crisis since the end of WWII in the dispute with China over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, while at the same time parrying challenges to its territorial sovereignty by Russia and South Korea, we would expect Japan’s foreign and defense policies to be a focus of campaign rhetoric and debate between the contending parties.

There are some signs of this. Former Tokyo mayor Ishihara Shintaro’s newly formed “Sun Party” will have in its platform a pledge to scrap and rewrite Japan’s current “peace” constitution which was written in ten days February 1947 by two dozen American military and civilian personnel, supervised by Lieut. Col. Charles L. Kades, within Supreme Allied Commander Douglas MacArthur’s GHQ occupation command.

The hawkish Abe has advocated reinterpreting the constitution to allow Japan to participate in “collective self-defense” activities.

Abruptly changing course under Noda, and with his appointment of 71 year old Morimoto Satoshi as defense minister, the DPJ – which took power in 2009 on a platform advocating relocating U.S. Marine bases in Okinawa outside the prefecture or outside Japan and an “East Asia Union” — appears to have lined up with the LDP, other conservative parties, and the bureaucracy in advancing initiatives to “strengthen the U.S.-Japan security alliance.”

The most substantive of these, announced on November 9, will be to revise the 1978 “Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation.” The guidelines stipulate the roles to be played by Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) and U.S. forces if Japan were threatened with attack or attacked by a third country (in 1978 presumed to the Soviet Union).

But discussion of foreign policy, and particularly defense policy, is particularly fraught in Japan for reasons explained in a recently published, controversial, but best-selling book, The Truth about [Japan’s] Post-War History 1945-2012 「戦後史の正体 1945-2012」 by a former career Japanese diplomat and ambassador to Iran and Iraq, Magosaki Ukeru (孫崎享).

Magosaki’s book, besides selling widely to the public, has sent shockwaves through the government, and particularly through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA). Like Zola’s J’accuse!, it presents an often shocking picture of opportunism and toadyism to U.S. hegemonic demands among Japan’s politicians and, particularly, its foreign affairs bureaucrats, during most of the post war period. He describes a philosophical and psychological divide that has existed in Japan’s politics between those who would essentially be blind followers and supporters of U.S. policy, and those who would give primacy to Japan’s interests and seek an independent course.

Magosaki is plainly of the latter camp, in which he also identifies prime ministers Tanaka Kakue, Miyazawa Koichi, and Hatoyama Yukio. He places the long-serving post-war prime minister Yoshida Shigeru, who signed the U.S.-Japan peace treaty and the first post-occupation status of forces agreement, in the former camp, along with Nakasone Yasuhiro, Koizumi Junichiro, and Noda Yoshihiko.

Magosaki’s main point - which is hardly debatable - is that the goal of U.S. policy toward Japan has always been to advance U.S. interests, and not - or at least not mainly - to advance Japan’s interests. Often, U.S. policy objectives have required Japan to make great sacrifices and take risks that have clearly not been in Japan’s interests. One example among dozens offered is a concession to develop a major Iranian oil field that had been won by Japan when Magosaki was ambassador that Japan was forced by the U.S. to give up  (the concession was then awarded by Iran to China).

That 66 years after the end of WWII and 23 years after the end of the Cold War, Japan remains host to over 35,000 U.S. army, air force, navy, and marine personnel and perhaps 5,000 military-related civilian personnel and their families; that the U.S. should be operating out of dozens of bases, including Yokota, Misawa, Iwakuni, Futenma, and Kadena air bases; that the 7th fleet remains based in Japan (in Yokosuka), seems incongruous, as Japan has developed its own self-defense capabilities.

Magosaki makes another point: Over the decades, the U.S. has changed security policy several times, globally or toward Asia. In many cases the U.S. has demanded that Japan conform its own policies to the U.S.’s even when doing so would violate Japan’s constitution or would otherwise be inimical to Japan’s interests. China has always loomed large. During much of the Cold War period, U.S. policy was anti-China and sought to block Japanese commercial and, especially, political bridge building to Beijing.

Today, the overriding U.S. strategic objective in Asia is to find a modus vivendi with China. Magosaki would argue that Japan can take little comfort that the existence of the U.S.-Japan “alliance” will preclude an arrangement that sacrifices Japan’s interest to greater U.S. self-interests. Rather, as in the past, Japan will be seen as a “pawn,” or perhaps as a “rook,” in the chess game with China.

Magosaki quotes a historian to the effect that we study history not so much to understand the past, but to understand the present. In the month ahead we can expect the history of U.S.-Japan security relations since WWII to inform campaign speeches. Thanks in part to Magosaki’s book, support for a Japanese security policy more independent of the U.S. and the alliance could emerge and grow in the months beyond.

Originally posted on Forbes.
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Published on November 20, 2012 09:14 • 72 views

November 17, 2012

Teddy Roosevelt.

Jeff Nilsson over at the Saturday Evening Post posted an article some time ago, postulating how a victory of Theodore Roosevelt in the elections of 1912 would have affected WW1 and the time after it. Now, I love Teddy Roosevelt as much as the next guy (by now he's achieved a reputation as the late 19th century equivalent of Chuck Norris), but I take some exception to the scenario Nilsson builds.

America enters World War I two years earlier.

Teddy Roosevelt could never sit by and watch a fight: he either had to
break it up or join in. So when the old Rough Rider hears, in 1914, that
Germany has marched over neutral Belgium to attack France, he commits
our resources, and then our soldiers, to the Allied cause.

