Category Archives: U.S.

Afghanistan’s Early Attempts to Modernize

From Afgantsy: The Russians in Afghanistan 1979-89, by Rodric Braithwaite (Oxford U. Press, 2011), Kindle Loc. 220-258:

Abdur Rahman’s successors attempted to push Afghanistan further along the path of modernisation. His son Habibullah (1872–1919) was assassinated in 1919 and succeeded by Amanullah (1892–1960), who took advantage of British weakness at the end of the Great War to invade India. The British bombed Kabul and Jalalabad and drove the invaders back. Neither side had much stomach for the war, and it fizzled out after a month. The British ceased both their subsidies and their control of Afghan foreign policy. Amanullah promptly opened a fruitful relationship with the new Bolshevik government in Moscow – the first foreign government to do so.

He then embarked on an ambitious programme of reform in imitation of the secularising reforms of Atatürk in Turkey. He established a Council of Ministers, promulgated a constitution, decreed a series of administrative, economic and social reforms, and unveiled his queen. His plans for the emancipation of women, a minimum age for marriage, and compulsory education for all angered religious conservatives and provoked a brief rebellion. Tribesmen burned down the royal palace in Jalalabad and marched on Kabul. In 1929 Amanullah fled into exile in Italy.

Nadir Shah (1883–1933), a distant cousin of Amanullah, seized the throne, reimposed order, but allowed his troops to sack Kabul because he had no money to pay them. He built the first road from Kabul over the Salang Pass to the north and continued a cautious programme of reform until he was assassinated in 1933.

His son Zahir Shah (1914–2007) reigned from 1933 to 1973. This was the longest period of stability in Afghanistan’s recent history, and people now look back on it as a golden age. Reform continued. A parliament was elected in 1949, and a more independent press began to attack the ruling oligarchy and the conservative religious leaders.

In 1953 Zahir Shah appointed his cousin Daud (1909–78) as prime minister. Daud was a political conservative but an economic and social reformer. For the next ten years he exercised a commanding influence on the King. He built factories, irrigation systems, aerodromes and roads with assistance from the USSR, the USA, and the German Federal Republic. He modernised the Afghan army with Soviet weapons, equipment, and training.

In 1963 Zahir Shah got rid of Daud to appease conservatives infuriated by his flirtations with the left and the Soviets. But the King continued with the policy of reform. He introduced a form of constitutional monarchy with freedom of speech, allowed political parties, gave women the vote, and guaranteed primary education for girls and boys. Women were allowed to attend the university and foreign women taught there. Ariana Airlines employed unveiled women as hostesses and receptionists, there were women announcers on Kabul Radio, and a woman was sent as a delegate to the United Nations.

During all these years, the educational system was systematically developed, at least in the capital city. Habibia College, a high school modelled on an elite Muslim school in British India, was set up in Kabul in 1904. Amanullah sent many of its students to study in France and elsewhere in Europe. A School of Medicine was inaugurated in 1932, followed by faculties of Law, Science, Agriculture, Education, and Engineering, which were combined into a university in 1947. Most of the textbooks and much of the teaching were in English, French, or German. A faculty of Theology was founded in 1951 linked to the Islamic University of Al-Azhar in Cairo. In 1967 the Soviet Union helped establish a Polytechnic Institute staffed largely by Russians. Under Zahir Shah’s tolerant regime student organisations were set up in Kabul and Kandahar.

Daud rapidly expanded the state school system. Between 1950 and 1978 numbers increased by ten times at primary schools, twenty-one times at secondary schools, and forty-five times at universities. But the economy was not developing fast enough to provide employment for the growing numbers of graduates. Many could find jobs only in the rapidly expanding government bureaucracy. Salaries, already miserable, lost half their real value in the 1960s and 1970s. The good news – though not for conservatives – was that about 10 per cent of this expanded bureaucracy were women.

The American scholar Louis Dupree called Kabul University ‘a perfect breeding ground for political discontent’. It was in the universities that Afghanistan’s first political movements were created. A Communist Party, the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan, was set up in 1965 by Nur Mohamed Taraki, Babrak Karmal (1929–96), and Hafizullah Amin, all of whom were to play a major role in the run-up to the Soviet invasion. A number of students who were later to become prominent in the anti-Communist and anti-Soviet struggle also fledged their political wings there: Rabbani (1940–), Hekmatyar (1947–), Abdul Rasul Sayyaf (1946–), and Ahmad Shah Masud (1953–2001) all studied together in Kabul University. Students rioted in 1968 against conservative attempts to limit the education of women. In 1969 there were further riots, and some deaths, when high school students protested against the school management. The university was briefly closed.

