Spanish Civil War

Yasuke the Samurai: Falsifying history for fun and profit

Last week the trailer for a new installment of the Assassins Creed franchise came out.  I'm familiar with the game, though I've never played it.  Anyhow, my understanding is that it uses the Knight Templars as some sort of ancient conspiracy against their arch-enemies and assassins are good, Templars bad, or whatever.   I'm quite the fan of Umberto Eco's Templar conspiracy tour-de-force, Focault's Pendulum, which I'm sure was at least some of the inspiration for the franchise.

Anyway, the new release is set in Japan, a first for the series, and people were naturally looking forward to actual samurai and ninjas duking it out.  Instead, the titular character is an African samurai, which has a lot of people scratching their heads.

Apparently, there is a mention of an African man reaching Japan during the tumultuous 16th Century.  The actual person was the servant of a Jesuit missionary and a Japanese warlord took an interest in him, taking him into his service as a page or manservant.

To put it another way, he wasn't an actual samurai.  

But facts mean nothing to modern social justice motivated scholars, and so the game publishers are digging in on the "authenticity" of their game.  Some are citing African Samurai: The True Story of Yasuke, a Legendary Black Warrior in Feudal Japan as the authoritative source.  The book has hugely positive ratings, but that's meaningless in terms of whether or not it is actual history.

Long-time friends of this blog will know that when I dug into the Spanish Civil War, I found plenty of "respected" sources that spouted provable lies.  Antony Beevor is - for some strange reason - considered a respectable historian despite his blatant bigotry and complete disregard of the facts.

That tissue of lies has a very positive rating despite being filled with hot garbage, and I noticed that critical reviews of that Yasuke book echo my own audit of Beevor.

To put it another way, there is zero proof that this Yasuke was a samurai, but bigoted Western authors have decided that he was one, and that's that.

At the start of this dispute, both Encyclopedia Britannic and Wikipedia were skeptical of the samurai claims, but once the signal was given both sources rewrote their entries to conform to the new narrative.  They both went full George Orwell.  Never go full George Orwell.

The core problem with this transparent re-writing of history is that it convinces no one.  Skeptics will become more skeptical while fence-sitters will be turned off by the sudden about-face.  The true believers will parrot whatever is given them, which further strengthens the skeptical arguments.

Put simply, it is self-defeating, destroying the authority of once-respected institutions in return for ephemeral short-term gains.  This seems to be the hallmark of our age.

What makes this all so pathetic is that all this revisionism is being done in the service of a video game, one that has already generated overwhelmingly negative responses.  The various authorities that whored themselves out for this endeavor will see zero return on their investment.  Their best-case scenario is for some tech mogul to get a little bit more wealthy for a little while.

Meanwhile, the prestige of Western scholarship will suffer irreparable damage.  

At this point, I'm good with that.  Modern academics are nothing more than credentialed imbeciles.  Indeed, when challenged, they always resort to asserting their authority rather than providing actual evidence.  The faster this corruption is exposed and destroyed, the better for everyone.

War has no rules

My generation grew  up with a very legalistic, regulated view of war.  As a consequence, I don't think many people understand how utterly raw and lawless war actually is.

In the various contemporary conflicts I see accusations of "war crimes," and with that the expectation that some sort of authority will show up and hand out tickets.  It reminds me of nothing so much as complaining to teacher.

But as William T. Sherman observed more than a century ago, war is cruelty.  Efforts to soften it, "civilize" it or regulate it rarely succeed.  Indeed, the past few decades have illustrated that the more rules are put in place, the more they are bent and twisted to permit what are always considered to be necessary acts.

What really regulates the conduct of war is reciprocity - the understanding that escalation will produce a retaliatory response.  While in many ways more savage than the First World War, WW II did not see the widespread use of poison gas for this reason.  Neither side perceived it as conferring an advantage, so neither used it in anything other than isolated situations (I'm thinking mostly of Japan vs China.)

For the last few decades, wars involving Western nations have never reached the existential levels achieved during World War II.  This has led to a certain level of complacency and the assumption is that Western nations must always observe the laws of war even if the enemy conspicuously does not.  The result is usually military defeat, but one without serious consequences.

This "by the book" mentality also assumes victory is not necessary, and that "managing" the conflict is enough.

