Quotulatiousness

April 19, 2014

The Doolittle Raid, 18 April 1942

Filed under: History, Japan, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:35

I was busy with away-from-the-computer stuff yesterday, so I didn’t see this post until today:

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Brig. Gen. James Doolittle poses beside an Air Corps recruiting poster that alludes to his bombing raid on Japan in April 1942. (c) 1943

Less than 19 weeks after the U.S. Navy was attacked at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, the American military struck back. On April 18, 1942 – 72 years ago today – sixteen Army Air Force bombers launched from a Navy aircraft carrier to attack the enemy’s homeland.

Led by Lt. Col. James H. Doolittle, the raid was launched from USS Hornet, commanded by Capt. Marc Mitscher and escorted by ships under the command of Vice Adm. “Bull” Halsey aboard his flagship, USS Enterprise.

The extraordinary joint Doolittle Raid showed Imperial Japan’s military leaders their vulnerability and America’s resolve.

The raid also demonstrated innovation, courage and resilience.

The five-man B-25 crews trained relentlessly prior to their mission, with specialized training led by Navy flight instructor Lt. Henry F. Miller. The Army Air Force made ingenious modifications so the bombers could have extra fuel but less weight.

Pilots, all volunteers, needed to be extremely fearless, taking off in their huge planes from a short flight deck. On rough seas they launched in bitter cold, 75-knot winds and foam-flecked spray, as Sailors aboard recalled.

Doolittle, as his team’s leader, took off first. His success inspired the other pilots just as their entire mission would inspire the nation – putting action to the nationwide words of resolve heard throughout the world: “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

[...]

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

An Army Air Force B-25B bomber takes off from USS Hornet (CV 8) at the start of the raid, April 18, 1942. Note men watching from the signal lamp platform at right. (Official U.S. Navy Photograph, now in the collections of the U.S. National Archives – Courtesy of the NHHC Photo archives)

Seven Doolittle Raiders were killed in the mission: Two drowned and a third was killed by the fall after bailing out; eight were captured by the Japanese. Three of the eight POWs were executed Oct. 15, 1942, and another died of malnutrition Dec. 1, 1943. The surviving four POWs were released in August 1945.

The Raiders who landed in China were assisted by American missionary Rev. John M. Birch, whose contacts within Japanese-occupied China helped the Raiders to escape. Afterward, Birch was commissioned a lieutenant in the Army Air Force, continuing his work as a missionary while gathering intelligence on the Japanese. He was killed Aug. 25, 1945, at the age of 27, during a confrontation with Chinese Communists. The John Birch Society honors Birch, a recipient of both the Legion of Merit and the Distinguished Service Medal.

Even though the Doolittle Raiders bombed Tokyo, it was the Chinese who suffered the most from the raid. Furious the Chinese nationalists were protecting the Americans, the Japanese retaliated against several coastal cities suspected of harboring the Americans, killing an estimated 250,000 Chinese citizens.

Doolittle was so convinced his mission had been a failure, he was convinced he would face a court-martial upon his return to the United States. Instead, he was promoted to general, skipping the rank of colonel. He and all of his Raiders were awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Mitscher served in a variety of command leadership positions for the rest of World War II, earning the rank of admiral and title as Commander in Chief, U.S. Atlantic Fleet.

March 27, 2014

The problems onboard HMCS Protecteur were much worse than initially reported

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

HMCS Protecteur had an engine room fire while in transit back to Canadian waters last month after taking part in multinational naval exercises in the Pacific. Along with the 279 officers and crew, there were 17 family members and two civilian contractors on board at the time of the fire. The initial reports severely underestimated how much trouble the ship was in:

CBC News has learned Canadian sailors aboard fire-stricken HMCS Protecteur last month battled the blaze that disabled their ship for more than 11 hours before they were able to put it out.

The life or death fight was made even more difficult after the unexplained failure of the supply ship’s back-up generator, leaving Protecteur dead in the water, in the dark of night, her 279-strong crew struggling through smoke and blackness to fight the fire.

