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Friday, December 18, 2009

WHY NOBILITY DIED


I offer you the poster child for why history has regulated noble blood to the dust bin: Richard Plantagenet, the biggest fool in Europe at a time when Europe was just overflowing with fools. To know Richard was to despise Richard. The better you knew him, the better you despised him. He was the kind of violent lunatic thug that only a mother could love, and she had moments of doubt. If he had been born in the twenty-first century Richard would have been confined in a mental institution as a child. But he was born in the Middle Ages, so they made him a King.

Physically, Richard was gorgeous. He spoke fluent French. He even wrote poetry in French. In fact he didn't speal English at all. He was tall and athletic, with red hair and soft grey eyes. He also had a passion for violence and poetry that was the romantic ideal in the 12th century. And most of the press in the English speaking world remains enamored of Richard even now -  but then he only spent 6 months in England in his entire life, so they never got to know him in person.

Richard was the favorite and eldest son of Eleanor of Aquitaine, one of the smartest, most lovely, most duplicitous women of her age and clearly one of the worst mothers ever born. This woman should never have given birth to a living human child. Doctor Phill could have done an entire series of shows on her.

Richard was also the second son of Henry II, the smartest of the smart and violent Plantagenet Kings. Richard was like his father in every way, except he was more violent and less smart.

With the help of his mother, Richard finally cornered his sick and elderly father and took him prisoner. Richard then had the satisfaction of hearing his father call him “a bast-rd” from his death bed. And you thought you didn't get along with your old man. But it was the entitlement of nobility that raised Richard's simple neruoses to the level of a full blown psychosis.

Placing a crown on his head instantly converted Richard Plantagenet into Richard I, King of England, Duke of Normandy, Aquitaine and Gascony, Lord of Ireland and Cyprus, Count of Anjou and Nantes and Overlord of Brittany, also known as Richard Coeur de Lion, or Richard the Lion Heart.

Richard celebrated his coronation in June of 1189 by having the local Jews, who had showed up bearing gifts for him, whipped and flogged. He followed this by a general massacre of all the Jews in London and in York. Baldwin d’Eu, the Archbishop of Canterbury, summed up Richard's theory of nobility this way, “If the King is not God’s man, he had better be the devil’s”. And Baldwin should know, being the son of a liaison between an Archdeacon and a nun.

The first thing the new King did, after cleaning up all those Jewish corpses, was to lay heavy taxes on everybody to pay for a Third Crusade, to rescue the Holy Land from the Muslims, because they were so bad. To pay for that Richard announced “I would have sold London if I could have found a buyer." Of course Richard's loyal subjects in England never heard that particular royal comment.

In May of 1191 Richard’s army of 40,000 knights and 40,000 footmen arrived on the island of Cyprus, where Richard threw the local Christian ruler into a dungeon in chains, pillaged the island for even more money and slaughtered any Christian who objected. Being on crusade not only cleaned up Richard's past sins, it earned him a pass on any sins he might committ while on crusade; the Pope had said so.

After annexing Cyprus as his personal property, Richard then moved on to the Holy Land, where he joined the King of France and other European nobility in slaughtering Muslims, Christians and Jews without discrimination as to race, religion, age or sex. During the siege of Acre, Richard fell ill and had servants carry him about the fortifications in a sedan chair while he took pot shots at the defenders with a crossbow.When Acre fell, (and while its citizens were being slaghtered) Richard’s banner and that of Phillip of France were planted on the cities’ walls. But so was the banner of Leopold V, of Austria, who figured he was entitled as the sole representative on this crusade of the Holy Roman Emperor, who had died enroute.

Richard however, disagreed and had Leopold’s banner torn down. Well, Leopold already had a problem with Richard because Leopold was related through his mother to the ruler of Cyprus, whom Richard had overthrown and imprisoned. And the instant his banner fell to the gutters of Acre, Leopold pulled his entire army out of the Crusade and sailed for home.

Within a month Phillip of France had also gotten fed up with Richard's ego and he sailed for home, leaving the Lion Heart with only about a third of his army left, and burdened with more than 3,000 Muslim prisoners captured at Acre. The Muslum leader, Saladin, wasn't willing to pay the ransom Richard was demanding, so Richard had all the prisoners executed.That little faux paux ensured that Saladin, who had been trying to negotiate a peace treaty with the Christians, would continue the war just to make Richard bleed as much as possible. At the same time Richard’s overbearing rule even at a distance had produced a rebellion back on Cyprus, which eventually forced him to sell his island conquest to a cousin.

