This newsletter was sent to everyone on Jim’s email list (2,515) on Friday, October 9, 2020.
This week’s point of gratitude came early in the week when we opened our beehives for the first time in three months and found lots of bees abiding there. The major challenge for a beekeeper these days is keeping the hives alive over winter and into the next spring. The first step to that goal is to have the hives as full of bees as possible going into the fall.
Having lots of bees in the hive at this point doesn’t guarantee success, but it’s like winning the first round of the playoffs. It lets you advance to the next round with a little bit of confidence. I’ll keep you posted.
Did you have a point of gratitude this week? If so, let us know. Meanwhile, have a great weekend.
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Why the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor: Hit first and hit hard (part 2)
The naval task force Striking Force consisting of six aircraft carriers carrying more than 400 planes slipped quietly out of harbor in the Kurile Islands and headed east southeast on November 26, 1941. Of the thousands of sailors on the carriers and accompanying destroyers, only a handful knew the true nature of the mission: bombing the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
There had been no declaration of war. Instead, there had been a long series of frustrating negotiations stretching back into 1940 when the United States refused to renew an agreement to sell oil to Japan in January 1940. The United States wanted Japan to pull its troops out of China, but Japan had invested heavily for nearly a decade, without much success, in conquering the Chinese. They couldn’t let go.
The real enemy — the one keeping Japan from realizing its greatness and gaining its rightful dominance of Asia — was the United States.
Despite many cultural and social exchanges, the United States had grown to be the chief antagonist of Japan’s many rightwing nationalistic factions during the previous 1920s and 1930s. These factions had never formed a broad political coalition, but they were aggressive to the point of violence, and they were often based in the middle ranks of Japan’s military officer corps.
When President Franklin Roosevelt let the oil trading agreement expire in 1940, the action infuriated these factions, and the clamor for an all-out confrontation increased. Many of Japan’s senior leaders, both in the military and in politics, realized the danger and the futility of making war on the United States, but they were often shouted down and accused of being unpatriotic.
One of the voices who would not be silenced was Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the commander of Japan’s combined fleet. Yamamoto had spent a good deal of time in the United States as a young man, and he knew the country very well. Time and again, he argued that the U.S. would not back down from a war with Japan and that its manpower and resources would eventually devastate his nation. He wrote:
As long as the tides of war are in our favor, the United States will never stop fighting. As a consequence, the war will continue for several years, during which materiel will be exhausted, vessels and arms will be damaged, they can be replaced only with great difficulties. Ultimately, we will not be able to contend with (the United States). As the result of war, the people’s livelihood will become indigent . . . and it is not hard to imagine the situation will become out of control. We must not start a war with so little chance of success. (Quoted in Toll, Pacific Crucible, page 119).
But the nationalists weren’t having it.
Increasingly, they ignored the realities that Yamamoto and others were trying to describe and fantasized about an all-powerful spirit in Japan that would carry it to victory even against great odds. Their fantasies were much more appealing than Yamamoto’s realities, and eventually, they won the argument. In 1941, the trade agreement talks were going nowhere, and the only alternative was war.
When Yamamoto realized that the argument was lost, he made one demand: he would plan the first attack on the U.S. The only possible path to victory, he argued, was to deal a devastating blow to the U.S. fleet in the Pacific, and the only way to do that was with a surprise attack. Powerful voices within the Navy wanted a fleet confrontation — ships against ships — but Yamamoto knew that the U.S. would not be drawn into such a battle on Japan’s terms. The only way was to hit first and hit hard.
Planning began in the spring of 1941, and it was meticulous and thorough. Pilots were specially trained in striking harbor-bound ships. Airstrikes of Italian harbors by the British were studied in detail. Getting the task force close enough to Hawaii without being spotted was an intelligence and logistical problem that had to be solved.
The negotiations with the U.S. took place in Washington, D.C. dragged on into the fall, but it was obvious there would be no agreement. Japan wanted the U.S. to stop aiding the Chinese; the U.S. wanted Japan to withdraw from China. By mid-November, Japan had made the decision to go to war, and Yamamoto’s final demand was that Japanese diplomats let Washington know that war had been declared at least one hour before his planes struck.
That deadline was not met, however, and the attack came as a complete surprise.