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Axis vs. Allied Casualties on D-Day

From The Germans in Normandy, by Richard Hargreaves (Pen and Sword, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1390-96:

The rapid success of the invasion, particularly at Utah, Gold and Sword, prompted taunts from the British propaganda machine. The German Army in the west had been taken by surprise, radio reports boasted. ‘The English reported that German soldiers had to be hauled out of their beds in their bedclothes.’ The price of the Allies’ precarious foothold on French soil was fewer than 5,000 casualties. ‘Bloody’ Omaha cost the Americans 2,400 dead, wounded and missing, but the invading forces at Utah suffered fewer than 200 dead. The British lost 400 men at Gold, a further 630 troops were casualties at Sword, and the Canadians at Juno suffered 1,200 casualties. The German Army lost at least as many men defending the beaches and landing grounds that Tuesday.

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Eastern Troops Defending Normandy, 1944

From The Germans in Normandy, by Richard Hargreaves (Pen and Sword, 2006), Kindle Loc. 388-405:

Germany had suffered casualties nearing four million, three out of four of them on the Eastern Front. 1943 had been a punishing year in Russia. Since July alone, Germany had lost more than 1,200,000 men. The losses could not be made good. Even after stripping Italy and especially France, even after sending more than a quarter of a million men from the training schools, even after sending wounded men back to the front, the German Army in Russia still found itself more than 300,000 short.

Short of men in the east, short of men in the west, Germany turned to desperate measures to fill its thinning ranks. Hitler was convinced the rear areas, supply depots, offices and administrations would prove to be a rich source of untapped manhood. He ordered every division, every naval and Luftwaffe unit to comb out men who could be spared duties behind the lines so they could be sent to the front. But combing out the Wehrmacht could not solve all its ills. The losses had simply been too great. In 1943, the German military machine began calling up seventeen and eighteen year olds and relying more and more heavily on foreign ‘volunteers’: Volksdeutsche – ethnic Germans, born outside the Fatherland; Freiwillige – foreign volunteers sympathetic to the Nazi cause – and Hilfswillige or ‘Hiwis’ – auxiliaries, usually Russians or Poles pressed into military service from the occupied territories or recruited from the millions of prisoners of war wasting away in German camps. With the war turning against the Wehrmacht in the east, it was no longer safe to use anti-Bolshevik Russians on the Eastern Front. From the autumn of 1943 onwards, the High Command steadily began swapping German troops behind the Atlantic Wall for these so-called Osttruppen – eastern troops. By the spring of 1944, one in six infantry battalions along the Atlantic Coast was composed of Osttruppen and foreign volunteers – Russians, Poles, Italians, Hungarians, Romanians, Ukrainians among them. On the eastern coast of the Cotentin peninsula, 709th Infantry Division was typical of the second-rate divisions defending the west in 1944. One in five in its ranks was a volunteer from the east. Its commander, Karl Wilhelm von Schlieben, was sceptical. ‘We are asking rather a lot if we expect Russians to fight in France for Germany against Americans.’

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D-Day Surprise: No Horses!

From D DAY Through German Eyes – Wehrmacht Soldier Accounts of June 6th 1944, by Holger Eckhertz (DTZ History, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1399-1420:

In the afternoon, the English, I recall, insisted for some reason on sending a German-speaking English army priest in among us [German prisoners] to listen to any spiritual concerns we had; this was met with derision. I still recall the face of the army priest, who was very angry at his reception. We heard explosions and detonations from inland and from the beach throughout the day, and naval bombardments from offshore, the shells of which travelled over us with a sound like an express train going past, and always the sound of engines: planes, tanks and trucks, never stopping for a moment.

In the evening, we were taken out of the square and led to the beach. The guards made no attempt to blindfold us or to prevent us seeing the situation. The scale of the operation then became clear to us all, and most of us fell completely silent at what we witnessed.

The sea wall area was being worked on with armoured bulldozers, creating a huge ramp for vehicles to drive up. There were many destroyed vehicles and tanks, some still burning. I saw my bunker, which was collapsed in the frontal part, over the 88mm embrasures; there was smoke drifting from the rubble.