Richard's arrogance and ignorance also led to the election of an anti-Richard crusader, Conrad de Montforrat, as the new King of Jerusalem. That made Conrad the leader of the Christian army, which made him Richard’s boss. And Richard did not like bosses. Richard's participation in the crusades came to a bloody end on April 28, 1192, when Conrad was stabbed to death on the streets of Tyre by two Muslim assassins. So low had Richard’s reputation fallen that everyone assumed (and still assumes, I must add) that Richard had financed the murder. It was all based on flimsey evidence, but with Richard it was always the wise choice to believe the worst. His ego had finally run out his string.

In September 1192 Saladin finally decided to provide Richard with enough of a fig leaf to cover his escape. Salidin agreed to allow Christians to visit Jeruselum at anytime of year, something he had secretly negotiated with Conrad de Montforrat, before Conrad had been murdered. Richard could now claim he had secured the religious freedom of the Holy Land, even if nobody outside of Richard's sycophants believed that he was responsible for it.

Richard had gone on Crusade with a full war chest, 80,000 men and strong allies in France and the Holy Roman Empire. That money was now gone and most of the army was dead. Richard was leaving the holy land with just a handful of personal bodyguards and with every political power broker in Europe gunning for him. He had to sneak back home. And he didn't make it.

Just before Christmas 1192, at an inn outside of Vienna, his old enemy Leopold V caught up with him. Richard was arrested while dressed as a lowly pilgrim. And it is interesting to note that there was not even a rumor that "the Lion Heart" so much as slapped the men who captured him.

Richard was hustled off to Durnsetin castle, high above the Rhine River. And once he was safely under lock and key Leopold set the price for his release at 65,000 pounds of silver. Who, the nobility of Europe must have wondered, would pay three times the annual income of the English crown to free the most pompous, most arrogant and most violent English King there was?

His mommy, that’s who; Eleanor of Aquitaine laid out her personal fortune, and put the squeeze on English churches, English nobility, English merchants and peasants from the white cliffs of Dover, to the mountains of Scotland. Of course, at the same time, Richard’s own younger brother, John, together with Phillip the king of France, were offering 80,000 pounds of silver if Leopold would just hold on to Richard for another year. I guess you could say that Eleanor won this contest, in that, in February of 1194, King Phillip sent brother John the following terse note, “Look to yourself. The devil is loose.”

And so he was. Richard might have wanted to pay back the entire continent for his bad treatment, but his huge ransom and his own boorishness and love of destruction had bankrupted him. He could no longer afford to make war on his neighbors. For the last five years of his life Richard the Lion Heart had to be content with butchering his own subjects, slaughtering them with all the zeal and blood lust he had once displayed on the international stage.

And then in the spring of 1199 Richard heard a rumor that a cache of Roman gold had been discovered in the Limousin region of the Aquitaine, a region so wealthy (before Richard) that luxury autos of a later age would later be named for it. There was no gold, and everybody told him so. But Richard the Lion Heart, Richard the Dunder-Head, Richard the Rush-in-where-angels-fear-to-tread, laid siege to the walled city of Charlus anyway and demanded payment of the non-existant gold. And it was during that pointless siege that a brave young defender named Bertrand de Gurdon pierced Richard’s shoulder with a crossbow bolt.

You know how you say to yourself about violent and dangerous lunatics, "I wonder why somebody doesn't just shoot him?" Well, somebody finally shot Richard. Gangrene set in and the arrogant jackass was finally dead on Tuesday April 6, 1199, dying in his mommy's arms. As a final insult they buried the "bas-ard" at his father's feet, in Rouen Cathedral at Fontefrault.

On his deathbed Richard had insisted that the young crossbowman Bertrand was to be pardoned and set free with 100 shillings, but of course he didn't mean it. In his whole life Richard never chose nobility over violence. And it didn’t happen here. Instead one of Richard’s captains had the sure-shot cross-bowman skinned alive and hanged. That man's horrible death was a fitting legacy for one of the most violent lunatics of the middle ages, a raving psychotic who was made a King, as the thinking at the time insisted, by the grace of God.

God must have been rolling over in her grave.

