Monthly Archives: October 2005

A Kiwi Officer in Borneo, 1965

The website of the Royal New Zealand Artillery Old Comrades Association contains a lot of military memoirs from the days when New Zealand had more of a military than it does now. Here’s a tale recorded in April 2001 by former Captain John Masters MC from his days on the border of Malaysia and Indonesia.

It was 1965 in the jungles of Borneo. In the tropical rain forest we lived in a constant sauna. The temperature was the same at 2 in the morning as it was at 2 in the afternoon.

As a young subaltern, my first independent command on active service was small, but we were certain we were elite. Well, after all, we were Royal Horse Artillery.

My single gun crew were all Glaswegians. The Sergeant was a big taciturn Kentishman. I had a battery surveyor, a signaller and a gleaming, well-oiled 105mm howitzer which we made no effort to camouflage. We fired it regularly in support of C Coy, 3 RAR with whom we co-habitated on a little ridge a few feet above the mangrove swamp, and we believed in advertising our presence. Thus we spent three months, never more than fifty miles from the Equator, and never more than fifty feet above sea level.

After seven weeks of this untroubled existence (stress-free because we were forty miles across untracked virgin forest from Battery HQ, and the BSM) we were to be visited in our base by the Director Royal Artillery. He was a wonderful old fellow out from London to visit the only Regiment in the British Army, which was on active service that year. We assembled in our immaculate gun-pit, stripped to the waist and in our Hats, floppy, but with polished brass and our boots gleaming.

My last briefing to the troops, as the General’s helicopter landed, was to tell them to speak when spoken to. “Don’t hesitate to say what you think if he asks you a question.” I was well aware, of course, that Sergeant Smithers had already threatened dire things if anybody moved a muscle.

The dear old chap was overweight and drenched with sweat, but he carefully inspected us all, had a word to each, and then stood us at ease. He then asked if there was anything he could do for us.

Gunner Wilson, the layer, was from the Gorbals. Even after many weeks he was still blue-white in colour. Somewhat flat-chested and with a rather prominent adams apple, he did not look too capable of much initiative in such circumstances. He was however, as I was well aware, the Regimental featherweight champion. I had seen him very effectively deal with a well-muscled Australian who took him at face value, in two rounds.

Well, Gunner Wilson immediately snapped to attention, cleared his throat, and, looking fixedly into the middle distance, belted out, “Sir, when our beer comes in it is too hot.” Sgt. Smithers seemed to lose two inches in height, his jaw muscles slackened into rictus, and his eyes rolled to heaven.

The DRA blanched, but only slightly. He wasn’t a General for nothing. He knew he could do nothing for Gunner Wilson, but, with only the barest pause, he came up with a response none of us ever forgot. Reaching back to his subaltern days on the Indian sub-continent, he said, “Well, I remember, when we had that problem we would hang the bottles in the trees, and the breeze would blow, and cool our beer.”

There was a frisson that rippled through the little group in the gun-pit. An eyelid flickered, a face muscle twitched, but they were British, by God. Unlike any bunch of Kiwis who would have fallen about laughing, they held themselves erect until the General’s helicopter lifted off. Then they fell about.

For the rest of our tour, the answer to any question, or the reaction to any complaint was “Just hang it in the trees, and the breeze will blow, and the beer will be cool.” I loved the Brits.

via Japundit, by a very circuitous route

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Fraser Weir on Islam’s Arrival in Coastal Southeast Asia

Fraser Weir’s A Centennial History of Philippine Independence, 1898-1998 gives an account of Islam’s arrival in coastal Southeast Asia in the 14th and 15th century, closely followed by the arrival of the first Portuguese and Spanish Christians.

Regular coastal trade in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea linking Mesopotamia and the Indus valley dates from at least the time of the Assyrian Empire (729-612 BC). Arab and Persian merchants are reported in the southern Chinese port of Guangzhou (Canton) in the 8th century AD. However, after Mahmud of Ghazni’s invasions of the Indus valley (997-1030), the Sword of Islam added a vigorous religious and political dimension to the commerce.

On his return to Venice from the court of Kublai Khan, Marco Polo noted in 1292 that Pasai in northern Sumatra had converted to Islam. The Sultan of Pasai, the first Muslim ruler on Sumatra, died in 1297 and Pasai returned under Majapahit’s Hindu ambit in 1350. Despite this reverse, Islam was moving steadily through the archipelago.