The generator failure also left crews scrambling to find a way to power water pumps to fight the blaze, and refill the oxygen bottles fire teams needed to sustain them as they tried desperately to save their ship.

This new information comes as Commander Julian Elbourne, captain of Protecteur, prepares to welcome naval investigators to the ship, which is tied up in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in the coming days.

I’m boggled that the investigators weren’t in Hawaii the same day Protecteur was towed in … why the excessive delays? Or is there no real rush because the initial survey indicated that it would not be economic to repair the ship?

The RCN auxiliary replenishment oiler HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) departs Naval Station Pearl Harbor after a routine port visit. Protecteur provides Canadian and allied warships with fuel, food and supplies and is the only Canadian Navy supply ship stationed on the Pacific Coast.

The RCN auxiliary replenishment oiler HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) departs Naval Station Pearl Harbor after a routine port visit. Protecteur provides Canadian and allied warships with fuel, food and supplies and is the only Canadian Navy supply ship stationed on the Pacific Coast.

The ship was scheduled to be retired from service in a few years, partly due to the problems with getting replacement parts for her engines, although the new Joint Supply Ships won’t be ready to go into service for a few years after that (at best). David Pugliese has more on the damage to the ship:

The deck and other metal structures on HMCS Protecteur, which caught fire and was towed to safety by the U.S. navy, may have warped because of the intense blaze, significantly damaging the vessel.

The extent of the damage is still being assessed. It will also take several months before a board of inquiry has the full details of the fire. However, the Canadian Forces fire marshal expects to deliver a report about the blaze to senior naval officers soon. Sources say the fire started on the port side of the engine room. Large amounts of oil from systems on board the vessel helped feed the fire, they add.

There are concerns the deck and hull may have warped due to the intense heat. The navy hasn’t released details but has acknowledged in a statement “significant fire and heat damage to the ship’s engine room and considerable heat and smoke damage in surrounding compartments.”

Canadian naval operations in the Pacific will be curtailed for at least a few years if Protecteur can’t be economically repaired, as the only other ship of that capability in service is sister ship HMCS Preserver, based in Halifax.

March 11, 2014

New Zealand considering changing the national flag

Filed under: Pacific — Tags: — Nicholas Russon @ 07:51

The current PM’s choice would be the silver fern on a black field, which is the symbol used by the national sports teams, especially the All Blacks:

New Zealand flag 320pxNew Zealand is to hold a referendum on whether to change the national flag, Prime Minister John Key has announced.

Mr Key, who on Monday called an election for 20 September, said the vote would be held within three years.

The current flag shows the Southern Cross constellation and includes the Union Jack – the UK’s national flag – in one corner.

Mr Key said the flag represented a period of history from which New Zealand had moved on.

“It’s my belief… that the design of the New Zealand flag symbolises a colonial and post-colonial era whose time has passed,” he said in a speech at Victoria University.

New Zealand All Black Silver Fern flag 324px“The flag remains dominated by the Union Jack in a way that we ourselves are no longer dominated by the United Kingdom.”

“I am proposing that we take one more step in the evolution of modern New Zealand by acknowledging our independence through a new flag.”

Mr Key said that he liked the silver fern — popularised by national teams including the All Blacks — as an option, saying efforts by New Zealand’s athletes gave “the silver fern on a black background a distinctive and uniquely New Zealand identity”.

January 28, 2014

New Zealand primary school descends into anarchy by “ripping up the schoolyard rules”

Filed under: Liberty, Pacific — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:45

In a breathtaking display of anarchy, an Aukland primary school got rid of all their playground rules and let the little savages do whatever they wanted. As you’d expect, the results were catastrophic and the kids will need to undergo therapy for the wanton violence they unleashed. Well, no, not really:

Ripping up the playground rulebook is having incredible effects on children at an Auckland school.

Chaos may reign at Swanson Primary School with children climbing trees, riding skateboards and playing bullrush during playtime, but surprisingly the students don’t cause bedlam, the principal says.

The school is actually seeing a drop in bullying, serious injuries and vandalism, while concentration levels in class are increasing.

Principal Bruce McLachlan rid the school of playtime rules as part of a successful university experiment.