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

THE FIRST JOKE


I believe this was the first American joke of World War Two: holding up a newspaper headline that read "Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor”, the hung-over volunteer in boot camp sadly announced, “I thought Pearl Harbor was a girl!” It was a good joke. And despite holding a ten year lead, the best Japanese gag of the war has largely been forgotten, because somehow many of the Japanese never got the joke themselves. Typical of the humorless sons of Nippon was Lt. Col. Kingoro Hashimoto, who wore the Japanese neo-con mantle long before such right wing ideologies could have been called “neo”.

Kingoro was known for being “… arrogant and insubordinate,” as well as “…ignorant and dangerous” and “a publicity hound”. And that was the way a Japanese general described him. Robert Butow pointed out in his 1961 book “Tojo and the Coming of War”, that Kingoro “…seemed to reappear on the national scene - whenever crises threatened – like a jack-in-the-box when the lid is released.” And that is actually my favorite image of this Japanese anti-social psychopath, as a jack-in-the-box, popping up to play martial music to drown out the punch line.

 It was Kingoro who helped plan two attempts to overthrow the elected government in 1931. Both attempts failed, and in response the public elected a moderate Prime Minister. So in 1932 Kingoro supported the assassination of that Prime Minister. In September of 1933 Kingoro help manufacture the Japanese takeover of Manchuria. And it was Kingoro who, during the 1937 infamous “Rape of Nanking”, in China , ordered the attack on the American gun boat Panay, which killed three American sailors and wounded 48 others. That little joke cost the Japanese $2 million in indemnity paid to the United States. (http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/dy/features/0007/01.htm)

However it provided yet more proof that many others in Japan did not favor the lunatics like Kingoro. Public pressure forced Kingoro’s recall and the American ambassador to Japan noted that his embassy was deluged by “…people from all walks of life, from high officials, doctors, professors, businessmen down to school children, trying to express their shame, apologies, and regrets” with the Panay sinking. The Ambassador noted that “never before has the fact that there are 'two Japans' been more clearly emphasized.” There were two Japans, and as the war with China dragged on year after year, the lunatic one remained not amused and unamusing.

According to the humorless plan of the Japanese ultranationalists, China was supposed to supply workers for Japanese industry. But instead of a pool of unlimited manpower, China became a swamp, a drain on Japanese resources, both human and industrial. Could the ultra-nationalists like Kingoro Hashimoto have been wrong? By 1940 there was nobody left alive in a position of authority to suggest so. In September the nationalists doubled-down their bet by invading French Indo-China, looking for natural resources to support their war in China, which was supposed to have made Japan industrially independent

The American response to this invasion was to cut off all oil shipments to Japan: just not right away. We were one of the world’s great oil exporters back in those days. And the American oil companies fought the crimp in their profits tooth and nail. Congress did not approve the embargo until July of 1941, which gave the Japanese time to plan their response. The Japanese navy was burning 2,900 barrels of oil every hour, 11,600 barrels every day. By September their reserves had dropped to 50 million barrels, about a six months supply.

The Japanese neo-ultra-nationalists now faced a choice. They could admit they had been mega-stupid. Or they could invade the Dutch West Indies, to capture the oil fields on Borneo. To protect the flank of that massive operation, the Japanese were forced to include the invasion of the American protectorate of the Philippines, and Operation Z.

 While Americans were sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner on November 20, 1941, six fast Japanese aircraft carriers and their escorts were taking on a full load of fuel oil. On November 26 they steamed for Oahu. And in the pre-dawn hours of December 7, 1941 they launched almost 400 aircraft in two waves to attack the naval base at Pearl Harbor. The attack sank four battleships, damaged four others, damaged three cruisers, three destroyers and one mine layer, destroyed 188 aircraft, and killed 2,402 and wounded 1,282 American servicemen. And for Japan the attack was a complete and total failure.

To quote from Ted Mahar, and his article on the History Net, “The Battle That Ignited America”( http://www.aracnet.com/~histgaz/pearlharbor/7dec1941.html); “The attack on Pearl Harbor modernized the U.S. Navy in two hours, neutralizing our battleships and forcing us to use the weapon we should have been stressing all along, our carriers, none of which was even damaged, since none was there. Political wrangling between carrier admirals and battleship admirals could have slowed our retaliation. The Japanese streamlined the discussions.”

But more specifically, as was pointed out by U.S. Air Force Major Patrick Donovan in his 2001 paper “Oil and Logistics in the Pacific War”, “By far, the more surprising target oversight of the Japanese attack was the oil and gas storage tanks. The entire fuel supply for the Pacific Fleet was stored in above-ground tanks on the eastern side of the naval base. These tanks were perfectly visible to the naked eye and, ergo, perfect targets. These tanks were particularly susceptible to enemy action…Even a few bombs dropped amongst the tanks could have started a raging conflagration.

