Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Party of Death

Ramesh Ponnuru, in his book Party of Death, opens with a description of a dream he had about Hillary Clinton. It was not that kind of dream; instead, it was about her upcoming run for president. In Ponnuru’s dream, Hillary opines that abortion is a terrible thing, and the goal of all people should be to reduce the numbers of abortions, and provide assistance for poor mothers and their children. She then proposes to throw abortion policy back to the States, and allow legislatures to restrict or allow abortion as suits their constituents. Ponnuru awoke, thinking such a speech would make Clinton the next president.

Is that dream likely to come true? Maybe; Ponnuru makes a compelling case that abortion, when framed as the killing of innocents, is a political loser. He also shows that incremental restrictions on abortion are political winners. So, would the senator from New York make such a speech? Who knows? She is likely to say anything, and might stumble onto the winning Ponnuru combination on abortion.

Reading Ponnuru’s clear prose is a joy. He effortlessly demolishes the framework of arguments that the “Party of Death,” has constructed to bolster the conjured “right” to an abortion. Ponnuru is particularly devastating to the more than 400 historians who drafted a voluminous amicus brief purporting to show that anti-abortion laws are “an aberration from an American tradition” that the decision in Roe vs Wade restored. The brief bolstered Blackmun’s otherwise flimsy rationale for finding the right to abortion in the constitution. The brief was cited by Ronald Dworkin, Laurence Tribe and George Will as authoritative history.

Ramesh Ponnuru’s conclusion about this brief is a little different. “It was fraudulent. [It] is a case study in the academic betrayal of truth.” And his opinion of the authors is equally contemptuous: “They put their scholarly authority behind lies.” In a thirteen-page chapter with 53 footnotes, many of which come from other works written by the briefs’ authors, Ponnuru completely discredits this alleged historical brief. 400-1 and Ponnuru dominates. He barely breaks a sweat.

Reading Ponnuru’s outstanding book reminded me of a recent dream of my own. I am a big fan of Michael Medved’s radio show. I especially enjoy his willingness to bring on any liberal commentator, espousing any argument, in order to expose the illogic, fallacies and frauds that characterize their arguments. In my dream, Medved was debating with something that looked like a Ted Kennedy-shaped helium-filled piñata that the radio host hit with a broomstick every time Medved made an unanswerable argument. It did not take long before the gas bag was beaten to the ground. Nonetheless, beaten and deflated, it kept yammering on. With Party of Death, Ponnuru has administered the Medved treatment to those who would argue in support of abortion, euthanasia and embryonic stem cell research. Will those deflated opponents learn from their defeat and make the Clinton speech of Ponnuru’s dream? Or will they continue yammering their tired, discredited arguments as does the Ted Kennedy piñata in mine?

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Ancient Chinese Naval Secrets

The three most impressive Chinese naval feats were each produced by representatives of different influences on Chinese history. Two of the great naval accomplishments, the massive Mongolian amphibious raids on Japan in the 13th Century, and the Treasure Fleet of the 15th Century were accomplished by those who might accurately be called “outsiders.” The Grand Canal, that longest of man-made waterways, indispensable to the rise of Chinese power, was conceived and built by Chinese, albeit by leaders who made up one of the shortest dynasties in Chinese history.

The Grand Canal’s genesis dated from when Yang Di of the Sui Dynasty (580-618 AD) decided to move the capital of China from to Luoyang. Yang Di saw the strategic implications of moving the capital to Luoyang because it was well defended by mountainous passes and gave him access to the major rivers of China, provided he could link them with a canal system. Yang Di was so impressed with his choice of a capital that he was moved to poetic language to justify his choice: “With excellent land and water transportation, it provides a whole gamut of taxes and tributes. Thus, Gao Zu of Han said: I have traveled far and wide under heaven, and have only seen Luoyang.” (Xiong, pg 77) He built on the work his father started, with an ambitious canal program. “In fact, under Yang Di, Luoyang evolved into the hub of an unprecedented nationwide water transportation system which came to be known as the Grand Canal. Arguably his greatest legacy, it was also his most criticized and costly public works project.” (Xiong, pg 86) While it was a great engineering triumph, the Canal’s cost in human lives and treasure help to bring about the early end of the Sui Dynasty.