“We want kids to be safe and to look after them, but we end up wrapping them in cotton wool when in fact they should be able to fall over.”

Letting children test themselves on a scooter during playtime could make them more aware of the dangers when getting behind the wheel of a car in high school, he said.

“When you look at our playground it looks chaotic. From an adult’s perspective, it looks like kids might get hurt, but they don’t.”

Swanson School signed up to the study by AUT and Otago University just over two years ago, with the aim of encouraging active play.

However, the school took the experiment a step further by abandoning the rules completely, much to the horror of some teachers at the time, he said.

When the university study wrapped up at the end of last year the school and researchers were amazed by the results.

Mudslides, skateboarding, bullrush and tree climbing kept the children so occupied the school no longer needed a timeout area or as many teachers on patrol.

Instead of a playground, children used their imagination to play in a “loose parts pit” which contained junk such as wood, tyres and an old fire hose.

“The kids were motivated, busy and engaged. In my experience, the time children get into trouble is when they are not busy, motivated and engaged. It’s during that time they bully other kids, graffiti or wreck things around the school.”

J.D. Tuccille hails the rise of spontaneous order:

Youth is a relatively low-risk time to test your limits and discover what hurts and what doesn’t. Kids are practically rubber, so when they fall down off a bike or out of a tree, it may be a jolt, but it’s unlikely to do permanent damage. The lessons they learn about what’s fun and what’s painful can be retained for later in life when the stakes are higher. I know that I gained a relatively low-cost understanding of the world wandering the streets unescorted as an eight-year-old than I would have if I’d been “protected” from the world around me, and I suspect the same is true of most kids everywhere.

And, of course, kids get to burn off a lot more steam when they play free than they do when adults ban tag and running. Those rules are imposed by adults who live in fear that children will damage their little selves, but that leaves the tots chock full of unreleased energy and uncertain of the limits of their worlds — limits they’ll have to discover when they’re older and the consequences can be more severe (or else they won’t discover at all as they internalize the fear in which they’ve been marinated).

January 14, 2014

Noam Chomsky – TPP is an “assault” that furthers corporate “domination”

Filed under: Economics, Government, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:59

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is perhaps the most secretive “free trade” deal ever negotiated. It’s apparently so important that the details be kept from the electorate that even our elected representatives are not being given much information on what has been discussed or agreed. It’s not just libertarian and free market advocates that find this lack of transparency disturbing, as this piece in the Huffington Post shows:

The Obama administration’s Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal is an “assault,” on working people intended to further corporate “domination,” according to author and activist Noam Chomsky.

“It’s designed to carry forward the neoliberal project to maximize profit and domination, and to set the working people in the world in competition with one another so as to lower wages to increase insecurity,” Chomsky said during an interview with HuffPost Live.

The Obama administration has been negotiating the TPP pact with 11 other Pacific nations for years. While the deal has not been finalized and much of it has been classified, American corporate interest groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, have already voiced strong support for the TPP, describing it as a free trade deal that will encourage economic growth. The Office of U.S. Trade Representative has also defended the talks, saying the TPP will include robust regulatory protections. But labor unions and a host of traditionally liberal interest groups, including environmentalists and public health advocates, have sharply criticized the deal.

Chomsky argues that much of the negotiations concern issues outside of what many consider trade, and are focused instead on limiting the activities governments can regulate, imposing new intellectual property standards abroad and boosting corporate political power.

“It’s called free trade, but that’s just a joke,” Chomsky said. “These are extreme, highly protectionist measures designed to undermine freedom of trade. In fact, much of what’s leaked about the TPP indicates that it’s not about trade at all, it’s about investor rights.”

November 16, 2013

Whatever happened to Chinese “soft power”?

Filed under: China, Pacific, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:51

James R. Holmes says the Chinese have unequivocally abandoned soft power:

China never ceases to amaze. Not only has the leadership done away with a promising soft-power campaign that was years in the making. It razed its own soft-power edifice to the ground, and salted the ruins so nothing can take root again. Why remains a mystery.