“The US Navy had just finished restocking Pearl Harbor to its total capacity of 4.5 million barrels of oil. …The Japanese strategic disregard of the fragile U.S. oil infrastructure in the Pacific was an incredible oversight on their part.”

In other words, the entire raid on Pearl Harbor could have been substituted with a dozen strafing attacks over those fuel tanks with incendiary bullets. Without the oil in those tanks the U.S. Pacific Fleet would have been forced to withdraw to California and Washington State. Hawaii would have been indefensible. And, in the words of Admiral Chester Nimitz, the man who won the war in the Pacific, “Had the Japanese destroyed the oil (stored at Pearl Harbor), it would have prolonged the war another two years.”

It displays an underlying truth about the ideological hawks who preach “preemptive strikes” and wars: they usually prove to be incompetent idiots once the shooting really starts. Kingoro Hashimoto was a perfect example. The man who once warned the world, “Watch me, Hashimoto. I am no man to sit still and talk”, was never promoted within the army. Instead he went into politics. He was convicted in 1948 of crimes against humanity, and was sentenced to life in prison.

He thus provided the best Japanese joke of World War Two. Did you hear about the super patriot who sent tens of thousands of young Americans and millions of innocent young Chinese and Japanese to their deaths? He died in his own bed, at 67 years of age, from lung cancer.

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Sunday, December 13, 2009

WHY WE FIGHT


I am  tempted to call Thutmose III a mummy’s boy. He had two. His actual birth mother, Iset, had been a "lesser" wife of Thutmose II, the boy's father. His official mother was actually his aunt, Hatshepsut. She had been the "Great Royal God Wife" of Thutmose II, who was her own half brother. Egyptian royal family trees tended to have very few branches. After Thutmose II died in 1479 B.C. Hatshepsut ran the two Kingdoms of Upper and Lower Egypt successfully for twenty years. She was Pharaoh, while Thutmose III remained the Pharaoh-in-waiting. And living with Hatshepsut for all those years must have been  difficult, because I don't think she was a happy woman.

Examination of her mummy in the Cairo museum reveals that besides menopause (she was in her mid-fifties) Hatshepsut suffered from arthritis, diabetes, liver and bone cancer, and really bad teeth. Of course everyone in ancient Egypt had bad teeth, a by-product of chewing sand in every mouth full of food. But what finally killed Hatshepsut, on March 10th, 1459 B.C., was blood poisoning, brought on by an abscess in her gums. It is shocking how often history has been influenced by bad teeth.

Immediately after the old ladies' death, Thutmose III felt the need to invade somebody. Evidentally the young man had been stiffling his anger for a few years, because within days of ascending to the Throne of Horus, Thutmose III ordered his general-in-chief, Thanuny, to gather troops and supplies at the border fortress of Tjaru by the last week August, 1458 B.C.

Clearly Thutmose intended to march into Canaan, and that meant trouble for the kingdom of Kadesh, which was in what is today western Syria. The Kadesh had been an Egyptian ally for over a century. But while Hatshepsut was slowly dying the kings of Kadesh had taken the opportunity to realign themselves with  the powerful Hittites, centered in Turkey. The Kings of Kadesh were playing a high stakes poker game, betting their kingdom that Thutmose was a pansy moma's boy who would rather hold court at home than suffer the deprevations of a campaign 300 miles from home.

There was a delay in gathering Thutmose's army, and the Egyptians did not leave Tjaru until February of 1457 B.C. They comprised about 10,000 infantrymen, divided into platoons of six to ten men each, divided between bowmen and lancers. There was no cavalry. Nobody in ancient Egypt rode a horse. The mobile force consisted of two-horse chariots, which, since there were no hard wood trees in Egypt to provide load bearing axles, were light and not built for long distance travel. The advantage was that the chariots could be easily carried by one of their own crewmen.

On this march across the northern Sinai (the Red Desert) skirmishers advanced to the front while raiding parties ranged along the flanks, stealing cattle, grain and water for each night’s camp. Behind came the baggage train of ox carts carrying supplies, repair tents and blacksmiths, soothsayers, priests and musicians.These people were used to walking. Even Thutmose walked at least part of each day's 8 mile march.