The demise of the Sui Dynasty did not mark the end of the canal, but the waterway did fall into periods of ill repair. During the wars between the Song Dynasty and the Mongols, the canal suffered from lack of upkeep and from battle damage. Upon coming to power, Yang Di moved the capital to Bejing to better govern the North, and to more quickly respond to overland threats from the Mongols to the North. But making the move north required that there be high-speed lines of communication throughout the country. The necessity for “The decision of the third emperor of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) to relocate the Ming capital from Nanjing on the Yangtze River to Beijing in the north, amplified the importance of the Grand Canal to the maintenance of state power.” (Dodgen, pg 2) Commerce moved over the inland canal safe from marauding pirates on the coast. Troops were able to move to where they were needed to protect the country or for the dynasty to assert its control over China. The government could move tax levies from the wealthy south toward the capital to pay for the lavishness at court which typified the Ming Dynasty and for the defense of China on the frontier. The safe movement of commerce and troops upon which the dynasties depended meant the canal defended over-water transport from foreign sea-going pirates. This fact certainly qualifies the canal as a great naval achievement.

The other major Chinese naval feats had less of a completely “Chinese” character than did the building of the canal. The first of these feats was the formidable amphibious armada put together by the Kublai Khan, the grandson of Ghengis Khan. Kublai Khan realized the importance of naval transport to securing the coast and lines of communication in China. He built a fleet of 7000 ships and 120,000 men which served to crush the final remnants of the Song Dynasty. Rather than let this huge force stand idle or disintegrate, Kublai launched naval campaigns against Vietnam and Japan. He chose Japan because he had heard it would be an easy invasion. “Kublai Khan's interest in Japan was aroused in 1265 when Cho Yi, a Koryo courtesan, informed him that Japan could be subdued easily. In the following year, Kublai sent two emissaries He De and Yin Hong to Koryo and asked King Kojong to facilitate their entry to Japan.” (Rang)

The Japanese rebuffed these initial entreaties, which frustrated Khublai Khan. Over the next few years, he insisted with more and more urgency that Japan recognize and pay respects to his rule. Eventually, in early 1268, he sent a more urgent letter. The letter Khan sent was not exactly diplomatic: He demanded that the shogun in Japan recognize his authority and that there be no delay, lest there be a war. (Hishida, pg 64). The Japanese refused even to respond to this letter, which served to enrage Kublai. He rushed to assemble a fleet to invade and conquer.He ordered hundreds of sea going ocean junks build on the Song design which featured the revolutionary innovation of water-proof compartments. (Turnbull, Fighting Ships; pg 13)

Kublai’s naval feat was actually an amphibious operation. The huge fleet, full of battle hardened veterans, landed on the western-most main island of Japan, in Hakata Bay, which is now surrounded by Fukuoka City. The soldiers made landfall, and were met by the city’s garrison of samurai, who were arrayed in traditional garb, prepared to do battle in classical samurai style. The samurai’s style on one-on-one combat with edged weapons was terribly inadequate to the squad and platoon tactics the Mongols had perfected over years of conquest. The Mongols quickly overwhelmed the overmatched garrison, the remnants of whom retreated into the city’s defendable rampart. (Varney, pg 107) The Mongols, however, were unable to consolidate the victory. For reasons that are murky, the Mongols retreated after burning a temple and much of the city. Some argue that approaching weather caused the Mongols to withdraw. (Jackson, pg 159) Other sources argue that the Mongols ran of arrows, and withdrew and the tale of a divine wind was just after-the-fact Japanese mythologizing. (Turnbull, Ghengis Khan; pg 66) Another theory involves superstitious Korea troops threatening mutiny if the were not immediately withdrawn from the battle. The on-scene commanders sensed the possibility of losing control, and ordered a withdrawal. (Sansom, pg 440) Regardless of the reason, while back on the ships, a storm blew up, capsized some ships, dispersed others, and the remaining ships made for Korea, ending the threat. This storm, celebrated as the kamikaze (divine wind) in Japanese literature, and the dispersion of the Mongol fleet would be repeated in seven years. At that time, Khan would again attempt an invasion of Japan. (Smits)