The beach was completely full of transports, including many vehicles we had not seen and we did not even know how to describe: amphibious trucks, tanks with flotation screens, enormous landing craft that were unloading whole columns of jeeps and tanks, directly onto the sand. The English had already cleared a wide lane through the beach obstacles – how they did that so quickly, I have never understood, perhaps with linked explosive charges – and this lane was an absolute highway on the wet sand and out into the sea itself. There were still many bodies, which were lined in large groups on the sand and partly covered with tarpaulins; despite our lack of religion, many of our men crossed themselves as we passed these.

One thing in particular struck many of us as amazing: all along the beach, there were no horses!

This was a surprise for you?

Yes, we found it astonishing. This huge army had brought with it not one single horse or pack-mule! All their transport was mechanised. It may sound bizarre today, but this impressed us greatly, showing that the Allies had no need of horses anymore, as they had such huge oil resources and production capacity. Because, of course, the German armies used horses for transport on quite a large scale right up until the end of the war, due to limited fuel and constraints on mechanised vehicle production. Every German unit had its stables and veterinarian officer, and here were these English without that need at all. For us, this symbolised the Allied capabilities.

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Defending “United Europe” on D-Day

From D DAY Through German Eyes – Wehrmacht Soldier Accounts of June 6th 1944, by Holger Eckhertz (DTZ History, 2015), Kindle Loc. 1032-49:

Did you have any personal animosity towards the Anglo-Americans?

My brother and cousin had both been killed in the East, at Kharkov, so my animosity lay more in that direction. Ironically, we had a large contingent of Russian troops with us on the Atlantic wall, who were defectors now serving in the German forces, but I had no real contact with them.

As for the English, my father had been in France in 1917 to 1918, and he confided to me that the English were surprisingly similar to us Germans in personal character, but that as a fighting force they were inconsistent, with many brave men but also a big element of shirkers and black market operators. Regarding the Americans, I think that most of us soldiers made a distinction in our minds between the American government, which we believed was a pawn of international finance, and the Americans as individuals. After all, we had all seen US films and magazines before the war, we had read about cowboys and heard jazz music, and all this was exciting and very attractive to us. But despite all this, we knew that the Americans too were intent on attacking France and destroying the unification of Europe under German protection that our leadership had achieved.

This is interesting. The phrase ‘Fortress Europe’ is still widely remembered today, I think, as part of Reich propaganda at the time, but you have reminded me that the phrase ‘United Europe’ was equally common.

Of course it was. Of course. ‘United Europe’ was a universal slogan. We should remember that both the Wehrmacht and the Waffen SS had huge recruitment campaigns in all the countries under Reich control, with the emphasis that people from all the countries of Europe should unite under arms and defend European unification. If we look at the Waffen SS, we see these very effective non-German units from all over Europe: the French, the famous Belgian-Walloon people under Leon Degrelle, the Dutch, Norwegians, the Croat Muslims with their ‘SS’ emblems on their fez hats, and so on and so on. There was a definite sense that Europe was united under the Reich, and an attack on France would be an attack on the whole structure.

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Okinawa Under U.S. Occupation, 1945–1972

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 554-556:

The [Okinawa] occupation of 1945–1972 was characteristically American: often generous in personal ways and in response to individual cases of hardship, usually ignorant of and insensitive to native ways and needs. When Commodore Perry forced Okinawans to satisfy his “reasonable” demands almost a century earlier, he was certain they would appreciate the “lenity and humanity” of American laws. Now Americans who paid wages to civilian employees and distributed free rations – the only antidote to mass starvation – were similarly convinced of their traditional magnanimity, especially when billions of dollars were poured into the economy in support of operations for the Korean War and other anti-Communist measures. Some of the medical assistance and scholarship grants to top students were indeed admirable. But the twenty-seven years until the occupation ended brought far more shame than honor to Washington and the men in the field who followed or ignored official intentions.

Japanese-speaking naval officers, some former professors trained in Asian studies and occupation affairs, did good work during the first year or so. But the quality of the occupation plunged when responsibility for it was transferred more fully to the Army, most of whose senior officers knew nothing about their jobs and hardly cared to learn: civil administration was considered a sidetrack from line duty and its promotion. Pentagon officials changed almost as rapidly as occupation personnel. Okinawan duty was considered undesirable enough to be threatened as punishment for “goof-ups” elsewhere in the Pacific. The island became notorious among Americans as a place of exile from the Japanese mainland – a veritable Siberia, as George Kerr called it, known as “the Rock” and “the end of the line” – incompetent colonels and civilian bureaucrats, rather as Tokyo had sent down second-rate administrators for decades before the war.