The latest trouble sign came after Typhoon Haiyan slammed into the Philippine Islands over the weekend, claiming at least more than 1,800 lives so far. Professor Mead posted an item marveling at the paltry sum Beijing committed to Philippine disaster relief. Upon reading it, I was sure Mead had omitted two or three zeroes. But sure enough, cross-checking his commentary against a Reuters report shows he had the figure right: US$100,000 in direct aid, and another US$100,000 through the Red Cross. Such token amounts give tokenism a bad name.

Forget smile diplomacy. This is sneer diplomacy. Many observers, myself included, ascribed Chinese inaction following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami to immature capability. The PLA hadn’t yet fielded the expeditionary capabilities necessary to render assistance far from Chinese shores. Beijing did little because it could do little. Chinese forces, however, now own disaster-relief assets such as the hospital ship Peace Ark. Yet they remain idle. It’s hard to escape the conclusion that Beijing is withholding help out of pique. Manila, after all, has the temerity to insist that its exclusive economic zone is, well, its exclusive economic zone. Seems political tit-for-tat trumps alleviating human suffering.

[...]

There’s an upside to this from an American standpoint: China has made itself look small and petty, like a skinflint rather than a magnanimous power worthy of regional leadership. This is self-defeating conduct of a high order. Far be it from me to interfere with a strategic competitor intent on shooting himself in the foot. Fire!

October 27, 2013

“Dangerous Ground” in the South China Sea

Filed under: China, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

John Donovan linked to this interesting New York Times Magazine feature about the Spratly Islands and the geopolitical standoff between China and pretty much all of the other nations bordering the South China Sea:

Spratly Islands - Sierra Madre aground on Ayungin

Ayungin Shoal lies 105 nautical miles from the Philippines. There’s little to commend the spot, apart from its plentiful fish and safe harbor — except that Ayungin sits at the southwestern edge of an area called Reed Bank, which is rumored to contain vast reserves of oil and natural gas. And also that it is home to a World War II-era ship called the Sierra Madre, which the Philippine government ran aground on the reef in 1999 and has since maintained as a kind of post-apocalyptic military garrison, the small detachment of Filipino troops stationed there struggling to survive extreme mental and physical desolation. Of all places, the scorched shell of the Sierra Madre has become an unlikely battleground in a geopolitical struggle that will shape the future of the South China Sea and, to some extent, the rest of the world.

[...]

To understand how Ayungin (known to the Western world as Second Thomas Shoal) could become contested ground is to confront, in miniature, both the rise of China and the potential future of U.S. foreign policy. It is also to enter into a morass of competing historical, territorial and even moral claims in an area where defining what is true or fair may be no easier than it has proved to be in the Middle East.

The Spratly Islands sprawl over roughly 160,000 square miles in the waters of the coasts of the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Taiwan and China — all of whom claim part of the islands.

Spratly Islands shipping lanes

October 3, 2013

Postwar horror – the misery didn’t stop with VE day or VJ day

Filed under: Europe, History, Japan, Media, Pacific — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:38

In the last couple of years, I’ve read several books about the aftermath of World War Two, including Tony Judt’s Postwar: A History of Europe Since 1945, Ronald Spector’s In the Ruins of Empire: The Japanese Surrender and the Battle for Postwar Asia, and David Stafford’s Endgame, 1945: The Missing Final Chapter of World War II. When you concentrate on the combat side of war, you can easily miss the destructive side-effects of that combat and it’s hard to imagine how long it can take for a city or a region to recover from being a battlefield. What is even more interesting is the complex interplay of humanitarian, political and social pressures on the winning side, too often leading to actions that we would have called war crimes if they’d happened just days or weeks earlier. In the New York Times, Adam Hochschild looks at an interesting new book covering the immediate postwar period:

Ian Buruma’s lively new history, Year Zero, is about the various ways in which the aftermath of the Good War turned out badly for many people, and splendidly for some who didn’t deserve it. It is enriched by his knowledge of six languages, a sense of personal connection to the era (his Dutch father was a forced laborer in Berlin) and his understanding of this period from a book he wrote two decades ago that is still worth reading, The Wages of Guilt: Memories of War in Germany and Japan. His survey rambles over a wide expanse of ground, from sexual behavior (imagine millions of Allied occupation troops in a Germany where women outnumbered men by eight to five), to British and American soldiers unintentionally killing thousands of liberated concentration camp inmates by feeding them more than their shriveled intestinal tracts could handle, to the Allies’ blindness to how much of their cornucopia of food and supplies found its way into the hands of Italian, French and Japanese gangsters, restoring some of their prewar power.