The second invasion, in 1274, would feature an even larger invasion force, but a concomitantly larger, and better prepared defensive force. Khan intended his forces to conquer and settle Japan. The Japanese suspected that Khan would again press an invasion in the same place, Hakata Bay. So, in defense, the Japanese built a seven foot wall, facing the sea, around Hakata Bay. Khan envisioned two huge fleets coming together near an island off the coast of Japan, and massing for the final assault on Hakata Bay. The daunting logistical challenges inherent in this plan caused the invasion to commence out of sequence and to wither in the face of the strong Japanese defense. The Mongols were forced to a couple of small islands in the bay and the sides continued to skirmish for a couple of months. While the fleet was in the bay, another kamikaze typhoon arose and destroyed the fleet, ending the attempted invasion. (Turnbull, Ghengis Khan; pg 68) Though ultimately unsuccessful in conquering Japan, Kublai’s ability to mobilize these massive fleets even to attempt an invasion of Japan from sea, was a remarkable naval endeavor, unmatched by another Chinese fleet, until those raised by Zheng He in the early 15th century.

Zheng He was probably the only person in China who could have put together the huge fleets which went on the numerous voyages in pursuit of glory for emperor Zhu Di. However, there was little indication from his early upbringing that the future Ming admiral would become so skilled a mariner. Zheng He was from Yunnan province, a landlocked area in the southwest of China. When the Ming conquered Yunnan in 1381, Zheng He, then a 10 year old boy named Ma San Bao, was captured by the Ming and castrated to be made a servant of the Ming court. He quickly rose through the ranks because of his intelligence, political skills, organizational abilities, military prowess and trustworthiness. Because Zheng He was a eunuch, a Muslim and an outsider, he was not tainted as so many of the advisors of Zhu Di’s predecessor had been. Zheng He survived the purge attendant to the Yongle emperor’s accession to the throne and the future admiral did much to prove his loyalty to the new emperor. The Yongle emperor tapped him to organize a fleet of treasure ships ostensibly to extend the influence of China, but also rumored to be mission to find the disposed emperor who was said to have fled overseas. For such a mission, only the most trusted aide could be sent, and Zheng He was obviously such a man.
The fleet Zheng He was impressive, perhaps the largest wooden fleet to ever set sail. The seven voyages he is known to have completed are very impressive, stretching all the way to the east coast of Africa and as far north as points along the Red Sea and possibly to the northern reaches of Australia. He acquired much treasure and great fame for China, and spread legends of huge Chinese junks all over the Indian Ocean basin. (Levathes, pg 69-74)

The three major naval accomplishments of China; the major hydraulic engineering feat of the Great Canal, the massive Mongol amphibious raids on China, and the huge treasure fleets of the Ming Dynasty, represented very different fields of endeavor. Each required huge amounts of ingenuity, a large amount of man power, and great will on the part of the leadership. And while each accomplishment is “Chinese,” it is interesting that these things were, in turn, accomplished by one of the shortest lived Dynasties, a Mongol invader, and a Muslim Eunuch. What this observation says about the accomplishments is unclear, but it does illustrate the point that China is not a homogenous entity. Rather, China is a collection of quite disparate elements, each of which needs to be examined independently as well as in context, to glean the clearest picture of this huge nation.


Dodgen, Randall A. Controlling the Dragon: Confucian Engineers
and the Yellow River in Late Imperial China. (University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu) 2001.

Hishida, Seiji George. Japan as a Great Power. (Columbia
University Press: New York) 1905.

Jackson, Steve. Lucky Lady: The World War II Heroics of the USS
Santa Fe and Franklin. (Carrol and Graf Publishers: New York) 2003.

Levathes, Louise. When China Ruled the Seas. (Oxford University
Press: Oxford) 1994.

Rang, Lee Wha. “The Koryo-Mongol allied invasion of Japan: The
myth of kamikaze.” Association for Asia Research, (http://www.asianresearch.org/articles/2123.html) 6/9/2004.

Sansom, George. A History of Japan to 1334. (Stanford University
Press: Palo Alto, CA) 1958.

Smits, Gregory. Topics in Japanese Cultural History: Chapter
Five: The Rise of the Warriors and the "Age of Anxiety". (Web based book; Penn State) http://s118842024.onlinehome.us/textbooks/172/ch5.htm. Spring, 2006

Turnbull, Stephen. Fighting Ships of the Far East (1): China and
Southeast Asia 202 BC - AD 1419. (Osprey Publishing: Osceola, MN) 2002.

Turnbull, Stephen. Genghis Khan & the Mongol Conquests 1190 –
1400. (Osprey Publishing: Osceola, MN) 2002.

