… the movie is seriously anti-historical in one respect; we are supposed to believe that traditionalist Samurai would disdain the use of firearms. In fact, traditional samurai loved firearms and found them a natural extension of their traditional role as horse archers. Samurai invented rolling volley fire three decades before Gustavus Adolphus, and improved the musket designs they imported from the Portuguese so effectively that for most of the 1600s they were actually making better guns than European armorers could produce.
But, of course, today’s Hollywood left thinks firearms are intrinsically eeeevil (especially firearms in the hands of anyone other than police and soldiers) so the virtuous rebel samurai had to eschew them. Besides being politically correct, this choice thickened the atmosphere of romantic doom around our heroes.
Another minor clanger in the depiction of samurai fighting: We are given scenes of samurai training to fight empty-hand and unarmored using modern martial-arts moves. In fact, in 1877 it is about a generation too early for this. Unarmed combat did not become a separate discipline with its own forms and schools until the very end of the nineteenth century. And when it did, it was based not on samurai disciplines but on peasant fighting methods from Okinawa and elsewhere that were used against samurai (this is why most exotic martial-arts weapons are actually agricultural tools).
In 1877, most samurai still would have thought unarmed-combat training a distraction from learning how to use the swords, muskets and bows that were their primary weapons systems. Only after the swords they preferred for close combat were finally banned did this attitude really change. But, hey, most moviegoers are unaware of these subtleties, so there had to be some chop-socky in the script to meet their expectations.
One other rewriting of martial history: we see samurai ceremoniously stabbing fallen opponents to death with a two-hand sword-thrust. In fact, this is not how it was done; real samurai delivered the coup de grace by decapitating their opponents, and then taking the head as a trophy.
No joke. Head-taking was such an important practice that there was a special term in Japanese for the art of properly dressing the hair on a severed head so that the little paper tag showing the deceased’s name and rank would be displayed to best advantage.
While the filmmakers were willing to show samurai killing the wounded, in other important respects they softened and Westernized the behavior of these people somewhat. Algren learned, correctly, that ‘samurai’ derives from a verb meaning “to serve”, but we are misled when the rebel leader speaks of “protecting the people”. In fact, noblesse oblige was not part of the Japanese worldview; samurai served not ‘the people’ but a particular daimyo, and the daimyo served the Emperor in theory and nobody but themselves in normal practice.
Eric S. Raymond, “The Last Samurai”, Armed and Dangerous, 2003-12-15.
September 17, 2016
July 30, 2016
Published on 23 Jul 2016
Order the limited edition Opium Wars wall scroll before it leaves forever on July 27! http://bit.ly/2a138ur
James talks about our mistakes, and adds additional stories, for Federico da Montefeltro and the First Opium War!
Quick story about Federico da Montefeltro: after losing an eye in a jousting accident, he ordered his doctor to cut a divot out of his nose so that his remaining eye had a better view and he could still fight in battles.
Now on to the Opium War! The Macartney expedition did not draw on the knowledge of Jesuit missionaries or even merchants who were familiar with Chinese court customs, because the British felt that a noble like Macartney was the only fitting representative. He didn’t come prepared to handle the kowtow, and he didn’t understand that the Chinese would have been more interested in British agricultural tech than they were in trinkets. James reads the disdainful letter which the Daoguang Emperor wrote to King George III in response to the embassy. There also happened to be a political upheaval in the Chinese palace at the time, so if the British had arrived sooner, they may have met with a different result and avoided the Opium Wars entirely. Once the war came to a head, it caused great division in Britain. Even though it was a war to sell illegal drugs, it was often recast as a war the Chinese provoked by insisting on the kowtow and treating other nations as vassals. Two traders by the names of James Matheson and William Jardine helped tip the scales for war because it helped their business, which had gotten a huge start in the opium trade. The Jardine-Matheson trading firm still exists today, and is a multibillion dollar company. Back in China, the British blockade of Canton’s port led to an odd first confrontation. A British ship called the Royal Saxon ran the blockade, so the British fired a warning shot to make it turn back. The Chinese, to prove they still controlled their sovereign waters, took this as an opportunity to challenge the blockade. Thus, their defense of a British smuggler led them into a war that, ironically, was about stopping British smugglers. The British official directing the war efforts, Charles Elliot, found himself in an awkward situation. He loved his country, but he morally objected to the British agenda in China. He tried to pave a moderate path, only to be fired and reviled as a failure. But after he left, the war truly got vicious. The British committed many atrocities in their campaign. They never sought to hold China, however, because their wars in India had taught them how impossible such an undertaking would be. Thus they settled on the unequal treaty. And as for Walpole… well, he started it, of course. Tea became such a large part of Britain’s economy because of the large tax levied on it. And who levied that tax? It was Walpole. He actually repealed an earlier, heavily resented tax and got political accolades for doing so, then introduced a much higher tax under a different name that flew under the radar even while it brought in hundreds of thousands of pounds for the government every year. The government’s reliance on tea for funding would later propel them to take such extraordinary measures to secure access to tea via Chinese trade. So who really started the Opium War? Well. It was Walpole.