Photo: The USS West Virginia was hit by six torpedoes and two bombs during the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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.
Covering the infirm and the problematic – who happen to hold power
When you are a reporter on a beat, chances are you know things that you don’t report. They might be important things that are obvious to everyone who knows the beat you’re reporting. Things like:
— the mayor has a drinking problem, but it seems to rarely affect his actions;
— a police chief suffers from depression and misses a lot of days at work;
— a minister uses harsh and foul language about people in the congregation;
— a lawyer charges for the hours she spends in a bar.
The list could go on.
What happens when those people are in Washington, D.C., and they are officials in government. The New York Times has a short piece on this problem, focusing on reporter John Bresnahan, a veteran reporter for Politico who has written stories about such people that readers might consider “impolite.”
In 2017, Mr. Bresnahan and his colleague Anna Palmer wrote that the powerful Republican chairman of the Senate’s appropriations committee, Thad Cochran, was “frail and disoriented,” a story that sped his retirement. Last month, Mr. Bresnahan and Marianne LeVine reported that fellow Democrats were worried whether Dianne Feinstein was up to leading her side of the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings because she gets “confused by reporters’ questions, or will offer different answers to the same questiondepending on where or when she’s asked.” Source: How to Cover a Sick Old Man – The New York Times
One of the problems with this story is that it zeros in on elderly people and points to many septuagenarians and octogenarians in Washington who hold power.
So, if you read this story, I recommend that you do so with this thought in mind: There are lots of problematic people who have too much power, and they are not all people who have managed to accumulate a lot of birthdays.
The Prolific Reader. Kill the Quarterback is listed there along with some other great mysteries.https://theprolificreader.com/mystery”
Ian Rankin answers questions from The Guardian
Ian Rankin was supposed to be writing a Ph.D. dissertation on Muriel Spark. Instead, he was writing a novel.
Despite the first failed attempt, he kept on writing and doing what he had to do to sustain himself. He wanted to be a full-time writer, but before that happened, he worked as a grape picker, swineherd, taxman, alcohol researcher, hi-fi journalist, college secretary, and punk musician.
Rankin was born in Fife, Scotland, in 1960 and studied at the University of Edinburgh. Even though he lived in London for four years and in France for six, he never really left Scotland. He had been inspired by Scottish writers such as Robert Louis Stevenson and Muriel Spark.
He started out wanting to write the Great Scottish Novel but found that mystery and thriller books were more in his line of thinking. Thus, he created the memorable John Rebus, an Edinburgh detective hardened by alcohol and the dark side of life in that ancient city.
The first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, was published in 1986. The 23rd, A Song for Dark Times, will be out this month.
The Guardian has just published a short and delightful question and answer session with Rankin that includes this bit:
What is the worst thing anyone’s said to you?
“You’ve probably got it in you to write a serious novel, you know.” (A literary novelist at a book festival in The Hague.) Source: Ian Rankin: ‘I became a suspect in a real-life case while researching my first novel’ | Life and style | The Guardian
Rankin has won just about every award imaginable for a writer including a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Crime Writers Association. If you haven’t read any of his novels yet, start with the 2002 Resurrection Men (it won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America in 2004), and then go from there.
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: https://tennessee.zoom.us/j/99528787603
Please join us if you are interested.
Aubrey Moncrief, a medic attached to a Green Beret unit during the Tet offensive in 1968: https://youtu.be/OhgIJncL8mw
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.
Amy C.: My favorite is the 6 Bach Sonatas for unaccompanied cello. Especially played by Yo Yo Ma.
Vic C.: My parents had season tickets for the Philadelphia Orchestra starting in the year they married and passed their love for classical music on tome (and my two brothers). So, as soon as I saw the name Johann Sebastian Bach in your missive, I knew that I had to ask: Are you familiar with Peter Schickele? If not, I commend you to https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/
Finally . . .
Best quote of the week:
When I despair, I remember that all through history, the way of truth and love has always won. There have been murderers and tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible. But in the end, they always fall. Think of it, always. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi (1869-1948)
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 (UMCOR.org) 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.
His Amazon author page is where you can find more information about his books.
Last week’s newsletter: The birth of the selfie, why Japan bombed Pearl Harbor (part 1), and reader reactions: newsletter, October 2, 2020
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