Varley, H Paul. Japanese Culture. (University of Hawaii Press:
Honolulu) 2000.

Xiong, Victor Cunrui. Emperor Yang of the Sui Dynasty: His Life,
Times, and Legacy. (State University of New York Press:
Albany) 2006.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Newly Bold, but still as stupid

Did you read the essay in Time by former Marine LtGen Newbold in which he claimed to be newly bold in standing up to demand Secretary Rumsfeld’s resignation? I have a couple of thoughts:

1. LtGen Newbold’s new boldness directly corresponds with polls that show the President’s low approval ratings. In this atmosphere, there is a lot more demand from the Bush and Rumsfeld-hating media for sour-grapes grousing from passed-over generals. Which leads me to point #2.

2. Who recommended Gen Pace over LtGen Newbold, Clinton appointee, for Vice Chief of Staff and later for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs? Answer: Rumsfeld. The reason for getting passed over for the fourth star and promotion probably has something to do with his mediocre and muddled thinking as exemplified by his lame “recommendations” contained in LtGen Newbold’s Time piece.

3. What is LtGen Newbold’s analysis for why we need a change in leadership at the Pentagon? In talking points that could have been ripped from the headlines of the Daily Kos, he says:

“the distortion of intelligence in the buildup to the war, McNamara-like micromanagement that kept our forces from having enough resources to do the job, the failure to retain and reconstitute the Iraqi military in time to help quell civil disorder, the initial denial that an insurgency was the heart of the opposition to occupation, alienation of allies who could have helped in a more robust way to rebuild Iraq, and the continuing failure of the other agencies of our government to commit assets to the same degree as the Defense Department. My sincere view is that the commitment of our forces to this fight was done with a casualness and swagger that are the special province of those who have never had to execute these missions--or bury the results.”

Do we still have to argue these tired points? Distorted intelligence, not enough resources, disbanding the Iraq army, French not onboard because of bad diplomacy, and the fact that State has not been as eager to rebuild as the Defense Department is. Even if any of these were anything more than lame distortions, where is Rumsfeld’s culpability in any of them? CIA and DIA provided their judgments regarding Iraq’s weapons which EVERYONE including some newly bold cashiered generals agreed with. We have fought two wars for 5 years and lost 500 troops a year, which is little higher than the military accidental death rate; where is the evidence of a lack of materiel readiness? Secretary Bremer disbanded the Iraq Army, and how can Rumsfeld be blamed that other parts of the government are not committing assets at the same level as the Defense Department? (And doesn’t this argument mean the Rumsfeld is doing comparatively better than the rest of government which gives the lie to LtGen Newbold’s earlier bleating about a lack of resources? “Shhhhh, don’t wake the General, he is strategizing.”) Oh, don’t forget the shot about chicken hawks who “never had to execute these missions--or bury the results.”

So does that mean the Generals would do better? Well, no. The highest levels of the military lack courage to speak their minds about a “flawed” plan, are “intimidated,” display “quiescence” and “acted timidly” in the face of Rumsfeld’s “casualness and swagger.” Heck, with this bunch of nellies as Generals, as Newbold describes himself and his cronies, Rumsfeld probably felt like he HAD to strut around and make bold decisions lest Newbold and the boys with the Stars curl up under their desks in the E-ring, trying not to wet themselves.

4. But, let’s cut LtGen Newbold a break, after all, Clinton’s generals are not analysts, they let the big brains like Kos and Nancy Pelosi do the thinking. No, Newbold is a man of action! So what does he propose to do in Iraq, once we get those bumbling losers out of the Pentagon and can make bold, correct decisions? As his name would imply, he has a plan: “We need fresh ideas and fresh faces. That means, as a first step, replacing Rumsfeld and many others unwilling to fundamentally change their approach.” Tell us, General, what should we change, what should we do? Well, sadly, LtGen Newbold displays the same timidity that characterized his service in the Pentagon: “a precipitous withdrawal would be a mistake.”

I join clear thinkers everywhere when I say: “huh?” Newbold asserts that the US needs to change leadership in the middle of the war but as justification for such an assertion can only cite Rumsfeld’s boldness in the face of timidity, strength in the face of General weakness, competence in the face of incompetence. And he wants to make this precipitous change in order to maintain the status quo.