Soon only a few overseas eccentrics gave a damn about the remote possession. Resuming their civilian lives in the postwar boom, veterans in the States knew nothing about the abysmal conditions on the island. The vacuum of public interest and accountability allowed the generally negligent and incapable performance of the Army’s secondary occupational functions to go unnoticed. The occupation force was composed not of combat troops who had seen at least a portion of the 1945 calamity but of “callow youth,” as one of their officers called them, who were “demanding [their] creature comforts from the armed services.” Or from the Okinawans, just under a hundred of whom they robbed, raped, otherwise assaulted and murdered during the first six months of 1949 alone: predictable distractions of occupation troops banished to the impoverished island.

Those youths felt condescension or scorn for the primitives eking out an existence without commerce or currency. Especially during the first years after the war, when family land was the sole source of self-support and the Army paid no compensation for its appropriations for the military use, scavenging natives lived in miserable poverty, some in areas ravaged by malaria, all in deep shock and bewilderment. The island became a heap of war surplus and smelly junk. A witness described an Assistant Secretary of the Army as “flabbergasted with what he saw” during an unannounced inspection in 1949. Some of the worst outrages were remedied, but native hardship remained severe until the late 1950s.

Destitute Okinawans looked back at the war as confirmation that the island’s salvation lay in pacifism. Not all regretted having fought for Japan, especially some of the young and the elite. But a handful of exceptions proved the rule of enormous regret and corresponding mistrust of everything military. If most Japanese turned fervently antimilitarist after the war, most Okinawans, whose losses made the [Japanese] 32nd Army’s destruction seem almost slight by comparison, did so with stronger feeling.

The proportionally greater damage was followed by slower reconstruction. While Japan was gearing up for economic recovery in the 1950s, Okinawa remained in pathetic poverty, partly owing to the unconcerned, incompetent American generals who conducted a more rigid and repressive occupation than on the mainland, where neon was installed and diplomatic niceties with the Imperial Palace reintroduced. The real business of Okinawa’s governors was to run America’s defense installations, not to care for the natives. Thus traditionally peaceful Okinawa fare worse during the occupation than the historically militarist mainland, which American personnel had no notion of running as one big military base. Those least responsible for the war that hurt them most were also punished afterward.

In 1971, Berlin was the only other major area under occupation as a residue of World War II. When the Ryukyus reverted to Japan the following year, maintenance of America’s bases was central to the deal, which included additional secret arrangements for the two powers to trade Okinawan favors. (Japanese officials assured American generals they could have far greater freedom of action there than on the mainland.) To Americans, those bases have great emotional as well as military significance. Many veterans were understandably angered by the return of Okinawa’s dearly bought 875 square miles to the former enemy. After the loss of so much American blood, the Pentagon’s wish to remain is understandable.

But by this measure, the loss of incomparably more Okinawan blood there makes the Okinawans’ wish for the Pentagon to leave more reasonable. Native anti-Americanism is a political, not a personal, phenomenon: most Okinawans tend to like Yanks in general, and perhaps feel easier with them than with Japanese. But they abhor the beast in their midst, the largest concentration of American military force outside the continental United States.

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Surrenders Rise on Okinawa, June 1945

From Tennozan: The Battle of Okinawa and the Atomic Bomb, by George Feifer (Ticknor & Fields, 1992), pp. 484-485, 519-520, 548-550:

In mid-June, a week before the official end of the campaign, Japanese began surrendering in sizable numbers. Until then, the average had been four men daily. Many American companies fought for eight or ten weeks without taking a single prisoner. Many saw no enemy soldiers at all apart from dead – certainly never saw one try to surrender or allow himself to be taken unless he was physically or mentally disabled by bombs or artillery shells. But the 32nd Army’s teetering morale [after their withdrawal from the Shuri Line] began going over the edge in some units whose last lines of communication were gone. White flags, or substitutes, became a common sight….

The daily average rose from the four in mid-June to fifty during the third week of the month, soaring to 343 on June 19 alone, a huge number by Japanese standards. One four-man patrol captured 150 prisoners after their officers bowed, surrendered their swords, shot some Okinawan women who had been accompanying them, and killed themselves. In all, almost three thousand Japanese were taken prisoner during the second half of June, about a third of the number killed during the same period….

