Archive for July 17th, 2008

17
Jul
08

World War III or The Chinese Cold War

Will America return to the Cold War?  Will there be World War III with the Chinese?  Is China preparing for a massive invasion of Russia?  Taiwan?  Japan?  A friend of mine made an interesting statement yesterday while we argued some of the above questions.  He’s a high school science teacher and he said, “Ask the typical high school student how many Jews died in the Holocaust and most will answer six million.  They’ll get fairly close.  Ask them how many Chinese died in World War II and they’ll answer, China was in World War II.”

I’ve failed you.  As an Historian I’ve failed you.  I’ve read estimates that place the number of people who starved to death in China because of World War II as high as fifty million.  China suffered from the chaos of WW II well into the sixties and only now is beginning to emerge on the world as one of the great players in world politics.  Which has me wondering why it took so long for a country with the world’s largest population to emerge as a world leader? China should have always been a world leader.

We argued about the potential for World War III with China.  I like to believe that Chinese leadership isn’t that stupid, and that the United States won’t get caught flatfooted like at Pearl Harbor or 9/11.  A sneak attack on an unsuspecting United States with nuclear weapons could be a very bad thing.  It would probably involve the west coast and that personally would be a sad thing because their are several family members of mine and friends whom I love in California.

Is China planning to start World War III?  I doubt it.  From the information I have the Chinese still only maintain about twenty inter-continental ballistic missiles.  The really big ones that are capable of hitting the United States.  The Chinese believe this is enough of a deterrent to keep the United States from launching on them.

Are they planning on attacking Russia?  There again doubtful.  When I was in the seventh grade I had a teacher who taught a Core curriculum class.  Core was one of those liberal programs that was tried way back when I went to school and it included studying English, History, Social Science, and Geography in one two hour class that met daily.  A typical assignment from that Core class involved reading a book about history and reporting on it, which would cover English and History.  

Being the budding young history genius, at the time, I found a book that had about two hundred pages of pictures with short one line captions to report on.  I learned a lot about photo analysis from trying to use that book.  The book itself had pictures of the German Army and its exploits during World War II, from the redevelopment of the German Army through to the final defeat of Germany.  The teacher picked one picture in that book and proceeded to challenge my mind and taught me a lot about looking at pictures.  The picture involved three Germans who had gotten their Kubelwagen stuck.  One German was steering and two were pushing.  The two pushing were covered in mud and quite obviously from the huge smiles on their faces having a joyous time being stuck in the mud.

“What do you see?” He asked.

“Three happy Germans in Russia.”

“Why are they happy?” 

“It’s early in the war and they’re winning.”

“Good.  What else do you see?”

“It’s raining and they aren’t wearing rain gear, and they’re stuck in the mud.  It’s probably late September, or October, 1941.”

“Good.  What else?”

Confusion set in because their wasn’t anything else to see.  I looked at him with one of those kid looks that asked, what in the hell do you want from me old man, but of course didn’t say it.  “I don’t see anything else.”

“Ok,” he stated and asked, “what don’t you see?”

“There aren’t any buildings.  No other people.  There are some trees.”  Is it the trees my mind questioned? Is there something in the trees that I’m supposed to be seeing?

“Ok, what’s all over the Germans?”

“Mud.”

“Why?”

“Because it’s raining and the Russians have crappy roads.”

“Very good!  What about the Russian roads?”

I thought for a minute and then he coaxed the answer out of me.

“What are our highways made of?”

“Concrete or some other kind of pavement,” I answered, still somewhat confused.

“Why do you suppose that is?”

“So they won’t turn to mud when it rains.”

“And what kind of vehicles need paved roads?”

Realization overwhelmed me as I got it.  “Heavy vehicles like tanks and trucks that would easily get stuck in the mud.  Tanks that fight and trucks that re-supply them so they can fight.”

“Very good!”

The lack of Russian roads bogged the Germans down and allowed the Russians the time they needed to reorganize their defense.  Now, what does this have to do with whether or not China is planning on invading Russia?  We don’t drive tanks to the battlefield.  We carry them.  We carry them on trucks or, more preferably, on trains.  Trains can carry hundreds of tanks and their troops to the battle or staging area where an impending invasion is to begin.  This link will take you to a map of Chinese population density current for today:  http://www.iiasa.ac.at/Research/LUC/ChinaFood/data/maps/pop/all_1_h.htm.

The second map shows the development of US population in 1990.  The original United States is east of the Mississippi.  The western states are where people were going; states like California, Washington, or Oregon.  They went there because they could.  They went their because there was a reason to.  The original intrepid explorers went by wagon, but after 1870, most went by train.  In the China map there is no such movement toward the Russian or India borders because it is too difficult to get there and there is no reason to go there.  They don’t have the trains or the highways to carry their armies to the border.  If the Chinese did population centers would spring up along the rails and highways and at the extreme ends of those roads.  The Chinese population is still centered along the rivers and coastal regions because their primary form of transportation is water. 


Map courtesy of :http://www.cast.uark.edu/local/catalog/national/html/Population.htmldir/USpop1990.html.

Is China going somewhere?  Of course.  They’re going wherever they can go.  Are they going to Taiwan?  I’m fairly certain that China and Taiwan will formalize a relationship similar to what China has with Hong Kong.  Hong Kong is part of China but maintains semi-autonomous control of Hong Kong.  They govern themselves but are watched over by Beijing.

Is China going to start World War III?  The greatest challenge facing the world today is socio-economic dependence on oil.  China needs oil as badly as anyone else.  They can’t take it from the Russians because they can’t get there.  China pumps oil from the East China Sea in areas that are in dispute with the Japanese.  There is the potential for this to be a flash point that could trigger a wider greater war.  While still a possibility these countries still have too much to lose by going to war.  The economic gain is not greater than the economic loss that would be incurred by going to war, which makes the war highly unlikely in this decade.  But things do change.  Maybe in the next decade.

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17
Jul
08

94th Pursuit Squadron: Hat in the Ring

Spad XIII

The Spad XIII was a French biplane used by the United States 94th “Hat in the Ring” Squadron during World War I.  The 94th was the first American squadron to shoot down an enemy aircraft, scored the most kills during World War I of any American squadron, and had Eddie Rickenbacker, America’s leading ace with 26 kills, as its preeminent member.  This airplane and others can be seen at the United States Air Force Museum in Dayton, Ohio.  For more of my photos of World War I aircraft click the link in the photos tab at the top of the page.

Like many World War I aircraft this airplane featured a pair of machine guns that shot through the propeller.  The first aircraft to try this didn’t have a way to stop the machine guns from hitting the propeller and the hapless first pilots to fly planes with machine guns firing through the propeller found they were just shooting their own propellers.  Anthony Fokker developed an interrupter gear that prevented the machine gun from firing when the propeller was directly in front of the machine gun, making machine guns mounted in front of the pilot and firing through the propeller possible.

17
Jul
08

On This Day, 7-17-08: Potsdam

Potsdam Conference begins

The final “Big Three” meeting between the United States, the Soviet Union, and Great Britain takes place towards the end of World War II. The decisions reached at the conference ostensibly settled many of the pressing issues between the three wartime allies, but the meeting was also marked by growing suspicion and tension between the United States and the Soviet Union.

On July 17, 1945, U.S. President Harry S. Truman, Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill met in the Berlin suburb of Potsdam to discuss issues relating to postwar Europe and plans to deal with the ongoing conflict with Japan. By the time the meeting began, U.S. and British suspicions concerning Soviet intentions in Europe were intensifying. Russian armies occupied most of Eastern Europe, including nearly half of Germany, and Stalin showed no inclination to remove his control of the region. Truman, who had only been president since Franklin D. Roosevelt died three months earlier, arrived at the meeting determined to be “tough” with Stalin. He was encouraged in this course of action by news that American scientists had just successfully tested the atomic bomb. The conference soon bogged down on the issue of postwar Germany. The Soviets wanted a united but disarmed Germany, with each of the Allied powers determining the destiny of the defeated power. Truman and his advisors, fearing the spread of Soviet influence over all Germany–and, by extension, all of western Europe–fought for and achieved an agreement whereby each Allied power (including France) would administer a zone of occupation in Germany. Russian influence, therefore, would be limited to its own eastern zone. The United States also limited the amount of reparations Russia could take from Germany. Discussion of the continuing Soviet occupation of Poland floundered.

When the conference ended on August 2, 1945, matters stood much where they had before the meeting. There would be no further wartime conferences. Four days after the conference concluded, the United States dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in Japan; on August 9, another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. World War II officially came to an end on August 14, 1945.

“Potsdam Conference begins.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Jul 2008, 01:46 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=2731.

 

On This Day

1212 – The Moslems were crushed in the Spanish crusade.

1453 – France defeated England at Castillon, France, which ended the 100 Years’ War.

1762 – Peter III of Russia was murdered. Catherine II the Great took the throne.

1815 – Napoleon Bonaparte surrendered to the British at Rochefort, France.

1821 – Spain ceded Florida to the U.S.

1898 – U.S. troops under General William R. Shafter took Santiago de Cuba during the Spanish-American War.

1941 – Brigadier General Soervell directed Architect G. Edwin Bergstrom to have basic plans and architectural perspectives for an office building that could house 40,000 War Department employees on his desk by the following Monday morning. The building became known as the Pentagon.

1944 – 232 people were killed when 2 ammunition ships exploded in Port Chicago, CA.

1946 – Chinese communists opened a drive against the Nationalist army on the Yangtze River.

1955 – Disneyland opened in Anaheim, CA.

1960 – Francis Gary Powers pled guilty to spying charges in a Moscow court after his U-2 spy plane was shot down over the Soviet Union.

1966 – Ho Chi Minh ordered a partial mobilization of North Vietnam forces to defend against American air strikes.

1975 – An Apollo spaceship docked with a Soyuz spacecraft in orbit. It was the first link up between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

1987 – Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and rear Admiral John Poindexter begin testifying to Congress at the “Iran-Contra” hearings.

1997 – After 117 years, the Woolworth Corp. closed its last 400 stores.

 

Congress learns of war of words

On this day in 1776, the Continental Congress learns of General George Washington’s refusal to accept a dispatch from British General William Howe and his brother, Admiral Richard Viscount Howe, opening peace negotiations, because it failed to use the title “general.” In response, Congress proclaimed that the commander in chief acted “with a dignity becoming his station,” and directed all American commanders to receive only letters addressed to them “in the characters they respectively sustain.”

“Congress learns of war of words.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Jul 2008, 01:46 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=55035.

Confiscation Act approved

In a big step toward emancipation, President Lincoln approves the Confiscation Act, which declares that any slaves whose owners were in rebellion against the government, would be freed when they came into contact with the Union army.

“Confiscation Act approved.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Jul 2008, 01:44 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=tdihArticleCategory&id=2250.

Fighting in the streets of Petrograd, Russia

On this day in 1917, a three-day stretch of fighting in the streets peaks in Petrograd after the provisional government falls temporarily amid anger and frustration within and outside the army due to the continuing hardships caused by Russia’s participation in World War I.

“Fighting in the streets of Petrograd, Russia.” 2008. The History Channel website. 15 Jul 2008, 01:48 http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history.do?action=Article&id=817.




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