All in all, not very compelling piece of generalship, although as an audition for lead military advisor to Olbermann or Maher, it will probably get his foot in the door.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

What to do about Chechnya?

The Chechen Conflict offers a glimpse on a small scale, what the Global War on Terror is likely to resemble in a few years time, if the US insists on countering its terrorism problem as Russia has. Russia has adopted a no-negotiation policy with regards to the Chechen separatists. Russia regards the Chechens they are fighting as terrorist who need to be eradicated. However, Russia’s policy has been largely unsuccessful, even given that the Russian army has killed virtually all the indigenous Chechen leaders identified at the start of the conflict. More leaders have sprung up, and foreign Islamists have thrown in with the local Chechen resistance. The Russians have not shown the ability to destroy the Chechen forces, and the Chechens have shown no ability to do anything but strike back with terrorism against civilians, and small scale harassment attacks against the Russian forces on the ground. There is no sense of impending resolution on the battlefield, or any where else in this conflict.

The Mediator in the Chechen simulation succinctly distilled the conflict down to its essence; 1) the Russians have a veto in the UN, which forestalls that organization from serving as mediator. 2) The Russians and the Chechen cannot agree even on the type of conflict they are having, with the Russians seeing the war as a battle to prevent secession, and the Chechens fighting to prevent genocide. 3) Neither side can muster the power to defeat the other. And finally 4) neither side has a reason to end the conflict. The Mediator suggests that all this perhaps adds up to an impasse that the sides must address.

The Chechen conflict certainly looks like an impasse. Since 1994 Russia has attempted to quell the uprising in Chechnya but the justification for that action has changed. “If Yeltsin's war was purportedly about preserving the union, Putin's has now become about defending it -- against bandits, terrorists, and radical Islam.” (King) The conflict has mutated over the years but neither side has been able to establish control. The status quo is one of kidnappings on both sides, press censorship and reprisal killings. The conflict is now between a pro-Russia ruling clique against an Islamist resistance made up mostly of foreign fighters. After consulting the most recent stories about Chechnya of the pro-Russian Itar-TASS.com and the pro Chechen kavkazcenter.com, there are stories of military victories by their respective sides, but very little about gaining control. The Mediator’s assessment that Chechnya is at impasse seems prescient.

Mayer has a benign view of impasses, arguing that there are often good reasons for the parties to be in impasse, often because an impasse can serve the objective of one or both parties. Mayer calls these impasses which serve the needs of one or the other in a conflict “tactical impasses” and characterizes them in this way: “when disputants refuse to proceed with a resolution effort in an attempt to increase their negotiating power, to put pressure on others to make concessions, or to enhance their negotiating position in some way.” Mayer goes on to note that “tactical impasses usually result from a short-term calculation of costs and benefits and usually do not last very long.” (Mayer, pg 169) Given that the Chechen conflict is entering its 12th year, this impasse seems to have moved past the tactical into what Mayer calls the “genuine.”

“Genuine impasse occurs when people feel unable to move forward with a resolution process without sacrificing something important to them…Usually, disputants experience this kind of impasse as beyond their control, and feel they have no acceptable choice but to try to remain there.” (Mayer, pg 171) This quotation accurately describes what is happening in Chechnya. Charles King, in the September 24, 2004 issue of foreignaffairs.org calls the conflict “Russia's unwinnable war against Chechen secessionism.” The war may well be unwinnable, but it is also one that the Russian government, for reasons related to the oil trade, but largely for psychological reasons, cannot avoid. Boris Yeltsin, on a fishing trip to Norway, gave some insight into the Russian point of view: “Russia must not allow Chechnya to break away, nor can Russian authorities ‘negotiate with bandits.’” (Washington Times) Yeltsin asserts that Russia cannot allow secession of Chechnya, as if that is a self-evident proposition. Now, after 12 years of fighting, and a quarter of the Chechen population dead or having fled, Russia has too much invested, in terms of lives lost, and the Chechens have perpetrated too many atrocities to allow any negotiations, much less concessions. But on a deeper level than this strictly pragmatic consideration, Russian people are predisposed to resist the breakup or loss of any part of their territory they consider as part of Mother Russia. Chechnya is such a part. The Russian government cannot relinquish their hold on Chechnya.