But when the stakes become higher, the old rules of reciprocity come back, and it's interesting to note that all of the agreements respecting laws of war were originally based on this principle.  If the enemy uses hospitals as ammunition dumps, they cease to be protected areas.  If the enemy refuses to wear uniforms, that the line between military and civilian is likewise eliminated.

No amount of international condemnation or hand-writing by various non-governmental organizations will change this.

Not all wars are savage, and in both of my books, I noted instances of remarkable restraint and mercy, but such things are the exception rather than the rule.

Oh, and the notion that enemy populations have a "human right" to food?  Utterly without historical foundation.  The oldest - and arguably most effective - siege tactic is starvation.  At some point, the garrison either submits or is too weak to resist.  Food has always been a weapon since the days of the hunter-gatherers.  It would be well for people to understand this.

Movie anti-review: Civil War

From the moment I saw the first trailer for Civil War, I knew I was not going to watch it.  Instead, I'm going to do an anti-review on it.

What is an anti-review?  It's where I explain why I refused to see a movie that should otherwise be very interesting to me.  This is a great example, because it seems to have many of the elements I like in a film.

For one thing, it's about conflict, and I love war movies.  It's also about civil war, revolution, and political collapse, themes I've used in my novels and of course I've written a book about the Spanish Civil War (Long Live Death) and my military history of China (Walls of Men), has lots of rebellions and civil wars in it.

So why am I skipping this film?  Because it is so incredibly stupid.

Some folks have picked on the setting, i.e. Texas and California teaming up.  I actually don't have a problem with that.  For one thing, there's ample precedent for rivals to join against a common enemy.  Heck, Catholic France rallied to the Protestant cause in the Thirty Years' War.

The scenario was purportedly made that way to focus on the characters' stories rather than the political side.   Which is fine.  If you want to just focus on how war affects people, you can pretty much block out the cause and just focus on people trying to get by.

I think one could make a great story about how civil war would affect hospital workers who are forced into treating casualties or conscript soldiers who are now fighting their countrymen and don't fully grasp why.

The problem is that the heroes are journalists, who are supposed to immerse themselves in these things.  Indeed, journalism is now the most political profession outside actual politics.  So to pretend they're "just following the story" is stupid.

The next layer of stupidity is the characters themselves.  There are no "war correspondents" anymore.  They vanished decades ago.  Martha Gellhorn died in 1998.  The notion that there is still some famous woman journalist documented war passed its expiration date 30 years ago.  The characters may as well be relying on chemical film and using phone booths to communicate.  It's stupid.

Similarly, the emphasis on still photography is stupid.  No one uses still photography in war zones, they stream video.  Writer/Director Alex Garland is lost in a world that no longer exists and died by the time he hit age 30.

His notion of how war works is similarly stupid, and clearly shaped by his work on zombie films.  Indeed, he can't get out of that frame of thinking, resorting to the usual trope of having abandoned vehicles on the highway.

But this isn't a zombie outbreak.  Highways are crucial to keeping people fed and clothed.  If a highway is bombed or strafed, people will fix it and scrap or strip the damaged vehicles.

Similarly, he has the whole order/chaos thing exactly backwards.  He shows that the closer one gets to the battlefront, the more organized things are, even down to neat little tent encampments.

No.  That is stupid.  The closer you get the front, the more chaotic things become, and no modern army builds camps like that.  This isn't 1860, it's a time when cheap drones can fly and bomb tidy little camps like that with almost no warning.

And this isn't secret knowledge, either.  Fighting in Ukraine has been going on for more than year.  Maybe he should leave his zombie bubble.

It is in the rear areas that you have order, as the new government is put in place, and people pick up and carry on as best they can.  Garland has the twisted Hollywood version of American in his mind, where everyone between the coasts is just a bunch of bloodthirsty rubes waiting to kill each other.  It's not like that at all, but he's too stupid to know it.

I'm actually losing interest in typing out all the stupidity because there is just so much of it, so I'm just going to finish with the example of the militia guy who shoots the journalist because he's not American.

This scene is stupidly stupid.  It is a towering monument of stupid, covered with a stupid gloss and shining under stupid clouds.  

Why?  Because no militia person would ever walk around with red shades and only a single magazine in his weapon.  Garland knows no actual gun owners, and has no idea how combat works.  Even people with zero military experience understand that you need a canteen, first aid kit, extra ammo and gear to carry it all.  The dweeb he has standing there is someone who literally cannot exist in gun culture. 

"Hey Bob, cover that road with only 20 rounds and be sure not to wear a hat so you can get sunstroke."

"What if I get thirsty?"

"It's only for this one scene."

Okay, I'm done now.  It's too stupid to go on.

Looking back on 2023: The Year of Tidying Up

Yesterday we hosted a modest gathering by historical standards, but it was a welcome change from the lingering isolation of the pandemic.

In addition to the benefit of companionship, I like having people over because it acts as a spur to clean up the place.  It's easy to get complacent about the state of one's home.  So long as the kitchen sink is clear and the toilets aren't covered in grime, it's all good, right?

No.  I think the accumulation of dust and disorderliness can be felt, even if it isn't consciously seen.  So much stuff get set down here or there and then forgotten and finally buried.  It's nice to clear all that out and replace year-old papers with a plate of snacks.

That's somewhat my feeling about 2023 - it wasn't so much about starting new things as much as clearing out old ones.  While my retirement date was set at the end of 2022, it was not until mid-April that the wrangling with the Air Force was completed.  Only then did I receive my packet, certificates and formal notification.

Similarly, June saw the end of two decades of having kids in school.  I'm finally off the district email list.

Of course, Walls of Men published earlier this year, and due to the current domestic situation, I haven't been able to start anything new.  Walls of Men was something of a commercial disappointment to me.  I figured China's military history was a much more compelling topic than the Spanish Civil War, but I was wrong.

With books being out of reach, I've cranked out quite a few columns for Bleeding Fool, and these are getting more engagement, no doubt a function of their frequency and topics.

While I try to be hopeful and optimistic, I look forward to the coming year with a certain sense of dread.  Politics hold no interest for me, and our electoral system is breaking down.  I've little confidence that it will hold up to the strain.

That being said, God is the prime mover in all of this, and I will continue to work in deepening my prayer life and giving all of my trust over to Him.

The limits of eye-witness accounts

A friend of mine's father served in the 12th Armored Division during WW II, rising from the ranks to be a lieutenant.  Remarkably, he's still alive, having passed his 100th birthday.

Apparently the tank destroyer battalion in his unit was what used to be called "colored," that is:  black enlisted men, white officers.  He took a dim view of them, and this extended to black people in general, since he regarded the tank destroyers as fundamentally cowardly, since they never stuck around during combat.

The term "tank destroyer" is somewhat misleading.  Americans may associate this with some of the heavily armored German or Soviet self-propelled artillery, which were nearly invulnerable to frontal bombardment. 

However, U.S. doctrine treated tank destroyers as highly mobile fire brigades, designed to race to threatened points and attack enemy vehicles by ambush.  Once discovered, they would pull out and move to a new firing position.  Their unofficial motto was "hide and hope."

Thus, the tank destroyers were only doing what American doctrine required of them.  I should clarify that my friend's father became an officer via battlefield promotion; he had no formal officer training, so he would not have known armored doctrine.  All he knew was what he saw on the field, and he rose to command by virtue of being alive more than any other quality.

This points to the limited value of eye-witness accounts.  They are hugely important, of course, since they represent actual human experiences.  However, they can also mislead if we place too much reliance on them.  Context is always needed.  The account of this particular veteran is invaluable not because it's analysis is correct (it isn't), but because it reflects not just how troops perceived the role of tank destroyers, but also black soldiers in general.

In both Walls of Men and Long Live Death, I used such first-person accounts as I could find, but I also had to include the context.  The stories of American volunteers in Spain are heavily influenced by Communist propaganda, which also shapes the context of their service.  The high overall casualties of the International Brigades has been cited as proof of their professionalism, courage and fighting spirit.  However, a closer review indicates that many deaths attributed to combat were actually extra-judicial executions for political offenses.

Similarly, the general point of view that Nationalist Armies fought poorly against the Japanese is simply untrue.  By the time the U.S. entered the war, China was cut off from foreign aid, and its armies had suffered terrible losses.  The cream of their forces had died, but not without inflicting considerable harm on the Japanese, who were content to wait on events.  Few first-person accounts of the fighting has reached us, which is why this largely unknown.

That's why these experiences are important, even if they are fallible.

Freemasons! Under my bed!

In the comments to a post last week on the Methodist schism, reader CN linked to a site that purportedly outlined the goals of Freemasonry.