July 23, 2016
Published on 9 Jul 2016
The Chinese attempt to retake Canton by force failed. New British commanders took charge and would accept nothing less than total Chinese capitulation. They captured cities all the way up to Nanking, forcing the Emperor to negotiate. He had no choice but to accept an unequal treaty, kicking off a period of subservience to Europe which China still remembers today as the Century of Humiliation.
Disappointed in the treaty, the Daoguang Emperor replaced Qishan with three new commanders. One of them wanted to buy time and modernize the army, but the Emperor insisted the British be repelled immediately. They assaulted Canton from across the river, firing cannons and sailing fire ships at the British fleet. Their efforts fell far short, and soon the British controlled the river again. The Chinese were forced to pay them an indemnity to leave Canton, but in their wake riots and looting plagued the city anyway. Elliot still led the British forces, but upon returning to Hong Kong, he learned that he was now being replaced. His replacements had no interest in the compromises he’d tried to establish. They pushed immediately towards Beijing. In each new fort they captured, they found evidence that the Chinese resistance had ironically been weakened by crippling opium addiction. As the Chinese attacks grew more desperate, British retaliation grew more brutal. Finally, they stood ready to seize Nanking. With it would come control of the Yangtze River on which all of China depended, so the Emperor was forced to negotiate. They had no bargaining power, and gave the British nearly everything they wanted: a huge indemnity, new trade ports, no more Hong monopoly, generous tariffs, consulates, and sovereignty over Hong Kong. The only two matters they refused were Christian missionaries and legalizing opium, but the latter would only lead to the Second Opium War with similar results. These “unequal treaties” would go down in Chinese history as the beginning of what the Communist government later called “The Century of Humiliation.” The spectre of this shame and forced subservience to European interests continues to shape politics today, as this history is often invoked or used as a rallying cry during dealings with the West.
July 20, 2016
Published on 2 Jul 2016
The British set up a blockade outside Canton, but one of their own private merchant ships tried to run through it. When the Chinese came to its defense, war began in earnest. Since the British had far superior firepower, they easily conquered Chuenpee and Chusan. Elliot and the Emperor’s new envoy, Qishan, soon sought a treaty and agreed on generous terms… which their overseers harshly rejected.
The British responded to the Chinese halting their ships by erecting a blockade outside Canton. They fired a warning shot to turn back a private British merchant ship, the Royal Saxon, which attempted a blockade run, and the Chinese sent out their own navy to defend the runner. They were demolished. The British had better ships and better firepower. They made to discuss a treaty, but the Chinese refused to give in to the British demands regarding ownership of Hong Kong. The British moved on to capture Chusan, an island near Shanghai. Then a rumor prompted them to believe that China planned to strike against them, so they acted pre-emptively and kicked off the Battle of Chuenpee. Again they won, but the slaughter was so horrifying that Superintendent Elliot was glad to seek a peace treaty with the emperor’s envoy, Qishan. Finally Qishan agreed to give up Hong Kong, to give the British better trade status, in exchange for which Britain returned the land they’d taken. But Elliot’s supervisor back in London, Lord Palmerston, felt the treaty didn’t go far enough, especially since it didn’t re-establsih opium trading rights. And the Emperor found Qishan’s capitulation disgraceful, even threatened to have him hanged for it. What had looked like moderate wins for both sides suddenly threatened to fall apart.
Flashman […] describes a scene where an English vicar preached to the sepoys (native Indian soldiers) on the Parable of the Prodigal Son, through a native (Muslim) NCO interpreter, who made fun of the story:
“There was a zamindar, with two sons. He was a mad zamindar, for while he yet a lived he gave to the younger his portion of the inheritance. Doubtless he raised it from moneylender. And the younger spent it all whoring in the bazaar, and drinking sherab. And when his money was gone he returned home, and his father ran to meet him, for he was pleased — God alone knows why. And in his foolishness, the father slew his only cow — he was evidently not a Hindoo — and they feasted on it. And the older son, who had been dutiful and stayed at home, was jealous, I cannot tell for what reason, unless the cow was to have been part of his inheritance. But his father, who did not like him, rebuked the older son. This story was told by Jesus the Jew, and if you believe it you will not go to Paradise, but instead will sit on the right-hand side of the English Lord God Sahib who lives in Calcutta. And there you will play musical instruments, by order of the Sirkar. Parade — dismiss!”