Despite the lofty democratic aura of World War II, Buruma points out that the Allies spent much of the latter half of 1945 reviving colonialism. After Algerian Arabs began an uprising on V-E Day, demanding equal rights, some of the troops the French governor general called in to suppress them included an elite infantry regiment that had just taken part in the final assault on Germany. Rebellious towns and villages were bombed, or shelled by naval vessels; in two months of fighting as many as 30,000 Algerians may have been killed. Thousands were made to kneel before the French flag and beg forgiveness.

On the other side of the world, inhabitants of the Dutch East Indies demanded freedom just after the Japanese surrender. But the Dutch government answered with troops, aided by soldiers from Britain’s large Indian Army, British battleships and abundant American military supplies. Fighting continued for four years. And in Vietnam, where a crowd of more than 300,000 gathered to hear Ho Chi Minh declare independence from France, the story would of course eventually become even bloodier. In 1945 British troops were crucial to restoring the colonial order in Vietnam, with help from French Foreign Legion detachments. These included many German volunteers, recruited from P.O.W. camps, who had recently been fighting the Allies in Europe or North Africa.

Meanwhile, the victorious Allies were uprooting some 10 million ethnic Germans from parts of Eastern Europe, where they had lived for generations, and forcing them to move to a shrunken Germany, with perhaps a half-million or more dying in the process from hunger, exposure or attacks by vengeful neighbors. Buruma, like others before him, notes the paradox of the Allied armies carrying out something that echoed “Hitler’s project . . . of ethnic purity.”

September 10, 2013

China’s historical model for naval strategy

Filed under: China, History, Middle East, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:16

At The Diplomat, James Holmes explains the odd fact that China is a “good citizen” in their coalition work with other countries fighting piracy away from home, but bullies its neighbours in the waters closer to home:

The analogy is the doctrine of “no peace beyond the line” practiced in late Renaissance Europe. To recap: in a nifty bit of collective doublethink, European rulers struck up a compact whereby nations could remain at peace in Europe, avoiding the hardships of direct conflict, while assailing each other mercilessly beyond a mythical boundary separating Europe from the Americas. In practice this meant they raided each other’s shipping and outposts in the greater Caribbean Sea and its Atlantic approaches.

It feels as though an inverse dynamic is at work in the Indo-Pacific theater. Naval powers cooperate westward of the line traced by the Malay Peninsula, Strait of Malacca, and Indonesian archipelago. Suspicions pockmarked by occasional confrontation predominate east of the South China Sea rim, a physical — rather than imaginary — line dividing over there from home ground.

A non-Renaissance European, Clausewitz, helps explain why seafaring powers can police the Gulf of Aden in harmony while feuding over the law of the sea in the East China Sea and South China Sea. It’s because the mission is apolitical. Counterpiracy is the overriding priority for the nations that have dispatched vessels to the waters off Somalia. Few if any of them have cross-cutting interests or motives that might disrupt the enterprise. It’s easy to work together when the partners bring little baggage to the venture.

[...]

You see where I’m going with this. The expedition to the Gulf of Aden is an easy case. It proves a trivial result, namely that rivals can collaborate for mutual gain when they have the same interests in an endeavor. Now plant yourself in East Asia and survey the strategic terrain within the perimeter separating the Indian from the Pacific Ocean. China views the South China Sea, to name one contested expanse, not as a commons but as offshore territory. Indeed, Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty” there.

Such pretensions grate on Southeast Asian states, while the United States hopes to rally coalitions and partnerships to oversee the commons. But if Beijing is serious about the near seas’ constituting “blue national soil” — and our Chinese friends are nothing if not sincere — then outsiders policing these waters must look like invaders. How else would you regard foreign constables or armies roaming your soil — even for praiseworthy reasons — without so much as a by-your-leave?

