The birth of the selfie, why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (part 1), and reader reactions: newsletter, October 2, 2020

October 4, 2020 | By Jim Stovall | Filed in: history, newsletter, watercolor, writers, writing.

This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,519) on Friday, October 2, 2020.

Johann Sebastian Bach is on my list of “things to be thankful for” this week. In fact, he’s not far from the top. Bach lived from 1685 to 1750 and was a composer of baroque-era music. He was also deeply spiritual, and his faith and belief in God are infused into his music. If you have never tried Bach or think that “classical” music isn’t your thing, give Bach a listen.

But don’t do it while you’re doing other things. Just sit and listen for 10 minutes. Don’t try to think about anything. Just listen. (My suggestion: Simone Dinnerstein’s Bach inventions, which you can easily find on Even if you don’t become a fan, you will be a richer person than you were 10 minutes before.

I hope that you have a rich, rewarding, and satisfying weekend.

Under the newsletter’s hood: Last week’s newsletter was sent to 2,521 subscribers and had a 28.0 percent open rate; 1 person unsubscribed.

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Why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor: a century of resentment combined with immediate fears (part 1)

Note: The information in this post comes chiefly from Ian Toll’s Pacific Crucible, the first book in Toll’s trilogy about World War II in the Pacific. Pacific Crucible was published in 2011. The Conquering Tide, the second volume, was published in 2015. The third volume, Twilight for the Gods, came out in September. All three are excellent recountings of that part of World War II, which, save for Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, does not get the attention it deserves.

Nowhere in the world — outside of New York and London — did the Roaring Twenties roar louder than it did in Tokyo.

Japanese young people loved jazz, they loved night clubs, and they loved to dress and act like Westerners. To be in Tokyo in the mid-twenties was much like being in Chicago or Philadelphia. The national government was moderate and tolerant, and the Japanese, like just about everyone else, were enjoying the peaceful aftermath of the excessively bloody Great War.

The Tokyo nightlife, however, was no more representative of Japanese society as a whole than Broadway was of American society. Outside of a few blocks in a few big cities, there was a people whose view of the world told another story entirely.

Japan had been shut out the Paris negotiations in 1919 that ended the war. Even though it had supported the Allies and was supposedly on the winning side, it had been treated as second-class citizens of the world. The treaty had imposed a severe limit on Japanese naval power. Although some in Japan viewed that limit with relief because it had helped the nation reduce the necessity of a large military budget, most Japanese saw it as yet another sign of the disrespect with which Westerners treated Asia — disrespect that stretched far back into the 19th century. 

These feelings of being treated as an inferior by the West were corrosive when mixed with the completely opposite belief of Japanese culture — that they were superior to all peoples, especially to those in Asia, and that they had once, in some mythological past, actually ruled the world. It would be up to the current generation to help Japan regain its rightful place in the world. This thinking became the motivating force for different parts of Japanese society, but it was particularly prevalent among young military officers.

The United States and Great Britain, within these groups and mixed with their thinking, were the chief enemies. They were the nations that were preventing Japan from regaining its dominance.

These nationalistic right-wing groups took advantage of the chaos of the politics of the late 1920s and used violence to suppress their opponents. In doing so, they slowly acquired enough political power to influence and in some cases direct the actions of the government. In 1931 a faction of mid-level army officers planned an attack and marched into Manchuria in China on the pretext of safeguarding Japanese citizens from attacks by Chinese nationalist “terrorists.” The League of Nations denounced the attack, but that did nothing to stop the advance of the Japanese forces.

It soon became evident that no political force within Japanese politics could stop nationalistic aggression if enough members of the armed forces chose to take action. In May 1932, a group of young naval officers broken into the home of the prime minister and murdered him, and their senior officers did nothing useful to punish them. A nominal group of civilians remained in office, but their power was gradually eroded by the actions of the military.

The full weight of the Japanese military came down on China in 1937, sparking a major war with Chinese Nationalists and Mao Tse-tung’s Communist forces. During this time, both the Army and the Navy had built up its forces far beyond the strictures of its treaty obligations, and the Japanese public was being propagandized to prepare itself for total war. In various ways, the public was being taught to hate the West and to take actions to “cleanse” society of Western influences. Even baseball, a highly popular sport, was denounced with the slogan, “To hell with Babe Ruth.”

The United States and Great Britain viewed all of these events, particularly Japan’s adventure in China, with alarm, and they used diplomatic and economic means to try to roll them back. Japan was a country with a dense population, little arable land, and few natural resources. Most of its oil came from the United States. When an oil trade agreement between the U.S. and Japan expired in January 1940, President Franklin Roosevelt refused to extend it. The U.S. also ended its trade in aviation fuel and scrap metal. Eventually, other materials were added to the list, and Japan felt the noose beginning to tighten around its ambitions.

Next: Why the  Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor: the decision to go to war (part 2)

What’s your timeline?

This quotation comes from Shane Parrish’s Farnham Street newsletter this week.

“If everything you do needs to work on a three-year time horizon, then you’re competing against a lot of people. But if you’re willing to invest on a seven-year time horizon, you’re now competing against a fraction of those people, because very few companies are willing to do that.” ― Jeff Bezos

Source: Brain Food No. 388 – – Gmail

The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.”

The birth of the selfie: NYT’s examination of Albrecht Dürer’s self-portrait, 1500

When did we become aware of ourselves and what we looked like?

We have been gazing at ourselves since the earliest humans saw their reflections in pools of water, but when did that aspect become important to artists and thus to ourselves?

One of the first artists to make the self-portrait something of high artistic importance was Albrecht Dürer, the German painter who lived from 1471 to 1528.