Islamic inscriptions in Malaya date from 1326. A Muslim scholar, Mukdum, from Malaya is reported in the Philippine’s Sulu archipelago in 1380. In 1400, the northern Sumatran province of Aceh converted to Islam.

When Majapahit captured the Sri Vijayan capital Palembang in 1377, a prince of the royal house, Parameshwara, escaped to Malaya. In 1402 he chose the choke point where the Straits of Malacca narrow to 53 km in width to found his new capital, Melaka. Parameshwara moved quickly to protect his fledgling state. He sent a mission to the Emperor Zhu Di (Yong Li) seeking Ming protection from his Majapahit enemies. Admiral Zheng He (Cheng Ho) arrived at Melaka in 1409 with the Ming’s Dragon Fleet. Parameshwara paid a personal visit to Beijing in 1411 to cement his alliance with the Ming Empire.

In the same year as a Muslim mission was attracting converts far to the east on Ambon in the Moluccas, Parameshwara announced his conversion to Islam in 1414 and proclaimed himself Sultan of Malacca. The appeal of Islam was strong. The Sultanate’s arch rival, Majapahit converted in 1447. Hindus who wanted to retain their faith were under siege. From mid-century on, Javanese Hindus concentrated on the island of Bali where they have succeeded in preserving their religion to the present day. In 1475 the Moluccan islands of Ternate and Tidore converted to Islam.

Through the 15th century the upstart Sultanate of Malacca grew from strength to strength. It successfully repelled overland and seaborne attacks from the Thai Empire in 1445 and 1456. The Sultan Mansur Shah put down the Thai’s peninsular allies Kedah and Pahang in 1459. Finally in 1498, by the efforts of its Admiral Hang Tuah, Malacca had secured the monopoly. All the trade in the Straits, and especially the spices from the Celebes and the Moluccas, moved under its protection and through its markets.

Considering that in over a thousand years, Buddhism and Hinduism had barely made an impression east of Borneo, for Islam to have travelled the length of the archipelago from Sumatra to the Moluccas in under two centuries is remarkable. As a religion, Islam had popular appeal. The Hindu and Buddhist religions had been used mainly to deify the rule of the Rajas. Islam offered its converts a personal salvation.

Islam was also carried with the mobility of the merchant community. The landed Hindu-Buddhist Rajas were content to let the trade come to them and tax it as it passed through their ports. Lacking a fixed land base, the Islamic merchants followed their commercial instincts knowing that the best profits on the trade were to be made at source. The trail of conversions led straight to the spices.

Perhaps most important of all, Islam brought with it gunpowder, firearms and cannon. Recalling how smartly the Sultan of Malacca accepted the new faith and how quickly others followed his lead, access to the new weapons may have been restricted to the faithful. The religion’s rapid progress through the islands may have been, at least in part, an arms race.

The year that the Sultanate of Malacca finally consolidated its hold on the Straits was fateful. That same year, Vasco da Gama rounded the Cape of Good Hope from Portugal with four ships, crossed the Indian Ocean and landed on 27 May 1498 at Calicut on the Malabar coast. Indian Hindus and Portuguese Christians shared in common a deep animosity for Islam. In 1510, Affonso de Albuquerque, the Viceroy of India, by treaty with Krishna Deva Raya, the Emperor of Vijayanagar, secured the port of Gao [sic] as a naval base for Portuguese operations in the Indian Ocean.

Albuquerque had already learned of Malacca’s strategic importance to the spice trade. The very next year, in 1511, he took with him eighteen Portuguese warships from Gao [sic] and ended the Sultanate of Malacca. The loss of Malacca shattered the Islamic trade network at a blow. From so far away, though, Portugal was operating at the very limit of its power and was never quite able to rebuild the trading network it had destroyed. Ten years later, the Portuguese were greatly alarmed to see Magellan’s flagship Victoria returning to Spain – westward from the Philippines.

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A New Homeland Lost to Each New Generation

Growing up, I was never aware of my uncles’ disaffection with Kim Il-sung: I was too young to imagine such a thing was possible. Looking back now, their transformation seems telling: the silence of one, the alcoholism of the other, my father’s sudden obsession with music. They were each running away from reality, avoiding the words that might indict the political system or, worse yet, the parents who had brought them to live in it. My father was learning all the popular international songs by heart. He knew “Nathalie” and “La Paloma.” To our great joy, he also sang us the famous “O Sole Mio.” I now realize this was his way of escaping the military marching music and the glory hymns to Kim Il-sung.