For most of my life I assumed Freemasons were mostly a social network with some mutual aid thrown in.  Such organizations used to be quite common, but the growth of state welfare programs combined with population mobility pretty much wiped them out.  The few that remain do so in rural areas and are more overtly life-insurance based.  (The Knights of Columbus - of which I am a member - seem to be the exception.)

American Freemasonry has at times been controversial, particularly when the social networking aspect began to take on the appearance of a influence-peddling cartel, as happened in the mid-19th Century.

In Europe, by contrast, Freemasonry was explicitly anti-Catholic and associated itself with revolutionary movements.  Almost every Spanish anarchist, communist or socialist leader during the 1930s was a high-ranking Freemason, and they have long been considered to be committed to overthrowing the existing order.

This is actually what happened in North America.  Most of the Founding Fathers were Freemasons, and their iconography features strongly in our symbols and our currency to this day. 

The U.S. Constitution itself is influenced by Freemasonry, particularly in its guarantee of free speech and the free exercise of religion.  These features were subsequently used to suppress public expressions of faith and prohibit any government funds from assisting religious charities or faith-based schools. 

The result has been an increasingly secular society harboring a latent hostility to God. 

Whether this was the part of a cunning plan developed over centuries of conspiratorial plotting or merely the opportunistic assaults of the Enemy is something of a moot point. 

Freemasonry is an entirely spent force in American society.  If they haven't already been torn down, just about every town as an abandoned Masonic lodge or temple that has been converted into another use (the one here is now owned by the Catholic Church).  I doubt this was part of the grand plan for world conquest.

That doesn't stop a certain subset of Catholics from declaring every deviation from their interpretation of doctrine, dogma and canon law is the result of Freemasons infiltrating the Church or from denouncing everyone who questions them as Freemasons. 

Indeed, the presence of these people is an important reminder that the Catholics are just as prone to error as everyone else, which is why we must approach our faith with great humility and frequently examine our consciences.



Some thoughts on the The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Given the age and popularity of The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly, I don' think there is a lot to add other than an angle I'm pretty sure most people aren't aware of: the influence of the Spanish Civil War on the film.

Yes, it is well known that the climactic three-way duel was filmed in cemetery set aside for war dead, but there are enough features that - knowing more about the conflict than I did when I last watched the film - influence is very clear.

Perhaps the most obvious example is the way the war it portrayed.  The armies on both sides in what was at the time the Far West were little more than volunteer bands, not well-equipped and disciplined armies.  Artillery was scarce, and the war was waged as a series of raids.  Static, attritional combat was simply impossible to sustain.

By contrast, Spain did have sectors of the front that were located in the wilderness but that nevertheless saw continuous low-grade fighting.  The bridge sequence in particular is instructive.  The Union fortifications are extensive and rely extensively on sandbags - unknown in the American Civil War, but common in Spain. 

When Tuco and Blondie tell The Captain they wish to volunteer, his incredulous reaction is also instructive.  Apart from the early months of the war, when volunteers flocked to Anarchist battalions or joined the Falange, both armies in Spain rapidly settled into conscription as the primary means of recruitment.

By contrast, conscripts made up only a tiny portion of the respective armies in the American Civil War, and certainly none would have been sent to a place where desertion would be so easy.

Though they represented the government, the Union troops are clearly modeled on the Nationalists, with strict discipline in dress and movement and it's not much of a stretch that the "blue coats" were seen as Blue Shirts (Falange) to the Spanish crew, who portrayed them accordingly. 

Probably the most obvious example is the backstory given to Tuco when he meets his brother.  It is imply not credible that someone growing up in the west would have no options other than banditry or the priesthood.  This was an era of tremendous population movement, and new settlements were emerging all along the frontier.  Sergio Leone's imagining of the American west as dilapidated and forlorn is iconic, but also inaccurate.

It is, however, what was going on in rural Spain during that time period.  Deprived of opportunity, young people flocked to the cities to find factory work, and many were radicalized by Anarchism and Communism.  That simply was not true in America.

There are other tidbits of course, such as random indirect-fire shelling (unknown in the US, common in Spain) and of course the rope-wrapped wine bottles in place of whiskey or beer.

It's still a great film, and seeing the American Civil War through Spanish lenses provides an interesting take on the conflict.