Flashman said he had never felt so embarrassed for his church and country in his life.
John Derbyshire, “A Reader Proposes An Anti-Cuckservative Reading List–Starting With FLASHMAN”, VDARE, 2016-07-05.
July 11, 2016
Published on 25 Jun 2016
Opium was illegal in China, but that didn’t stop the East India Company from manufacturing it for the black market. The Chinese emperor appointed an official, Lin Zexu, to stop it. He seized and burned huge opium caches held by British merchants, and ultimately ordered the British out of China entirely. Instead, they set up base on a barren island that would become known as Hong Kong.
The tea trade flowing from China had left the British government in staggering debt. They had loaned huge amounts to the Honourable East India Company (EIC) to conquer India, and to pay their debts, the EIC turned that land into poppy fields and manufactured opium in huge quantities. Since China had banned the opium trade, the EIC set up a market in Calcutta (part of their Indian territory) and turned a blind eye to the black market traders who smuggled it into China. By 1839, over 6.6 million pounds of opium were being smuggled into China every year. The Chinese DaoGuang Emperor appointed an upright official named Lin Zexu to halt this opium trade. Lin orchestrated a massive campaign to arrest opium traders, force addicts into rehab, and confiscate pipes. He even laid siege to British warehouses when the merchants refused to turn over their opium supply, instead taking it all by force and burning it. The outraged merchants sought redress from their government, but although the Chief Superintendant Charles Elliot promised them restitution, the government never had any intention of paying them back. Amid the unrest, two British sailors brutally murdered a Chinese man. Lin Zexu demanded their extradition, but Elliot insisted on trying them aboard his ship and sentencing them himself. Lin Zexu had enough. He halted the British food supply and ordered the Portuguese to eject them from Macau. They retreated to a barren island off the coast (now known as Hong Kong). Since the island could not support them, Elliot petitioned the Chinese to sell them food again. He received no response. Then he sent men to collect it directly, but on their way back they were halted by the Chinese navy, and the first engagement of the Opium Wars began.
July 7, 2016
Published on 18 Jun 2016
The British Empire’s grasp on the Americas was slipping right at the time when they needed those resources most. The massive amounts of tea they imported from China had created a huge trade deficit, but the Chinese were reluctant to let any Europeans trade outside of the Canton port strictly controlled by the Hong. So Britain sent a formal embassy led by Earl George Macartney.
In 1792, Great Britain had just come out of an expensive war that cost them their control over many of their colonies in North America. Other wars had also cost them their access to the silver mines of South America, which had been helping fund so much of their trade with the Qing Dynasty of China. European traders all wanted greater access to China, but the Emperor was wary of letting outsiders too far into his country and kept them all penned up at the port of Canton, which was strictly regulated by the Hong business group. A flourishing blackmarket trade grew, but Britain wanted more. One trader, acting on his own initiative, grew bold enough to approach Beijing and attempt to get a hearing over his trade grievances, but the Chinese considered this a huge breach of protocal and an offense to the Emperor. Britain had to do something, however: they imported over 10 million pounds of tea each year, equal to 10% of the government’s annual spending, and the fact that China did not have anywhere near as great an interest in British products meant that they were running an enormous trade deficit they could no longer sustain. The Crown appointed an official envoy, Earl George Macartney, with orders to end the Canton system, establish an embassy, and acquire rights to an island that would be under British control in the same way that the Porutuguese controlled Macao. The mission failed spectacularly. Although Macartney got permission to sail north and meet the Qianlong Emperor in his summer palace at Jehol, he refused to perform the traditional kowtow which was required upon meeting the Emperor. He presented gifts from the British court, but the Chinese interpreted these gifts as tribute, not trade enticements, and decided they had no need for nor interest in what he offered. Since he failed to get them to agree to any of his three requests, Britain wanted to find another way to address the trade imbalance with China. Soon, this would lead them to start bringing in opium.
June 29, 2016
Pakistani religious law authorities announce support for (some) transgender marriages and civil rights
In The Telegraph, Mohammad Zubair Khan and Andrew Marszal report on a somewhat surprisingly liberal announcement on the part of a group of Islamic religious leaders:
Fifty top Pakistani clerics have issued a religious decree declaring that transgender people have full marriage, inheritance and funeral rights under Islamic law.