The great column didn't reach their Philistine allies' fortress of Gaza (“The key to Syria”) until mid-March. After another 11 days of marching up the coastal plain (covering about 45 miles) Thutmose’s army entered the port of Jamnia, near present day Tel Aviv. Here Thutmose rested his men until the scouts brought word that the Kadeshite armies had advanced to meet him on the Plain of Esdraelon, at the hill fortress of Megiddo.

So in early May, with his communications back to Egypt secured by his navy, Thutmose swung inland, to the small village of Yaham. In front of him now rose a line of low hills, stretching from the northwest (Mt. Carmel at 1,740 feet) to the southeast (Mountains Tabor and Gilboa, 1,929 feet each). Megiddo and the Kadeshamite army were on the north side of these hills.

General Thanuny and his staff explained to Thutmose that there were only two roads to reach Megiddo. The most direct route headed due north from Yaham and then turned northwestward on the Via Maris (the sea route) to the village of Taanakha, before reaching Megiddo. The longer path immediatly headed northwest from Yaham along the southern flank of the mountains before crossing them to reach the Via Maris at the village of Yokneam. From there it was an easy backtrack southeastward to Megiddo.

The Kadeshamite army had divided their infantry, with almost half guarding Taanakha and the other half Yokneam. Stationed at Megiddo (in the center) were their chariots with some infantry support, ready to fall upon either approach the Egyptians made.

However there was also a third choice, which General Thanuny had not mentioned. On the road north toward Yokneam there was a cutoff, a path less traveled, that ran through the village of Aruna and then through a narrow defile. It was so constricted that at the time the army could only march through it in single file, before debauching onto the plain directly in front of Megiddo. It was the most direct route, the shortest route, but his men could only pass through it piecemeal, and they could be destroyed “in detail”, one unit at a time. But Thutmose had already decided to take this route.  And anything the Pharoh wanted, the Pharoh got.

Thanuny was able to convince Thutmose he should use 2/3 of the army by feinting an
attack along the two main roads, leaving a third of the force for the direct attack. This made sense since so few men would be able to deploy through the pass, a larger force would just jam things up. Luckily Thutmose agreed.  So,  before dawn, Thutmose sent perhaps 3,000 men through the pass, single file. They marched quickly and quietly, each man passing his God King Pharoh until they stepped out into view onto the plain at about 1:00 p.m., May 9th , 1457 B.C.

The Kadeshamite chariots, surprised at their enemie's sudden appearance, hastily charged the Egyptian spearmen and let loose a barrage of arrows. But defended by their shield men, the Egyptian formations stood firm. And then, as the Kadeshamites  withdrew to reform and attack again, the Egyptian ranks opened up and from the defile appeared the Egyptian chariots, carried through the pass and now reassembled. They fell on the Kadeshamite soldiers like a whirlwind. Okay, a clumsy whirlwind.

“Even when moving at a slow pace, …(the Egyptian war chariot) shook terribly, and when driven at full speed it was only by a miracle of skill that the occupants could maintain their equilibrium…the charioteer would stand astride the front panels, keeping his right foot only inside the vehicle…the reins (were) tied around his body so he could by throwing his weight either to the right or left…pull up or start his horses…he went into battle with bent bow, the string drawn back to his ear…while the shield-bearer, clinging to the body of the chariot with one hand, held out his buckler (shield) with the other to shelter his comrade.” (History of Egypt Chakdea, etc. G. Maspero. Groilier Society)

The Kadesh charioteers panicked at the sudden Egyptian charge, and their causalities tell the story; with just 83 killed, there must have been little fighting. But 240 Kadesh soldiers were taken prisoner, along with 924 chariots and 2,132 horses captured. It  would seem that the Kadesh army was largely overrun. The Kadeshite infantry on the wings, now divided by the Egyptian army, abandoned Megiddo and scattered in retreat, no doubt wondering where their Hittite allies were.

Of course the Egyptians had no siege equipmement. It had not yet been invented. So the fortress of Meggido held out for seven months before finally surrendering. The delay did not matter. From the moment Thutmose III spread his tiny force on the Plain of Esdraelon, he had ensured his capture of the hill fort of Megiddo, in Herbrew "har megiddon" (the mountain district of Megiddo), or, in the Canaanite language, Armageddon.

And thus ended the first battle recorded in history, fought largely to prove that Thutmose III was no longer a Mummy's boy.

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