South China Sea claims

September 4, 2013

Air-Sea Battle as a response to Chinese military expansion

Filed under: China, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:18

The Diplomat‘s Amitai Etzioni looks at the US Air-Sea Battle plan:

On the face of it, the Pentagon’s Air-Sea Battle plan makes eminently good sense; it is a clear response to a clear challenge. China has been developing a whole slew of weapons (especially anti-ship missiles) over the past two decades that are of great concern to the U.S. military. These weapons, known in Pentagon-speak as anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, could undermine the international right to free passage in China’s surrounding waters or, in the case of a conflict over Taiwan or contested islands in the South and East China Seas, prevent the U.S. from making good on defense commitments to its friends in the region.

In response, the Pentagon developed Air-Sea Battle (ASB), the employment of which entails, according to position papers developed to promote it, a blistering assault on China’s mainland. A report by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA) gives a detailed account of how an ASB-style war with China would unfold. In the opening “blinding campaign,” the U.S. attacks China’s reconnaissance and command-and-control networks to degrade the PLA’s ability to target U.S. and allied forces. Next, the military takes the fight to the Chinese mainland, striking long-range anti-ship missile launchers. Given that this is where the anti-ship missiles are located, it is only logical that the U.S. would target land-based platforms. And to go after them, one of course needs to take out China’s air defense systems, command control centers, and other anti-access weapons. In short, ASB requires a total war with China.

[...]

The main flaw Air-Sea Battle it is not merely that it is a particularly aggressive military response to the anti-access/area-denial challenge. The problem is that ASB is developing in a foreign policy vacuum. If the U.S. were to conduct a thorough review of China’s military capabilities and its regional and global ambitions — and found that the Chinese were planning to forcefully expand their territory or unseat the U.S. as the global power, perhaps Air-Sea Battle might be deemed appropriate.

August 28, 2013

Hurricane and cyclone paths since 1842

Filed under: Americas, Environment, Pacific, Science — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:59

Wired‘s MapLab has a lovely visualization of both hurricane and cyclone tracks starting with the earliest records in 1842:

Historical Hurricane and Cyclone paths since 1842

This map shows the paths of every hurricane and cyclone detected since 1842. Nearly 12,000 tropical cyclones have been tracked and recorded, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration keeps them all in a single database. Long-term datasets can be really interesting and scientifically valuable, and this one is undoubtedly both.

In the image above, you can clearly see that more storm tracks have overlapped in the western Pacific ocean and northern Indian ocean. This is largely because of the length of the typhoon season, which basically never stops in the warmer waters there.

The tracks of the earliest storms are based on mariner’s logs and storm records, collected from various countries, agencies and other sources. Reconciling data from these different entities was tough. Most international agencies had their own set of codes for cyclone intensity, and only recorded this information once per day. India was even using different wind thresholds to designate cyclone stages.

April 17, 2013

Within the Hermit Kingdom

Filed under: Asia, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:02

“Sir Humphrey” posted this a few weeks ago, but given the ongoing weirdness emanating from North Korea, it’s still fully valid:

North Korea is one of the most unusual and terrifyingly Orwellian states on the planet. Imagine a nation where every member of the population has spent the last 60 years being told that they live in a paradise, and that they have the greatest living conditions on earth. Add to this complete state control of the media and broadcast, a network of spies and informants and a gulag archipelago that would make Stalin jealous. Presiding over this nation of some 23 million utterly indoctrinated and militarized people is a tiny elite who enjoy a pampered and privileged lifestyle which provides them with any manner of goods and services. At the very top of this is the ruler Kim Jong Un, who has inherited his position from his father Kim Jong Il. The Kim dynasty are treated almost as gods, and no criticism of any form is officially tolerated.

[. . .]