Such surrenders were new in Japanese history. Although the percentage remained very slight in relation to those killed in action, the absolute count leaped to nearly a thousand – probably half of them conscripted Okinawans – on June 20 and 21. That was the number of prisoners taken. The number shot will never be known….

It is worth repeating that Japanese who wanted to capitulate faced perhaps a greater chance of of being killed by Japanese bullets than American, and General Buckner’s men came to realize that when they saw Japanese throw grenades at other Japanese who carried surrender leaflets. One Japanese lieutenant who had graduated from an Ivy League college gave himself up with one of his sergeants. Soon a sniper started firing, apparently more at them than at the Marines to whom they surrendered. The Japanese calmly took the fire until one of the Marines to whom they surrendered told “you dumb bastards” to take cover, whereon they did what they were ordered and were saved.

Language provided moments of comic relief. At one large cave thought to contain natives [Okinawans], bullhorns insistently blared that no one with his hands up would be hurt. “We’re sorry for you civilians, so please come out right now.” Finally, women, children and old men did emerge. The cave mouth was on a slope below a small plateau. Gripping his weapon in one hand, a Marine Hercules stood above the mouth to snatch the civilians with the other and lift them, one by one, to level ground. “Up you go, Mac.” “That’s right, Mac, out you come.” When a Japanese [soldier] appeared at the mouth, the trigger fingers of the Marine fire team instantly tightened on their rifles and automatics. “Easy, Mac, no trouble – okay?” proposed the big Marine. “My name’s not Mac,” the Japanese soldier answered in startlingly clear English. “My name’s Yoshio and I’d rather be in Texas, where I should be.” To the astonishment of the watchers, who included General Lemuel Shepherd, commander of the 6th Marine Division, Yoshio explained that he had traveled from his San Antonio home to visit Japanese relatives in 1941. This was his first friendly contact with Americans since Pearl Harbor stranded him in Japan, where he had been drafted.

Kojo finally reached his cave on some high ground about five miles north of Shuri in the dark of an early September night. Overjoyed to see each other alive, the two twenty-four-year-old captains held hands while Shimura announced he was going to surrender that morning. The war, he explained, was over; Japan had been defeated.

Kojo went into shock. Staring at Shimura, he thought of his months of hunger, misery, and frantic efforts to stay alive in order to reach his trusted comrade. When he fought off his faintness, he still could not formulate an answer. Shimura quietly elaborated that he felt he must obey the Emperor’s will and an Imperial order. “You’re right,” Kojo replied at last. “You have three hundred men to feed and you should surrender. But I’m responsible only for myself. I’m going on alone.” Part of him believed that Japan was defeated; a stronger part could not accept it….

More months passed in the dark of various caves. Later in the autumn, Okinawa’s civilians freed from their internment ventured into one of them. Kojo almost shot them for trying to persuade the men to surrender, but he realized other civilians would report them sooner or later. Sure enough, a jeep appeared before he had time to find another hiding place. The search party consisted of an American driver, two Nisei interpreters and a Japanese officer using an assumed Okinawan name. They spoke in a friendly way about the end of the war and the folly of further resistance. Kojo stood apart when a second visit convinced most inhabitants of the cave they would not be killed if they submitted. The men had an absolute right to surrender, but he had his own code.

However, something intrigued him about an enemy who conducted himself without the slightest hint of a victor’s haughtiness or display of superiority, even in weaponry. Maybe the truck that accompanied the jeep hid a machine gun, but the curiously relaxed Americans didn’t carry even pistols. Kojo had never seen a “blue-eyed devil” outside of combat…

He was prepared for Americans flourishing guns and for insults to his honor. He would have shot anyone like that who entered the cave, then shot himself – but would such a display make sense now? The first party had asked the stragglers to please give up their weapons. Some now did; others had buried theirs. Kojo told himself it was the responsibility of the senior Japanese present to observe closely. He inched closer. Then, in a kind of daze, he handed his pistol to an American lieutenant outside – which the latter returned, asking him to unload it. Was he an enemy or a wiser man? Kojo’s realization of how easily he could have shot the lieutenant forced him to accept that the war had ended. He returned the pistol to the American, who invited him into the jeep. After five months of nocturnal existence, the sunlight blinded him. When the men were in the truck, all were driven to a military police post and [given] cigarettes, then to a POW camp in the north.

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