The situation in Chechnya is a genuine impasse, and not a benign one. Sensing the intractability of this conflict, the participants in the recent simulation offered various means of breaking the stalemate, the majority of which revolved around calling in some external international body to mediate, intercede, or create some kind of buffer between the forces which would allow a cooling off period. After some time had passed, most participants advocated convening some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to allow the airing of grievances with the hope that exposing the truth about atrocities on both sides would prevent reprisal violence.

This recommendation of truce, followed by peacekeeping, mediation and a TRC is much more likely to be successful in an environment without an active low intensity conflict (like South Africa) or where the dominant power in the conflict is willing to acquiesce to the process (like East Timor). Russia has shown zero willingness to “negotiate with bandits” as Yeltsin put it, or open the conflict to international news media, much less mediation groups. Further, Russia has the diplomatic power to prevent any international organization from imposing a settle, and Russia has the military means to resist any power from crossing its borders to force a truce.

The other disputant, Chechnya, has been infiltrated and radicalized by the presence of Islamic fundamentalists who are ideologically motivated to fight. These fundamentalists see the battle in Chechnya as one to defend their faith. They have no desire to negotiate because there is nothing that Russia can offer them that tops the heavenly rewards their faith offers them should they die in the battle. So, one disputant cannot concede land because to do so is a psychological impossibility while the other cannot concede because to do so would be a blasphemy.
One additional solution not mentioned in the simulation but suggested by the intractability on both sides is that one side or the other will give up through exhaustion. Both sides are apparently trying this solution. The Chechens have brought the war into Russian urban centers in the hope that the population of Russia will tire of the losses and demand Russian forces withdrawal from Chechnya. Russia has apparently embarked on a “scorched earth” policy of their own in Chechnya, outside the watch of the media. These tactics worked in the US Civil War and World War II, the theory goes, they may work in Chechnya. However, this hope for victory though exhaustion is illusory. The Chechens have access to unlimited capital through petrodollars controlled by sympathetic Islamic regimes, and virtually unlimited fanatical recruits who will flock to their banner. Russia has massive material advantage, and enough authoritarianism extant in their government to ignore popular discontent over the pursuit of the war. Exhaustion no longer has a place. “Wars are limited with exacting refinement to achieve very specific political objectives. In such a world, the strategy of exhaustion—a strategy that helped bring decisive victory in some of the most horrific conflicts mankind has ever seen—no longer has a place. Its provocative nature, the greater perceived benefits of peace, and the scaled-down nature of modern conflicts have all combined to bring about its obsolescence.” (Smith)

The critical factors in this conflict are the attitudes of those in the conflict. Negotiation, military defeat, and attrition are not effective weapons against ideologies. The only effective weapon against intractable ideologies is utter, unconditional surrender like in the US Civil War and World War II, or by having the more irrational elements of the ideology collapse in the face of moral suasion over time as happened to the anarchists at the turn of the century. As Smith pointed out, the era where one combatant can force an opponent into unconditional surrender has probably past. So, we are left with the idea that one or the other side in the Chechen conflict will experience an evolution in their ideology so that they are less confrontational, and more willing to reach past the impasse to craft a solution. Unfortunately, as the Islamists move toward the acquisition of nuclear weapons, combined with their enthusiasm for suicide missions, time is not something in abundance. The world may be compelled by necessity to return to a concept though to be passé: forcing surrender conditions onto an abjectly defeated enemy.
Sources cited

King, Charles. “Crisis in the Caucasus: A New Look at Russia's
Chechen Impasse.” Foreign Affairs Magazine; March/April 2003.

Mayer, Bernard. Dynamics of Conflict Resolution. Jossey Bass
(San Francisco); 2000.

Smith, Lawrence M. “Rise and Fall of the Strategy of
Exhaustion”. Army Logistician Magazine; November/December

Washington Times. “UPI Hears…” 19 August 2004.

15th Century Japanese Martial Philosophy

It is necessary to be careful in examining Miyamoto Musashi’s philosophy, not to be too ethnocentric. A society in which some individuals, by virtue of their birth, are allowed to carry weapons and terrorize the productive members of society without due process is anathema now. However, Musashi grew up in those surroundings and flourished in them. As an old man, he wrote a treatise that sought to justify the hereditary caste system by essentially saying that his success in the martial arts meant the samurai system was right.