It is telling that there have been multiple photos of Kim appearing in the media while making visits to the armed forces. Kim Jong Il used to do something similar, whereby he would make a regular ‘guidance’ visit to various KPA units and reiterate advice on how things could be done better (a trait of Kim Jong Il was his unerring ability to be a world expert at whatever he turned his mind to apparently). If anything Kim Jong Un has been more prominent in these sorts of visits, where he seems determined to establish his credentials as a military leader. Not a military man by background, and with no real party power base to speak of, he needs to ensure that he can count on the loyalty of the armed forces to support his regime. Photos of him delivering guidance may appear somewhat hammed up to the Western audience, but in North Korea they serve as evidence that Kim has an understanding of the threat and is prepared to meet it.

The use of the rhetoric against South Korea and the US is important — it provides a unifying theme and helps focus attention on repelling the long expected attack. At the same time, the attempt to conduct a crude form of ‘nuclear blackmail’ by conducting tests of devices and rockets helps demonstrate Kims credentials as a credible world leader, with the most advanced technology and the ability to dictate terms to the wider world. The problem though is that as Kim is discovering now, it is difficult to back down from the pedestal when the other side don’t react as you expect them to.

March 27, 2013

North Korea breaks off remaining communication channels

Filed under: Asia, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:23

The North Korean government continues to escalate the tension level:

Reclusive North Korea is to cut the last channel of communications with the South because war could break out at “any moment”, it said on Wednesday, days after warning the United States and South Korea of nuclear attack.

The move is the latest in a series of bellicose threats from North Korea in response to new U.N. sanctions imposed after its third nuclear test in February and to “hostile” military drills under way joining the United States and South Korea.

The North has already stopped responding to calls on the hotline to the U.S. military that supervises the heavily armed Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) and the Red Cross line that has been used by the governments of both sides.

“Under the situation where a war may break out at any moment, there is no need to keep north-south military communications which were laid between the militaries of both sides,” the North’s KCNA news agency quoted a military spokesman as saying.

February 7, 2013

Japan scrambles fighters after two Russian aircraft intrude

Filed under: Asia, Japan, Military, Pacific — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:39

Japan’s military forces are getting quite a workout these days, with the standoff with China over the Senkaku Islands and now the Russians are getting aggressive about probing Japanese airspace:

Two Russian fighter jets have violated Japanese airspace, prompting Tokyo to scramble its own aircraft, reports say.

Japan lodged a protest after the planes were detected off the northern island of Hokkaido for just over a minute.

The incident happened after Japanese PM Shinzo Abe said he was seeking a solution to a territorial dispute with Russia over a Pacific island chain.

Russia’s military denied the incursion, saying the jets were making routine flights near the disputed islands.

Mr Abe was speaking on the anniversary of an 1855 treaty which Japan says supports its claims to the islands.

The four islands — which Russia calls the Southern Kurils and Japan calls the Northern Territories — are the subject of a 60-year-old dispute.

Because of the dispute, the two nations have not yet signed a peace treaty to end World War II.

February 1, 2013

USS Guardian to be dismantled in place after grounding on coral reef

Filed under: Environment, Military, Pacific, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

The US Navy has decided that the best course of action is to break up the minesweeper USS Guardian after it ran solidly aground on a coral reef in the Sulu Sea:

USS Guardian aground in the Sulu Sea January 2013

“We’re working very closely with the Philippine coast guard, with their navy and their government personnel. We’ve been grateful for their support as we all work together to remove Guardian and minimize further damage to the reef,” James said.

It’s expected to take over a month to dismantle the Guardian, which ran aground before dawn on Jan. 17.

Crews have already removed 15,000 gallons of fuel from the ship. They’ve also taken off hundreds of gallons of lubricating oil and paint. They’ll be removing human wastewater and other materials that could harm the environment, James said.

The U.S. Navy is hiring floating cranes to help with the removal. A contractor in Singapore is sending the cranes, which should arrive on site in a few days.

The Navy originally said the Guardian would be lifted by crane onto a barge and taken to a shipyard. But now the Navy says the ship is “beyond economical repair.”

No one was injured when the ship ran aground at the reef in the Tubbataha National Marine Park. The park is a World Heritage Site in the Sulu Sea, about 400 miles southwest of Manila.

Update, 8 February: A bit more information about the salvage operations which are supposed to have started on February 4th.

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