There is no worse calamity for knowledge and its people than when outsiders intrude

There is no worse calamity for knowledge and its people than when outsiders intrude

Everyone knows that the people of Christendom are lazy and morally weak. What else is to be expected of people who have been led so far from the path of righteousness as to believe Jesus is the son of Allah, the One and Only, who begets not nor is begotten? These people show themselves in all things to be misguided and confused; to eschew work where leisure could suffice; to revile hygiene where baser instincts can take hold; and to turn away from all enlightened thought to superstition and idolatry. Yet, it cannot be said that they are ignorant; for in Northern Italy and distant France lie almost all of the greatest institutions of learning in the modern world. How can it be that such idle and debased people – so weak of thought and ideals that even their skin is pale – could be in possession of all the greatest institutions of learning in the known world?

Of course they did not build that; they inherited this legacy of great thought from their predecessors in the Islamic world, and then they debased it. Their learning comes from the ancient Greeks through those most barbarous of idolaters, the Romans; and from the Arabs did they learn all they know of mathematics and science. Yet in the long dark era of our subjection and chaos, we allowed this learning to slip away, and a golden age of knowledge tarnished irrevocably, so that all that is great about modern science and philosophy is held in trust by the faithless sinners of western Europe.

Have we not sinned as a people, to allow this knowledge to pass from us into the hands of infidels? Did not Ibn Taymiyyah say that the people of the One True Faith should

Seek (beneficial) knowledge,
because seeking it for the sake of Allah is a worship.
And knowing it makes you more God-fearing;
and searching for it is jihad,
teaching it to those who do not know is charity,
reviewing and learning it more is like tasbeeh.
Through knowledge Allah will be known and worshiped

Sadly we have failed to respect this Islamic ideal for many years, and in the midst of our internecine strife we have allowed the unbeliever to take hold of all beneficial knowledge, and to keep it from us. Does our worship of Allah the Most Merciful not suffer because of this lapse in our vigilance over jihad?

However, those times of internecine strife have been replaced with a time of prosperity and glory, under the great Mehumet I, and now we are able to look to the west, to those nations near us that hold so much of the lost knowledge that is our rightful legacy; and we are able now to reach out, and to take that knowledge back. Of course, we cannot take knowledge from the minds of men, even of infidels; nor can we exert control over how new knowledge is found in the hearts and minds of men (and does not Allah decide in His infinite power, as the Great Teacher, what all men will know and when they will know it?) But we can control the physical spaces in which knowledge is gathered, taught, and protected for future generations. We cannot reclaim the mind of the unbeliever, but we can strike out to take physical possession of the places that teach that mind, that form it; and in so doing we can establish  an Islamic Enlightenment, that ensures all knowledge is right and proper, and attendant to its legacy of Islamic principles.

Of course, to do this we must invade and subjugate Northern Italy. But such are the trials of jihad.

Huseyn II reigned for 16 years after he conquered Hungary, and during this time he made some more small gains, taking islands in the Aegean sea that had long been home to pirates and crusaders. Rhodes, Naxos, