Posted by: Patrick Allen Foster | May 25, 2013

Links for Saturday: Syria, Afghanistan, Battlestar Galactica, Yamamoto

1. Jay Ulfelder: “Lost in the Fog of Civil War in Syria”: “Most of the civil wars that have occurred in the past half-century have lasted for many years. A very small fraction of those wars flared up and then ended within a year. The ones that didn’t end quickly—in other words, the vast majority of these conflicts—almost always dragged on for several more years at least, sometimes even for decades.” Lesson learned: don’t expect Syria to buck the trend.

2. Roland Paris (University of Ottawa): Afghanistan: What Went Wrong?

3. “Navy set to deploy rail guns, laser prototypes.”

4. James R. Holmes: What Modern Militaries Can Learn From Battlestar Galactica.

5. Robert Farley at Lawyers, Guns & Money links to a Kirk Spitzer article in Time about Admiral Yamamoto, “Legacy Still Unsettled for Reluctant Architect of Attack on Pearl Harbor.” Spitzer discusses Yamamoto’s history and Japan’s ambivalent and uneasy relationship with its role in World War II:

Japan has long been ambivalent about its war history. Yamamoto’s name can be found in few school textbooks. No ships or military bases carry his name. The only statue or memorial to his memory can be found in this small city in Western Japan.

And yet Yamamoto may be the most recognizable of all Japan’s wartime leaders — and certainly the most sympathetic. As deputy naval minister in the 1930s, he received death threats from rightists angered by his opposition to Japan’s alliance with Nazi Germany and Italy. Later, as commander of the Combined Fleet, he argued against the decision to attack the United States.

Yamamoto studied at Harvard and served as naval attaché in Washington D.C., spoke fluent English and toured much the United States. A small but well-appointed museum in Yamamoto’s hometown is a showcase to his wide travels and world view: well-thumbed volumes of Shakespeare; a leather-bound Bible; post-cards from across the United States; snapshots with passersby in New York’s Central Park and workers in Texas oilfields.

Yamamoto’s travels had convinced him that Japan could not defeat the industrial might of America. Yet, he remained intensely loyal to the Emperor, and when the decision was made to strike the United States, he formulated a bold plan that he hoped would knock America out of the war early. In the end, the attack on Pearl Harbor served only to galvanize American public opinion and led to Japan’s near-total destruction.

Farley comments:

I suspect that Yamamoto would have been tried for war crimes, although how such a prosecution would have measured up legally and historically is a different question. While some of the senior operational commanders of the IJN (Kurita, for example) avoided prosecution, many of those involved with strategic planning (Nagano) did go through the procedure. Given how well known Yamamoto was in the United States, it would have been very curious indeed if he hadn’t wound up on trial. And while Yamamoto certainly believed that war against the United States was a mistake, it’s not so clear that he was opposed to the war in China, or to the rest of the Japanese imperial project.

There’s an interesting compare and contrast to be done with historical memory of Robert E. Lee in the American South; efforts to distance Lee from the cause of slavery (as opposed to Southern secession) began almost immediately, but serious questions about Lee’s strategic and operational choices emerged in the years after the war, and have periodically re-emerged as Lee’s reputation has evolved over a century and a half. Given that there are grave questions about the wisdom of the Pearl Harbor and Midway operations, and about the strategic wisdom of the Guadalcanal campaign, I also wonder about Yamamoto’s reputation in Japan as strategic and operational commander. The debate over Lee has proceeded under far more open conditions that discussion of Yamamoto, although it’s not obvious that the openness has really helped.

There are a number of good comments on the Lawyers, Guns & Money post. If Yamamoto had lived, it is indeed likely that he would have been placed on trial by the Allies. That said, like some of the commenters at Lawyers, Guns & Money, I also think that Yamamoto would have emerged with a sentence less than death, just like Admiral Dönitz (who received a 10-year sentence at Nuremberg). Admiral Shigetarō Shimada, who served as Naval Minister and Naval Chief of Staff for part of the war, was convicted of war crimes by the Tokyo War Crimes Tribunal and sentenced to life imprisonment. (He was paroled in 1955 and died in 1976.) As a general matter, more Japanese Army officers were put on trial than Japanese Naval officers, and the generals received harsher sentences than the admirals–e.g., six of the seven death sentences were given to generals, while no admiral received a death sentence. (Admiral Osami Nagano died of a heart attack in prison before the conclusion of the trial.) This contrast mainly reflects the horrific record of the Imperial Japanese Army in their conduct of the war on mainland Asia (e.g., the Rape of Nanking and similar war crimes).

Farley compares Yamamoto to Robert E. Lee. I think an appropriate comparison would be Rommel. There is an important difference, of course, in so far as Rommel was (peripherally) involved in the July 20 attempted coup against the Nazi regime. But both Rommel and Yamamoto were commanders of enemy forces, and both commanders have posthumously achieved largely positive reputations among the American public–“good men in service to bad causes,” to take a line from George R.R. Martin (A Dance with Dragons, p. 958).

Here is an old post from the Volokh Conspiracy about Admiral Yamamoto.

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