Examine the “philosophy” in the Five Rings. Even given the limitations inherent in translations, Musashi’s pronouncements are vague and always end with the exhortation such as: it must be “investigated carefully,” “it takes work,” “requires thorough practice.” He concludes with a question that is quite revealing: “Who in the world can attain the direct penetration of military science? Training and refining day and night with the derermination to eventually consummate it, after having perfected it, one gains a unique freedom, spontaneously attains wonders, and is endowed with inconceivable powers of penetration. This is how cosmic law is carried out through martial arts.” (pg 49)

Musashi recognizes that what he is teaching requires a lifetime of dedicated study to master. Therefore, those who would master “cosmic law” must have the absolute freedom to pursue these studies, which meant these “scholars” had to be free from mundane considerations like feeding and clothing themselves to focus on the “cosmic.” The samurai system was perfectly constructed to provide the time and the means for this study. Samurai had the weapons and the will to oppress and exploit the other sectors of society. “Philosophies” like those of Musashi provide the theoretical framework for exploitation that allowed those with weapons to oppress everyone else, seemingly with the sanction of the heavens.

It is not easy to determine what the average Japanese thought of these strutting strongmen, because this system survived for generations. Even today, you see the great respect give to order in the Japanese society, and outlook that was carried into their society on the edge of the samurai’s sword. Or as Hane says: “Thus it might be said that the courtesy, politeness, humility and subservience of the common people were instilled in them at the edge of the sword.” (pg 32) In Shogun, Blackthorne and the Western men are disgusted and fearful of the arbitrary and absolute power of the samurai. Clavell may be attempting to communicate a universal disgust which was shared by the Western men and the Japanese alike, upon which he will expound later in the readings. It is clear the samurai, the warrior scholars, were very impressed with their power and their seeming sanction from God. It will be very interesting to discern whether the oppressed classes were as enthusiastic about their lot as the samurai were with theirs.

Pre 13th Century Chinese Navy

The entire pre-historical travels of the aboriginal people has been the source of much speculation and wonder. Levathes devotes a page or so to this great movement from the Chinese mainland out into the Pacific, but that feat ranks as one of the most impressive maritime accomplishments in human history. The idea of pushing off from the southern tip of Taiwan, thinking that there is some land relatively close by, based on the flotsam and the movement of clouds far in the offing, is nonetheless quite daunting. It is undeniable that it too great courage to shove off from land, into the unknown, but it may have been the courage born of necessity. By 7000BC, there is a likelihood that the Taiwan’s arable land and wildlife had been exploited to the breaking point which gave men looking to raise families little choice but to fight for what was available or take their chances on the sea. For many, obviously, they took their chances.

The author does point out the many linguistic and cultural similarities that exist around the Pacific Rim. These similarities are compelling and indicate, at least to me, that people descended from those who lived in what is now southeastern China populated the Pacific. The implication is that these people displayed great courage, and great seamanship. It is not surprising that their descendents would build great navies in the next few thousand years.

In this line of courageous characters is Xu Fu. Sent by the Qin emperor to find some magic elixir in 219BC, Xu Fu would disappear for years before re-appearing to request youth for colonization or for more supplies. Given that Xu Fu traveled east from the Bohai Gulf, his most likely landfall was somewhere in Japan. With the youths and supplies the Emperor granted, it is likely that Xu Fu was able to establish some kind of colony. Ancient Japanese traditions, with the names slightly modified, lend credence to this theory.

For the next thousand years, oceangoing sailing was largely left to the merchant fleet. China had no sea-borne threat, and instead welcomed and found ways to accommodate traders from Asia and Africa. The only difficulties that could be linked to sea travel occurred as a result of ethnic tensions resulting from the interactions of large numbers of foreigners who had come to live amongst the Chinese, in the 8th and 9th centuries. Also during this period, Chinese monks went exploring on the seas and are said to have reached the Americas. The evidence for this proposition is at least as compelling as for earlier travels linking Taiwan to Polynesia, so such evidence cannot be discounted.

In the 12th Century, the Song navy rose to prominence, as the Song were forced to consolidate power in the southeast. As such, the Song recognized that their best defense lie in powerful Naval forces. Over time, this strong Navy was able to assert its dominance out into the Indian Ocean, where the superior Chinese Navy dominated trade and suppressed piracy. The Song dynasty’s naval power remained supreme until the Song themselves lost interest in maintaining the Fleet so that the manpower could be directed to other uses on land. The Fleet fell into disrepair and was unable to resist the powerful Mongol invasion that swept down from the North.