I mentioned that he had been married to a woman whose family also had returned from Japan. Many marriages took place within this immigrant community, which proves just how difficult integrating into Korean society really was. The former Japanese residents, especially the young ones, had grown up in a different culture. This made communication with North Koreans difficult. Neighbors and security agents never let slip an opportunity to remind them that they were no longer in Japan, that they should express less originality, that they should show more respect for the laws.

Having been exposed to the wider world, my parents, like most former Japanese residents, felt superior to the people who never left North Korea. Their payback was being viewed as strangers. The old enmity between Korea and Japan also played against us. To many people, my family’s former immigration to Japan seemed more important than its decision to come back. The family’s material advantages were also the cause of barely veiled jealousy. As part of the next generation, I always felt profoundly and unequivocally Korean–indeed, North Korean. Yet, even as a young child, I sensed the chasm that separated my parents from their neighbors. My mother’s accent, which bore traces of her years in Japan, was the cause of constant laughter among my friends. Every time she got home from work and called me back inside, they would mimic her voice, making me blush with embarrassment. Finally I asked her not to do it anymore. I think I hurt her feelings, but she didn’t say anything, and from then on, whenever she wanted me to come home, she walked over to where I was playing and gave me a little tap on the shoulder….

As the family’s situation worsened, Japan became an ever-expanding reservoir of idealized memories, nostalgic images, favorable dispositions. My family was once again a family of uprooted emigrants. That feeling of nostalgia is still in the family, but with every generation its object continues to shift. My grandfather lived in Japan full of longing for his native Cheju Island. My father lived in North Korea and was nostalgic for Japan. And me, I sit recalling my life’s story in Seoul, gnawed at by the Pyongyang of my youth.

SOURCE: The Aquariums of Pyongyang: Ten Years in the North Korean Gulag, by Kang Chol-hwan and Pierre Rigoulot, translated by Yair Reiner (Basic Books, 2001), pp. 32-34

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Japanese Soldier’s Diary, Okinawa, 13 September 1945

September 13, 1945 (Thurs.), clear and windy

We talked all day, half-believing and half-doubting what the pacification team members told us last night. I lay down alone and dozed. No matter how much we talked about it, without seeing the evidence the pacification team said they’d bring, conversation was pointless. I didn’t like talking.

It was around eight in the evening. The same two members of the pacification team who had come last night arrived with conclusive evidence of imperial Japan’s surrender.

First, letters from our war buddies in units that had been attacked and surrendered were distributed to each of us. The letters explained Japan’s unconditional surrender and urged us to surrender right away. Then they showed us copies of the “Potsdam Declaration,” which Japan had accepted; the emperor’s “Surrender Rescript”; and the “Surrender Instrument” from the deck of the USS Missouri. There also were orders from Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces, the top official overseeing the occupation of our country, and issues of the Asahi, Mainichi, and Yomiuri newspapers that had pictures and articles about the August 9 “Soviet Invasion of Manchuria,” the “Damage from the Atomic Bombs” dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the “Failed Suicide Attempt of Prime Minister Tojo.

The seven of us stared silently at the evidence–its meaning was all too clear. I felt as though my whole body had suddenly collapsed and I were being attacked by a dark loneliness.

Then after recovering from this feeling of loneliness, I was assailed by an inexpressible anger. Who or what in the world was the object of my anger? I couldn’t say.

I stamped my feet on the floor like a child and screamed words of anger. I felt the urge to run like a cannonball right into the center of the American camp.

In the end, even as I was being attacked by these violent feelings, I agreed with everyone else that we should surrender.

Frankly, even if I acted alone and raced out of the bunker, the surrender of Japan as an actuality wouldn’t change, and the mop-up operation the American troops would launch in the wake of such an action would be directed continuously at all the Japanese soldiers in the vicinity of the military field warehouse bunker.

Rather than rant and rage, I kept my thoughts to myself, left the group, and slowly walked to the back of the bunker.

SOURCE: Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese, by Samuel Hideo Yamashita (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2005), pp. 154-155

This soldier, Nomura Seiki of Kochi City on Shikoku, surrendered the next day, but didn’t retrieve his diary until later, after which he wrote a long and poignant account of his actions and feelings on his final day as a soldier of Imperial Japan. It was too long to excerpt here, but here’s his subsequent and final diary entry on 10 November 1945.