New York Times art critic Jason Farago examines Dürer as a self-portrait artist in an unusual web format that allows the viewer to roam around his 1500 self-portrait and examine it in minute detail. This was not Dürer’s only self-portrait by any means, but it is probably his best and most well-known. Farago writes:

Here begins a Renaissance conception of the self that has become so commonplace we don’t even notice it: the self as a subjective individual, the author of one’s own life story. And a modern conception, too, of what it means to be an artist. Source: Seeing Our Own Reflection in the Birth of the Self-Portrait – The New York Times

Albrecht Dürer was an artist of extraordinary skill, depth, and intellect. He is often cited among watercolorists as the first to use watercolors in a modern sense, but his skill in other mediums is so immense that this recognition is often ignored in short biographies that appear on the web.

Dürer’s most famous skill was that of printmaking. He single-handedly raised this form to a medium of high art and made himself rich in the process. His woodcut illustrations projected a level of detail never before achieved and are still a marvel to look at. His prints were produced in his shop where many artisans were in his employ, and they were marketed and sold all over Europe.

Dürer also wrote books about geometry, perspective, and the human form. Like Leonardo da Vinci, his range of interests and skills was astonishing, and his fame and friendships were almost limitless. As Jacob Wisse, professor at Stern College for Women, Yeshiva University, wrote in a brief review for the Metropolitan Museum of Art:

The artist also cast a bold light on his own image through a number of striking self-portraits—drawn, painted, and printed. They reveal an increasingly successful and self-assured master, eager to assert his creative genius and inherent nobility, while still marked by a clear-eyed, often foreboding outlook. They provide us with the cumulative portrait of an extraordinary Northern European artist whose epitaph proclaimed: “Whatever was mortal in Albrecht Dürer lies beneath this mound.”

Illustration: A woodcut of Durer’s Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.

Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable, Monday, Oct. 12: Join us

The Tennessee Vietnam War Roundtable is a monthly online meeting of those interested in what happened in Vietnam. Each month we hear from someone who served in Vietnam and through the good offices of Zoom we are able to ask questions and talk with each other about it. The meetings are always on the second Monday of each month, and we have been recording those meetings and putting them on YouTube.

Our next meeting will be this Monday, Oct. 12, at 7 p.m. ET. Our featured speaker will be Denny Carlisle. Denny was a Navy electronics technician, and among other duties his primary responsibility was maintaining and operating drone anti-submarine helicopters. He served on two cruises in the Western Pacific, one 9-month deployment beginning in September 1965, the second beginning in November 1966.

The Zoom link for the meeting is:

Please join us if you are interested.

Here’s a list of featured speakers and YouTube videos that we have produced so far:

Billy Minser, an artillery officer who was a forward observer for a combat unit in Vietnam and Cambodia: and

Bill Beaty, an attack pilot for the U.S. Navy who flew more than 150 missions in Vietnam: and

Aubrey Moncrief, a medic attached to a Green Beret unit during the Tet offensive in 1968:

I hope that you can take the time to watch one of these videos, give it a thumbs-up, and make a comment. That helps our visibility on YouTube.


Kate C. (from Australia): We too, are getting used to wearing masks. I am going to hate summer this year. I am allowed out to have blood tests and nothing else. My daughter shops online and minds me while my gorgeous husband drives 45 mins each way to do local shopping, & pick up the mail. All Kingdom Halls are closed,  which we did before governments closed the churches. Lots of spiritual food is still provided, courtesy of zoom and Anyone can look at the great  and well-balanced articles and videos on that site. NO tracking either!

I have had more good company this winter than ever before, due to zoom. Usually, my doctor throws me into isolation every winter, & I hang off a dodgy phone line to listen to talks on the meetings.  I LOVE ZOOM! I hope it keeps going when the pandemic is over, though my doctor doesn’t think I can ever risk contagion again. These sort of things are a result of prophecy, so in some, ways expected, but still somewhat scary for those who don’t believe in the bible.I hope it is safe where you are. Stay positive, Jim. 
Glynn W.: Nize! Especially on Hans Brinker, who haunted my semi-tropical childhood in LA (Louisiana).

Rick N.: RE: H.L. Mencken article, had to dig out the thesaurus: trope; agglutination; pedantic. Keep the stories coming, please.

Marcia D.: Think that I will re-read Masquerade by Gayle Lynds.

I love baseball.
 We can still smell the smoke from our fires in Washington State.
 Vic C.: As usual, you provide an enjoyable break from the rigors of computing (and washing dishes and putting away stuff, and changing the cat litter) and also perk up my memory.  To wit, H. L. Mencken coined the word “ecdysiast” and, if only for that reason alone, will forever be enshrined in the dusky and dusty halls of my memory.

Finally . . .

This week’s watercolor (with graphite): The Cello Player

Best quote of the week:

There is always more goodness in the world than there appears to be, because goodness is of its very nature modest and retiring. Evelyn Beatrice Hall, biographer (1868-1956)

Helping those in need

Fires in California, hurricanes on the Atlantic Coast, tornados in Tennessee, and now coronavirus — disasters occur everywhere. They have spread untold misery and disruption. The people affected by them need our help.

It’s not complicated. Things happen to people, and we should be ready to do all the good we can in all of the ways we can. (Some will recognize that I am paraphrasing John Wesley here).

When is the last time you gave to your favorite charity? The United Methodist Committee on Relief ( is my favorite charity. Please make a contribution to this one or to yours.

Keep reading, keep writing (especially to me), and have a great weekend.


Jim Stovall

You can connect with Jim on FacebookTwitterLinkedin, and BookBub.

His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.

Last week’s newsletter:

The writing of Hans Brinker, Gayle Lynd’s long journey, and a Walter Mosley short story: newsletter, September 25, 2020



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