Fist Of History

December, 2012Archive for

South Carolina just won’t learn

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

To begin this is in response to an article posted on Huff Post regarding South Carolina and a bill introduced in the state to nullify the Healthcare Reform Act (Obama Care) – which I find hilarious because it shows that South Carolina just will not give up on the idea that a state has the right to nullify a federal law it dislikes or considers unconstitutional.  In particular the last time this came up was in 1833 with the Nullification Crisis which featured the federal government of the United States and South Carolina coming head-to-head over a tariff bill.  In very short the federal government had followed a protective tariff policy to protect United States manufacturing from European competition.  This in turn hurt many economies in the southern states because they relied on an open world export market for their agricultural products (cotton) which were competitive in part due to very low Southern labor costs (slaves.)  US tariffs to protect manufacturing lead to protective tariffs in other nations against US exports and that hurt South Carolina economically.  So from 1828 to 1832 South Carolina got increasing agitated that these tariff rates were not being lowered, culminating in it passing a Nullification Act declaring that the tariff act was unjust, improper, unconstitutional, and void – oh and also if the US government attempted to use force to collect the tariffs then South Carolina would secede from the Union.

See the guy at the top of this post?  That is Andrew Jackson, a president with a fine legal mind, a delicate understanding of political balancing, and also an incredible urge to not take crap from anyone about anything…ever.  He met this with his own policy – one of pushing a compromise tariff bill through Congress to calm South Carolina down, a message to the people of South Carolina that basically said “you are being stupid, stop it”, a message to Congress and the nation rejecting the idea of Nullification as a concept, and also the Force Bill.  The Force Bill was an act to Congress asking for approval to send in troops if South Carolina didn’t calm the hell down.  Despite steamy rhetoric from South Carolina about “the filthy footsteps of invaders” calm reigned supreme in the end and the matter dropped, although Nullification was seen as a dead letter concept by most legal scholars.  (As it also was after other things like the McCulloch v. Maryland ruling of 1819 – really short version – US Congress sets up a national bank, Maryland puts a special tax on it to drive it out of business, Supreme Court says a) Congress can do things like that, just and necessary clause and b) Maryland stop being stupid.)  But now I’d like to introduce you to another bad ass President that also dealt with southern states refusing to abide by federal laws:

That is Dwight D. Eisenhower – 1950s US President, former Supreme Allied Commander, and total bad ass on state nullification and defiance.  In 1954 the US Supreme Court ruled in Brown vs the Board of Education that schools had to be integrated and “separate but equal” violated African-American civil rights.  The state of Arkansas decided it wasn’t going to have any of that nonsense in its borders and when a high school in Little Rock attempted to integrate the governor of Arkansas sent in national guard troops to prevent integration.  At which point, at the request of the Mayor of Little Rock, Eisenhower nationalized the Arkansas guard units and sent in the 101st Airborne Division.  (In state nullification terms I see this personally as “I’ll see your crazy and raise you.”)  It ended after a tense year standoff but was one major conflict in the ongoing battle between segregationists/state rights advocates and those that believed in integration/federal authority.

I close with the famous quote by James L. Petigru about his own state, South Carolina – “South Carolina is too small for a republic and too large for an insane asylum.”

Sources:  Wikipedia on the Little Rock Nine, McCulloch v. Maryland, and the Nullification Crisis

Pearl Harbor – an overlooked reasons for its success

Monday, December 10th, 2012

Pearl Harbor, for the United States, sparked a wave of blame after the attack destroyed the battleships stationed there and wrecked the units of the US Army Air Corp and US Naval Aviation located on station at the base.  Probably one of the most common conspiracy theories tossed around is that President Roosevelt knew the attack was imminent but allowed it to proceed without warning the fleet so that he would have a casus belli against the Japanese Empire.  I won’t spend a lot of time trying to debunk this theory, it to my eye is sufficient to point out that had Roosevelt wanted to spark a war a massive engagement with Japan was a) the wrong war and b) he sacrificed the wrong ships by the dominant naval theory of the late 1930s/early 1940s.  As well by 1941 Roosevelt was already working on provoking a new US military engagement by playing footsie with Nazi Germany in an undeclared submarine/destroyer fight in the Atlantic Ocean.  Other faults or breakdowns in intelligence planning are also blamed for Pearl Harbor, a good search online will find plenty of them, I’d like to focus in this entry on a particular oversight that is generally overlooked in what happened on 7 December 1941 and to my eye was instrumental in the devastating success of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

The fact it was Sunday.

See prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, and even today to a real extent, Sunday was a day of rest for the US military, a day of light duty, sleeping in, attending religious services, and otherwise resting from the stressful and demanding other six days of labor in the military.  I do not fault those in the military for their urge to have a day off, the fault lies in the fact that the military had a practice of really allowing the the day of rest to strip down on-duty military personnel to extremely low levels.  Soldiers who got leave would head out and party on Saturday night knowing they would be able to sleep in on Sunday morning, minimal staffing was kept in place for Sunday to provide command and control of the military, patrols were light on the harbor itself, and no aircraft were put up that morning to patrol.  What makes this particularly inexcusable is that the US military was on a war risk alert prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, granted several assumptions made people complacent regarding any risk to Pearl itself but even then – the guard of the US military was incredibly low for that Sunday.  A couple of additional facts to further expand why this failing, of all of them, is probably the least excusable:

– The Japanese military knew about this weakness in US military planning and their attack hinged on it.  The Japanese chose to attack on Sunday precisely because they knew the US military would be having a siesta on any Sunday selected and their odds of winning a smashing success were much higher in that case.

– The original Japanese plan was to give us a half-hour warning prior to the attack – despite people arguing that Japan delayed its declaration of war delivery to the United States to make Pearl Harbor more successful at this point we actually have the records and Japan really did intend to give us a thirty minute warning prior to their attack that was was declared.  This was partially to abide by international law but it was also because the Japanese high command didn’t think that on a Sunday, even with a thirty minute warning, the US military could pull itself together enough to mount a real defense of Pearl Harbor.

Many things made Pearl Harbor a devastating blow for the United States but one overlooked factor was the tradition of the Sunday rest in the US military – a tradition that the Japanese military was able to exploit to devastating effect.

Tune back in later for Part III on Pearl Harbor, were we look at the United States response.

Pearl Harbor – a Japanese Victory

Friday, December 7th, 2012

“December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy” – a powerful speech delivered on 8 December 1941 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to the joint chambers of the House and the Senate, calling for a declaration of war by the United States against the nation of Japan.  This was in response to the attack on 7 December 1941 against Pearl Harbor, in which 2,402 US serviceman (as well as a few civilians) were killed in a bombing raid on the US Pacific Fleet which was resting at harbor.  At the time it galvanized the United States citizenry into a fury for war, a fury that resulted in an outpouring of volunteers for the armed forces, a willingness of the United States to commit to a massive two-front war effort, and eventually by 1945 a victory by the United States against both the Empire of Japan and the German Third Reich.  That today is a dark day in the history of the United States, and a particularly dark day for our armed forces, is something that really is not up for debate or argument, but what is up for debate is how the events of the Pearl Harbor attack are taught to modern students.  The general theme of education on this attack is that it was a failure by the Japanese, an effort to knock the United States out of the war that did not succeed, and therefore the Japanese “lost” the attack on Pearl Harbor or the attack was a failure because the United States was able to recover its sunken fleet and rejoin the war.

I would like to begin by pointing out two key dates – 7 December 1941 and 4 May 1942, the first is the obvious attack on Pearl Harbor but the second is the start of the Battle of the Coral Sea, when naval forces of the United States clashed with naval forces of Japan for the first time after Pearl Harbor.  It was a successful effort to head off a Japanese invasion of New Guinea.  You see during that six month period of time Japan was not sitting around waiting for the United States to give up – the attack on Pearl Harbor was just part of a massive Japanese offensive into southeast Asia and throughout the Pacific theater of war.  During that six months Japan conquered huge amounts of territory, taking areas from the Dutch, the British, and the United States.  It was in May 1942 when the United States garrison in the Philippines, 80,000 Filipino and US soldiers, finally surrendered to Japan because there was no help coming from the United States and none was expected to come. It took the United States a solid three years to finally force Japan to surrender and the United States didn’t get close to the Japanese home islands till 1945.

Many people like to talk about how the attack on Pearl Harbor was a failure because Japan ultimately lost the war, they point out it was a failed attack because it didn’t compel the United States to negotiate an end to the war, or my favorite, it was a failure because it could have gone so much worse for the United States.  (The fact that Japan missed sinking the United States carrier fleet is a regular chestnut on this point and how it allowed the United States to scoot back into the war more quickly.)  The attack on Pearl Harbor was designed primarily to knock the United States Pacific fleet out of operation and allow Japan time to conquer Southeast Asia.  Which, to be blunt, the attack achieved.  Gloriously in fact, Japan felt confident in its abilities to stage a major aggressive attack against the United States in mid-1942 with its attack on Midway Island.  (An attack Japan did lose but only because the United States got very lucky in that battle.)

So if you, gentle reader, hear about how this attack was a Japanese failure remember that it is a matter of perspective – on a grand strategic scale it was a failure, Japan lost the war, but by that argument it could be argued Japan lost the war in 1937 when it invaded China.  But from a more focused examination the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor was a success for Japan, a resounding one, in which the United States lost.  Later I’ll add an additional post about why the United States had a hand in its own defeat at Pearl Harbor.

Sources:  Wikipedia on the Pacific War and on Pearl Harbor