Today, with the help of American soldiers, I visited the field storage bunker at Shuri and was able to recover the diary I left in the back of the bunker the night before I surrendered on September 14. This was a wonderful find. I have followed and recorded my memories of that day that brought things to an end for me as a Japanese soldier, and this is the end of this diary.

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Marines (and Sox) on a Roll

Canada.com carries an AP report on Game 2 of the Japan Series.

TOKYO (AP) – Saburo Omura, Matt Franco and Lee Seung-yeop all homered in the sixth inning Sunday, leading Bobby Valentine’s Chiba Lotte Marines to a 10-0 win over the Hanshin Tigers in Game 2 of the Japan Series.

The Marines, bidding for their first Japan Series title in 31 years, take a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven championships.

After scoring single runs in the first two innings, the Marines blew the game open in the sixth with five runs.

Read that lede once again, savoring the names as they stumble off your tongue. Okay, now let’s compare the AP lede for Game 2 of the World Series in frosty Chicago.

CHICAGO Oct 24, 2005 — Scott Podsednik made it two electrifying home runs for the White Sox and two World Series wins. Podsednik’s home run off Brad Lidge in the ninth inning gave Chicago a thrilling 7-6 victory over the Houston Astros on Sunday night and put the White Sox halfway to their first World Series title in 88 years.

“I don’t think anyone in the ballpark was thinking about me hitting the ball out of the ballpark,” Podsednik said.

After yet another questionable umpiring call, Paul Konerko capped a momentous week with a seventh-inning grand slam on reliever Chad Qualls’ first pitch, giving the White Sox a 6-4 lead and sparking the crowd of 41,432 to life on a drizzly, dreary night.

A few old-fashioned MLB names there.

Just to rub it in, here’s a 2004 profile of the White Sox by the Yankeecentric YESNetwork‘s Steven Goldman.

THE BEST: Nothing. Okay, Paul Konerko, maybe Aaron Rowand, Shingo Takatsu.

THE WORST: A random starting rotation — pitchers to whom consistency is a dirty word, an outfield without much pop, a manager who thinks he’s living in the dead ball era. To be more specific, Orlando Hernandez won’t feel up to making a third of his starts, Jose Contreras will run up the white flag like he thinks the French Foreign Legion is attacking. Trading for Scott Posednik is risking getting exactly what you think you need, and Ozzie Guillen apparently slept through his entire career, which involved increasing numbers of baseballs being whacked over his head.

EX-GIRLFRIEND/BOYFRIEND: The one whose vanity far outweighed any realistic appraisal of their charms.

FINISH: Fourth in the Central.

And here’s YESNetwork contributor Will Weiss rubbing it in, too.

World Series showcases what could have been

Jose Contreras and Roger Clemens will start Game 1 of the World Series Saturday night in Chicago, Andy Pettitte will start Game 2 for the Houston Astros, and lurking in the Chicago White Sox’ bullpen is Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez.

And the Yankees will be watching them on TV like every other baseball fan.

Following Contreras’s complete-game, pennant-clinching victory for the White Sox in Anaheim, numerous message board threads on YESNetwork.com and other Yankeecentric Web sites popped up about the possibility of Contreras, El Duque, Andy Pettitte and Roger Clemens squaring off in the World Series. The Astros’ win in Game 6 of the NLCS in St. Louis made that notion a reality (Pettitte stood as the winning pitcher in Game 5, until Albert Pujols’ monster shot sent the series back to Busch Stadium).

Yankees fans have every right to stew at the fact that what could have been 80 percent of the 2004 rotation will have a say in who wins the World Series, albeit for teams not bearing an interlocking NY on their caps. A majority of fans might look at the postseason performances of Contreras, El Duque, Clemens and Pettitte, and the way they led the White Sox and Astros to the World Series and say, “This figures.” In Contreras’s case, countless fans said, “Where did this come from?”

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Diary of a Kyoto Civilian at New Year, 1945

December 31, 1944, Sunday
End-of-the-Year Thoughts

At long last, today is the last day of 1944, and when the new day dawns, we’ll greet 1945, the Year of the Rooster. The enemy attacks are a daily affair, and there’s no New Year’s spirit. I got up at eight, but there were no sounds of tatami being beaten [in the traditional New Year’s housecleaning].

