Category Archives: Center for Southeast Asia

The Pencil Today:

THE QUOTE

“O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring Thee of the refuge of the grave and denied it.

“For our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet!

“We ask it in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts.

“Amen.” — Mark Twain, from his short story, “The War Prayer

FAIR IN WAR

David Jones, the recently retired director of Indiana University’s Center on Southeast Asia, shook his head  and muttered, “My god.”

He was thumbing through this morning’s paper in Soma Coffee and had come upon yet another story about that Army sergeant who apparently went out and systematically killed 16 civilians in Afghanistan.

House Of Death

This latest bit that made Jones splutter was the suggestion that the as-yet unnamed sergeant was drunk when he committed the alleged deed.

Jones railed about what he perceives to be an attempt to excuse the soldier. He also expressed a fear that the incident may lead to a web of deceit or even unlock secrets about greater atrocities.

At which point, I mused that, rather than look for individual bad guys to string up, thereby making ourselves feel better about this nasty business of war, we ought to look upon the killings as a natural result of war.

War, I said, pushes all its participants to the edge of civility and even sanity. The most fragile of those participants, I concluded, often snap.

My Lai

Were Jones an orator of my school, he would have said bullshit. Unfortunately, the vocabulary imposed upon him by academia precludes him from employing such piercing and effective terms.

Still, my hypothesis was, in Jones’s estimation, full of crap.

“Then we should have opened up the doors to all the jails that held those who participated in the Holocaust,” Jones said.

How can I argue with his point?

OUR BASTARDS ARE MORE BRUTAL THAN YOUR BASTARDS

Studs Terkel called it “The Good War.” World War II often is seen as a battle of good versus evil.

Really, all wars are carried out so that “good” will prevail. Leaders of nations are opportunistic and duplicitous, sure, but none has ever been so brazen as to try to convince his people they should sacrifice their lives because theirs is Lucifer’s mission.

But even the defeated Germans and Japanese today acknowledge that the beating they took in the 1940s was deserved.

The United States won its war with Japan for a variety of reasons. The outcome of the war, essentially, was sealed only six months after Pearl Harbor when the US Navy decimated the Japanese fleet at the Battle of Midway. Had Japanese leadership not been so bloodthirsty and ambitious, that nation would have sat down with the US to negotiate a peace soon after.

Midway

But Japan didn’t. The war would rage on for another three years. Millions of lives were lost because the Japanese bosses couldn’t bear to accept reality.

It was feared that the only way to end the war would be to invade the Japanese mainland. That meant we needed a fighting force even more bloodthirsty than the Japanese had.

No one was more bloodthirsty than Curtis LeMay.

LeMay

As a rising star in the Army Air Corps, LeMay earned a reputation as a demanding, innovative, brilliant, cutthroat strategist and leader. Robert McNamara described him in a report as “the finest combat commander of any service I came across in war. But he was extraordinarily belligerent, many thought brutal.”

LeMay was transferred from the European to the Pacific theater in 1944. He rose to become the commander of air operations against the Japanese mainland. In his new role, he instituted the practice of massive nighttime, low-altitude, incendiary bombing raids on Japanese cities.

Under this plan, American bombers attacked 64 Japanese metropolitan areas. Most Japanese housing was constructed of highly flammable wood and paper. The bombing raids, carried out from March through August, 1945, destroyed 40 percent of the structures in those cities.

That’s the equivalent of an enemy destroying almost half the land area of every US city ranked by population from New York to Anchorage, Alaska. One raid took place on March 10th over Tokyo. The ensuing firestorm killed 100,000 civilians and destroyed 250,000 buildings. Estimates of the number of civilians killed in all the raids range from a quarter to a half a million. Some five million Japanese were made homeless.

The Day After

Another aspect of LeMay’s strategy was called Operation Starvation, aimed at disrupting Japan’s food distribution channels. Its name alone says all you need to know about it.

LeMay himself was quoted as saying he would have been tried as a war criminal had the US lost the war.

Then the United States dropped nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Those two attacks served as exclamation points for America’s argument that Japan should surrender unconditionally. The war ended six days after Nagasaki.

Punctuation

The Good War.

Again, even the Japanese today agree that the good guys won.

Curtis LeMay, therefore, was one of the good guys.

War.

 

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