And the music is outstanding.

Many ratings, no reviews

Over the last couple of weeks I've notice that a bunch of my books are getting more ratings on Amazon.  Some are good, others not so much.  Indeed, I've been surprised to see the Man of Destiny series pick up a bunch of ratings, but some are the lowest they've ever gotten.

Conversely, both Long Live Death and Walls of Men seem to be improving in their reception.

Perhaps this is the result of me taking on a higher profile at Dakka as well as  The more people who read my stuff, the more there are who may not appreciate it.  It comes with the territory.

The curious part is the lack of reviews.  The early versions of Long Live Death got punished because of the typos and editing errors.  I think Walls of Men has been spared this because the much more exacting editing process.

I'm aware that the Man of Destiny books are not as clean as they could be.  One of my goals it to release a second edition (perhaps an all-in-one with new cover art and some extra content). 

However, I don't think people are throwing out two- or three-star ratings because of that.  And since there are no reviews, I'm not sure what they could be objecting to.

Unreliable sources

The research for writing Long Live Death was quite challenging.  I quickly learned that there was lots of information on the Spanish Civil War, but much of it was false.  It is one thing to be biased, and portray various actions in the most negative way possible, but it another thing entirely to simply state things that are not true.

For example, Hugh Thomas has a clear bias in favor of the Republic, but his information is meticulously documented and generally reliable (though I did catch a couple of errors in his very complicated narrative).

Antony Beevor, on the other hand, is a total hack.  If he told me the sun was shining I would assume it wasn't until proven otherwise.  His bigotry and deception by omission renders everything else has written suspect.

The Romans recognized this the logic of this, enshrining the phrase: falsus in uno, falsus in omnibus (false in one thing, false in everything) in the Western legal tradition. 

I'm sad to say that when working on Walls of Men, this same principle destroyed my trust in a web site I had visited and enjoyed for years:

I'm not entirely sure of who posts there now, but back in the day it was product of the longstanding collaboration of Jim Dunnigan and Austin Bay, two old-school wargamers who had collaborated in the best-selling A Quick and Dirty Guide to War.

During the Global War on Terror, the site had been very useful in providing updates on Iraq, Afghanistan and other hot spots typically ignored by the mainstream media.  However, over time I noticed that the site was often irrationally optimistic about American operations. 

To be fair, it was possible that their sources were simply lying to them.  After all, we know that a great deal of internal communication within the US military was fabricated to justify ongoing operations and conceal the magnitude of failure from the American public.

However, when I began to dig into the inner workings of the Chinese military, the errors were too glaring to ignore.  The breaking point for me was a post which described the Peoples' Liberation Army as being "all-volunteer" since the 1980s.  This is absolutely not true.  (I can't find the specific post because the site's organization is abysmal.)

Multiple published sources (which I used in my book) confirm this, and reputable web sites also state that conscription still happens, though no one is sure exactly what percentage of the PLA is recruited using it.  Either way, it's just plain wrong, and that kind of error casts doubt over everything on the site.  I now have to wonder how much else they go wrong, and while there may be some value to determining whether it was due to bias or ignorance, the inescapable fact is that they simply cannot be trusted.




To fiction or nonfiction, that is the question

It's only a week since Walls of Men went live, but already my mind is turning to the next writing project.  This is because writing is what I do to unwind, and without it I get really bored.  I'm trying to fill the empty hours with chores and watching vintage TV and movies, but that's only a stopgap.

Sooner or later, I'll take on a new project.

I'm thinking it will be fiction.  Long Live Death was actually very easy to write (took 6 weeks or so) and while post-publication corrections were a headache, they were also a function of my desire to see it in print ASAP because of its applicability to the political situation.

Walls of Men, on the other hand, was really complicated and stressful.  Add in the fact that both books didn't really provide the escape from reality that fiction writing does.

On the plus side, non-fiction doesn't take the same creative energy - you set your thesis, do research and write what you find.  No dead-end plots or unconvincing characters.  You have to describe a world rather than create one.

Inspiration is also important.  This is why have never written a "fantasy" book in the style of J.R.R. Tolkien - I don't know what I would say that needs saying.  I've got at least half a dozen story ideas in the genre, but none rise above the level of Dungeons and Dragons-grade fan fiction.

I'm sure in time, this will work itself out and in the meantime I'll see what I can draw from my viewing.