The crowing of the neighborhood roosters is pathetic, as though their lives were being sucked to the bone.

Toshie and Haruko [daughters] put on their clogs and cleaned the planks laid out over the mud. Up until two years ago, as a morning exercise, they polished the area between the Iroha [billiards parlor] signs with oil until it was smooth, but in no time, this area, which guests were once reluctant to walk on in their shoes, had become muddied and dirty. It was New Year’s Eve, and not a single cent was owed me, no loans had to be repaid, no end-of-the-year gift to be given, and nothing coming in. When I thought about this strange, unprecedented sort of New Year’s Eve, I simply accepted the fact that it felt good, and that was enough.

New Year’s Day
Impressions of a Sweet Potato New Year

Wartime conditions have come to prevail with extraordinary speed, and the weak have become food for the strong. How will we survive in this harried world? The new year promises to be one filled with problems.

It was unusual, but even the enemy planes seemed to have some humanity. On New Year’s Day alone, we’re not worrying about air raids over our heads. First of all, although it was a small matter, there was mazetakimi rice, some bamboo shoots, and sake. I’m seventy-six, and although I’m of no value for the honorable country, today I realized my humanity, and it felt like an old-style New Year’s.

It was a sweet potato New Year’s. Otsuru [eldest daughter] must not be surprised. She went to a place about a mile east of Shimokameyama in Mie Prefecture to buy fifteen or sixteen loads of sweet potatoes. What made this possible was the fact that the potatoes were black market goods. We’ve developed good relations with the farm families, and we came to buy sweet potatoes at one kan [about 8 lbs.] for three yen; even with the train fare included, one kan cost only three yen, eighty sen.

When we eat glutinous rice [mochi], we have to sacrifice one month’s worth of rice, and as a rice substitute, the honorable sweet potato is full of nourishment. Under the circumstances, while both [daughter] Toshie and I are in the house, it’s strange for us, rather than Otsuru, to be searching for, and eating, food.

SOURCE: Leaves from an Autumn of Emergencies: Selections from the Wartime Diaries of Ordinary Japanese, by Samuel Hideo Yamashita (U. Hawai‘i Press, 2005), pp. 108-109

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Game Called on Account of Fog

Game 1 of the Japan Series was called in the seventh inning on account of fog, but the Chiba Lotte Marines were given the win because they were ahead 10-1 at the time. The Japan Times reports:

The game was interrupted by fog in the seventh inning as umpires pulled players off the field after Benny Agbayani’s two-run homer.

Almost 40 minutes later, home plate umpire Minoru Nakamura called the game.

Lotte’s Tomoya Satozaki, Agbayani and Lee Seung Yeop all homered, and Saburo Omura doubled in a pair of runs for the victors….

“It was too bad we didn’t get to play nine innings,” Lotte manager Bobby Valentine said. “[Starting pitcher] Shimizu was fantastic.”

Lotte’s powerful offense had little trouble putting runs on the board, as the Marines reached base in every inning.

Starting with the bottom of the fifth, Lotte scored in three straight innings, taking control of the game.

Good for the Marines. And good for the White Sox in the World Series. I hope Game 2 in Chicago is not called on account of snow.

UPDATE: The Japan Times also explains the frustrations of trying to keep up with either Japanese or American baseball on Japanese broadcast channels. (Frustrations other than the broadcast-channel tendency to end coverage exactly on the half-hour, even if it’s a tie game in the 9th inning with the top of the order due up to bat.)

This is 2005, the 21st century, the age of cable and satellite and, if you are a baseball fan looking to see the games live, but you don’t have extra-terrestrial reception capability, it is going to get worse.

Probably, within a few years, fewer and fewer games will be telecast on the conventional channels, and more and more will be on cable or satellite.

But, to look at it from the opposite angle, it is going to get better. It has gotten better. A lot better.

Go back about 25 years, and all we got on TV throughout Japan were the Tokyo Giants games, home and road, picked up an hour into the game and usually cut off long before the final out was recorded.

Today, if you have the right systems, you can get all six Japan pro baseball games any day of the season, from the first pitch all the way through the hero interview, even if the game goes 12 innings or five hours.

We can also get two or three MLB games per day during the season, all the playoff games and the World Series, live and in English.

What more do you want?

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