The Occasional Joke

Nurse: Patient's name?

Centurion: Marcus Licinius Crassus

Nurse: And his date of birth?

Centurion: 115 BC.

Nurse: All right. And what is he here for?

Centurion: Cataphract surgery.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Volume 2 of a book you probably won't read

A while back, I wrote about Volume 1 of H.P. Wilmott's Last Century of Sea Power. I finished Volume 2 a couple of weeks back, and remain impressed. Among other things, how many respected historians do you know of who include the names of their dogs, living and dead, in the dedications of their books? Or use the phrase "beloved woofers" to describe them? Plus, the book contains more of Wilmott's snarky comments on events and people, usually delivered at the end of a paragraph, like a punch line.

More than that, the book is full of delightfully obscure analyses of the first use of this and that to do the other thing; viz, the note to the effect that in August, 1941, the Japanese used aircraft to bomb the house where Chiang Kai-Shek and staff were staying. Perhaps unfortunately for later US involvement with China, they missed, but as Wilmott says, this " ... was the first deliberate use of aircraft in an attempt to kill a head of state." (And by the way, if you're shocked by such an attempt, recall that we, deliberately and successfully, sent a batch of P-38s to shoot down the planes carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto; this was just three years later. Yamamoto, of course, wasn't a head of state, but his loss to the Japanese war effort was probably greater than if he had been.)

Another example? Did you know that prior to WWII, while the Spanish Civil War was going on, the German and Italian help provided to Franco's Fascists sank -- not just damaged but sank -- 11 British merchant ships, on and around the coast of Spain? Britain, the greatest naval power in the world, theoretically, responded forcefully -- by sending the Spanish government bills for the cost (which were never paid, by the way.) Of course, there are no parallels to this shameful appeasement going on these days, none, except, well, there is this place, Somalia, see, where they have a minor issue with pirates ... (or Detroit, now that I think of it, where they're tearing down houses and sending the bills to the houses.)

I closed my bit about Volume 1 by saying that I'd be interested to hear Wilmott's opinion of US Admiral Halsey, the guy who fell for a Japanese decoy of largely aircraftless aircraft carriers and left the Philippine invasion's landing areas virtually undefended. Wilmott did not disappoint:

"(The) version of events in Halsey's autobiography seems to be mendacious and wholly self-serving and one suspects for obvious reason -- to deflect attention from his own ill-considered decisions, which could have had very unfortunate consequences and for which he was never held to account."

Couldn't agree more, although "unfortunate consequences" is a bit mild, considering that except for timidity on the part of the Japanese commander in question, a task force including the Yamato, Japan's biggest, baddest battleship, could have run amok through a huge collection of US transports, tankers, and other vessels with big red targets painted on 'em. Fortunately for a lot of US sailors and soldiers, a handful of Escort Carriers and Destroyer Escorts stood in the way until Admiral Kurita (who, admittedly had seen the Yamato's sister ship, Musashi, sunk by aircraft the day before, lost his nerve and turned back. In most flaming disasters, it's hard to assign blame to a single man, but in this case, had the Japanese wreaked havoc, it would have been Halsey's fault, virtually alone.

Anyway, very nice book, from my perspective. I'm fully aware that among the three or four people who read this blog, I'm the only one who gives a damn about this sort of thing, but as I've said frequently, it's my blog and I'll post anything I want to.