There are several problems with this: one, he needs the support of Congress, and given the mood of neutrality that historically was the prevalent stance in the USA at that time I find it hard to believe that Roosevelt could just will the necessary declaration of war into existence, and against a power that had maintained amicable relations with the USA up to that point no less! In addition, the background issues of World War I were little known to
most Americans. Dealing with a huge influx of immigrants, ongoing
industrialization, labor disputes and the great reform movement of the
Progressive Era, Americans were little interested in foreign affairs,
even after the successful Spanish-American War. When World War I broke
out in 1914, the attitude of the typical American was probably
something on the order of, “There they go again!” - although Europe had
been relatively peaceful for the previous century. 

Secondly, the general mood swing towards interventionism and the rise of a massive anti-German sentiment (Germans constituting one of the largest groups of the US population) necessitated the exposure of the US public to years of anti-German propaganda by the Hearst press and the Franco-British propaganda efforts, something the Kaiserreich didn't combat simply because it didn't grasp the value and impact of it.

Thirdly, why would the US go to war with Germany in 1914? Monroe-Doctrine, anyone? And why not against Great Britain? It's not like there was much love lost between the US and the British Empire at that time!

World War I ends two years sooner.

It takes almost a year to build the ships, arm the troops, train them,
and land them in France. By late 1915, though, the American
Expeditionary Force of 10 million soldiers is fighting alongside the
French and English armies on the Western Front. Even with the wasteful
tactics of the European generals, which sometimes wipe out thousands of
soldiers in hours, the Allies put enough pressure on the Germans to
crack their defenses. The Kaiser’s army falls back, across France, into
Germany, with the Allies in pursuit. As winter begins in 1916, the
Germans are asking for peace terms.

Unlikely on several major accounts.

One is the time span. When the USA entered the war in 1917 its industries had been supplying and adapting to the European conflict for close to three years, with an ever increasing amount of goods being shipped to Britain and France. By that time the arms factories were running and had been expanded and the material for the US' own troops could be somewhat readily supplied. And still, even with this preparation, only limited parts of the US forces in France even saw combat before the war concluded. Even with the US being prepared barely more than 2 million troops were sent to France and Belgium.

The second is the number of mobilized troops. Sorry, no amount of 1914 crash mobilization is going to produce a) the ships necessary to ship 10 million men, b) the army to actually constitute those 10 million fighting men and c) the support infrastructure to keep said men supplied halfway across the globe. A far more industrially potent USA had problems supplying one fifth that number two and a half decades later in the same place, and that was after US rearmament had begun in the late 1930s and not on the day of the Pearl Harbor attack! Secondly, withdrawing that many men of fighting age from the workforce in that short an amount of time is quite simply going to kill your economy. The US' population in 1914 was around 90 million people. The Kaiserreich's was 70 million people. Over the course of four years the Kaiserreich, as the most industrialized nation in Europe, was able to send almost ten million people to the front lines. It was able to supply them (barely) because its civilian population starved and because most of the theaters of war were directly available via railroad. Now try doing the same across a couple thousand kilometers of open sea. Good luck.

Third, yes, a large amount of fresh US troops will undoubtedly make an impact. Unfortunately for them, they won't have access to three years of trenchfighting experience from their Allies. They won't have tanks. And they'll have to go on the offensive against one of the best armies of the world at that time. In a war that puts the defender at a clear advantage. Against their own stretched supply lines. Against a defender in terrain that heavily favors the defender. Just take a look at the whole territory along the Franco-Belgian/German border. I'm sure the American public will still love Teddy for involving them in a war without any need to do so once the first half a million dead bodies come back across the ocean. I'm sure they'll rightly adore him for the fifty kilometers in the Ardennes those bodies bought the Allies...

Adolf Hitler never comes to power.

The German people see their army in retreat, and the Allied armies
occupying their cities. They blame their defeat on the military
adventurers who run the Kaiser’s government. When young Adolf Hitler
starts proclaiming the invincibility of the German army, and the need to
prepare again for war, few Germans are interested. Mostly, they’re
relieved when the occupying Allied forces arrest him and keep him in a
French prison. Without him, the National Socialist party withers away.

What a load of bullshit. Sorry for my French, but come on! When the Allies slowly grind their way into Germany and start occupying German cities they are met with hate. You know, just like when the same happened after WW1?! They blame their eventual defeat on the encirclement by Russia and France and the unexpected taking of sides by both the USA and Great Britain and come to the conclusion that none of these can ever be trusted. When Adolf Hitler AND THOUSANDS MORE LIKE HIM proclaim the need to prepare for war again they are met with open ears and hearts, for he is just one voice in a choir. When he and others are arrested by the occupying forces it sparks massive protests and violence. Regardless of his fate a desire for revanchism remains, as it did historically, also completely independent of him !

The Communists never gain power in Russia.

Although the Russian army suffers a paralyzing defeat on the Eastern
Front, it is mostly intact when the war ends and the troops march home.
The German government is too busy saving itself in 1917 to send the
exiled Lenin back into Russia.

What now? Are we occupied or not? If not, if the fighting is still going on (have fun crossing the Rhine, or fighting in the urban jungle of the Ruhr!) you can bet your Scandinavian-derived name, Mr.Nilsson, that the German government would play every ace it still has up its sleeves. That includes Lenin . Putting a man on a train isn't exactly a task that would overburden a government...

Without their charismatic leader, the Bolsheviks of Moscow make little
progress stirring up revolution. Russian veterans happily round up the
loudest revolutionaries and ship them off to Siberia. By November, when
the Bolsheviks would have seized the government, they have disappeared

Russia would still be out of the picture, probably with Brest-Litovsk still a reality and the socialist Mensheviki mired in the morass of the unstable country around them. Chances that Russia still descends into civil war are pretty high.

Anyway, somehow out of this furnace of revanchism and nationalism (which would be the logical result) we are made to believe a European union of sorts would arise. Yeah, right. [image error]
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Published on November 17, 2012 10:22 • 77 views