The fatwa stated that a female-born transgender person having “visible signs of being a male” may marry a woman or a male-born transgender with “visible signs of being a female”, and vice versa.
However, it ruled that a transgender person carrying “visible signs of both genders” – or intersex – may not marry anyone.
It is currently impossible for transgenders to marry in Pakistan, where gay marriage remains punishable by life imprisonment, and no “third gender” is recognised on official identity cards.
The new fatwa also declared that any act intended to “humiliate, insult or tease” the community was “haraam” (sinful), and that transgender persons should not be deprived of family inheritances, nor the right to be buried in Muslim ceremonies.
Muhammad Zia Ul Haq Naqshbandi, the Lahore-based head of the Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat religious law organisation that issued the fatwa, said parents who deprived their transgender sons or daughters of inheritances were “inviting the wrath of God”.
Tanzeem Ittehad-i-Ummat is not a political organisation, and its fatwas are not legally binding. But the group wields influence thanks to its tens of thousands of followers across Pakistan.
June 23, 2016
Uploaded on 18 Jan 2010
Song: Theme from Silk Road
Live in Tokyo Orchard Hall
September 26th 2009.
Love and Peace Planet Music Tour 2009 in Tokyo
June 2, 2016
An amazing story in the Washington Post details how a Malaysian defence contractor got his claws into the senior officers of the US Navy’s Seventh Fleet:
A 51-year-old Malaysian citizen, Francis has since pleaded guilty to fraud and bribery charges. His firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, is financially ruined.
But his arrest exposed something else that is still emerging three years later: a staggering degree of corruption within the Navy itself.
Much more than a contracting scandal, the investigation has revealed how Francis seduced the Navy’s storied 7th Fleet, long a proving ground for admirals given its strategic role in patrolling the Pacific and Indian oceans.
In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.
He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.
Over at least a decade, according to documents filed by prosecutors, Glenn Defense ripped off the Navy with little fear of getting caught because Francis had so thoroughly infiltrated the ranks.
In his dealings with the Americans, Francis went to great lengths to ingratiate himself with senior officers, recognizing that they often cared more about high-quality service than how the bill would be paid.
Whenever a Navy vessel arrived in port, the odds were high that Francis would be waiting at the pier. Like a five-star concierge, he would arrange for shopping trips, sightseeing tours and concert tickets. A limousine and driver would be reserved for the ship’s commander.
Select sailors would be invited to an extravagant banquet, featuring cognac and whiskey, Cohiba cigars from Cuba, and platters of Spanish suckling pig and Kobe beef. Francis would sometimes fly in a band of pole dancers, which he called his Elite Thai SEAL Team, for X-rated shows, court records show.
In another display of panache, he purchased an aging, decommissioned British warship, the RFA Sir Lancelot. He refurbished and renamed it the Glenn Braveheart.
The vessel became the flagship of his fleet, and it would often deploy alongside the USS Blue Ridge, the 7th Fleet’s flagship. When in port, Francis would sometimes turn the Braveheart into a giant party boat, with prostitutes in the wardroom to entertain U.S. officers, according to court records and interviews.
May 30, 2016
Published on 19 Apr 2016
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The armies and technology of World War II required a vast supply of resources. A close look at Germany and Japan shows how the need to secure those resources played a significent role in determining strategy throughout the war.
The armies of World War II needed a vast supply and variety of resources. The Allies had many of those resources on their side, but the Axis powers did not. Germany imported many of its resources from countries it would soon be fighting, and needed their war strategy to account for the acquisition of those resources. The Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact signed with the USSR set up a trade agreement to bring them oil from Russia for a while, in addition to establishing temporary non-aggression with the Soviets. When the war began in earnest, Germany targeted Norway with its supply of aluminum and iron as well as its access to the even more resource-rich Sweden. Conquering France also gave them access to rich farmland to feed the troops. But even though they had gained control of the oil fields in Romania, it wasn’t enough to power their war machine. Many Nazi generals wanted to target North Africa for this, but Hitler had his sights set on the Soviet Union and wound up squandering much of Germany’s reserves in a fruitless effort there. Meanwhile, Japan’s entrance into the war had cost them their primary trading partner: the United States. The Japanese army wanted to pursue the Northern Expansion Doctrine (Hokushin-Ron) and push through China into Siberia, wounding the USSR in the process. They attempted this strategy, but the Soviets met them in Mongolia and pushed them back in the Battle of Khalkhin Gol. So they turned to the Southern Expansion Doctrine (Nanshin-Ron) advocated by the navy, and began to sweep up islands in the Pacific. They planned to strip the European colonial powers of their holdings, and they succeeded in capturing 90% of the world’s rubber production. But the US responded by synthesizing rubber, and built an industry so large that even today, more rubber is synthesized than harvested. If World War I was the first industrial war, marked by mass production and industrial capacity, then World War II was the first scientific war, marked by advancements like synthesis, radar, and jet engines.
May 24, 2016
Published on 23 May 2016
China was in a constant period of unrest and turmoil after the Opium Wars and the Boxer Rebellion. None of the new leaders and presidents could really consolidate their power in China and a struggle between the different warlords. broke out. At the same time, China was eyeing a more prominent role within the international community and sent 150,000 workers to the Western Front as part of the Chinese Labour Corps.
April 24, 2016
In an article in the Washington Post last year, Roberto Ferdman summarized the findings of a statistical study explaining why the flavours in Indian foods differ so much from other world cuisines:
Indian food, with its hodgepodge of ingredients and intoxicating aromas, is coveted around the world. The labor-intensive cuisine and its mix of spices is more often than not a revelation for those who sit down to eat it for the first time. Heavy doses of cardamom, cayenne, tamarind and other flavors can overwhelm an unfamiliar palate. Together, they help form the pillars of what tastes so good to so many people.
But behind the appeal of Indian food — what makes it so novel and so delicious — is also a stranger and subtler truth. In a large new analysis of more than 2,000 popular recipes, data scientists have discovered perhaps the key reason why Indian food tastes so unique: It does something radical with flavors, something very different from what we tend to do in the United States and the rest of Western culture. And it does it at the molecular level.
Chefs in the West like to make dishes with ingredients that have overlapping flavors. But not all cuisines adhere to the same rule. Many Asian cuisines have been shown to belie the trend by favoring dishes with ingredients that don’t overlap in flavor. And Indian food, in particular, is one of the most powerful counterexamples.
Researchers at the Indian Institute for Technology in Jodhpur crunched data on several thousand recipes from a popular online recipe site called TarlaDalal.com. They broke each dish down to its ingredients, and then compared how often and heavily ingredients share flavor compounds.
The answer? Not too often.
April 11, 2016
April 2, 2016
In retrospect the fight against Napoleon seems to have engendered a new strategic method, later employed against Germany in two world wars and against the Soviet Union thereafter. The French might call it the Anglo-Saxon encirclement strategy. Its essential aim was to avoid direct combat with a formidable enemy, or at least to limit engagement to a minimum. Instead of confronting one vast army with another – at Waterloo there were only 25,000 British troops – the Anglo-Saxon approach was to take on the big beast by assembling as many neighbourhood dogs and cats as possible, with a few squirrels and mice thrown in. With the obvious exception of the Western Front in the First World War, that is how the two world wars were fought, with an ever longer list of allies large, small and trivial (e.g. Guatemala, whose rulers could thereby expropriate the coffee plantations of German settlers), and that is how the Soviet Union was resisted after 1945, with what eventually became the North Atlantic Alliance. Like the anti-Napoleon coalition, Nato was – and remains – a ragbag of member states large and small, of vastly different capacity for war or deterrence, not all of them loyal all the time, though loyal and strong enough. Like the challenge to British diplomacy in the struggle against Napoleon, the great challenge to which American diplomacy successfully rose was to keep the alliance going by tending to the various political needs of its member governments, even those of countries as small as Luxembourg, whose rulers sat on all committees as equals, even though they could never field more than a single battalion of troops.
Now it is the turn of the Chinese, whose strength is still modest yet growing too rapidly for comfort, and who are inevitably provoking the emergence of a coalition against them; the members range in magnitude from India and Japan down to the Sultanate of Brunei, in addition of course to the US. Should they become powerful enough, the Chinese will force even the Russian Federation into the coalition regardless of the innate preferences of its rulers, for strategy is always stronger than politics, as it was for the anti-communist Nixon and the anti-American Mao in 1972. China cannot therefore overcome its inferiority to the American-led coalition by converting its economic strength into aircraft carriers and such, any more than Napoleon could have overcome strategic encirclement by winning one more battle. The exact repetition of Napoleon’s fatal error by imperial and Nazi Germany is easily explained: history teaches no lesson except that there is a persistent failure to learn its lessons. It remains to be seen whether the Chinese will do any better.
Edward Luttwak, “A Damned Nice Thing”, London Review of Books, 2014-12-18.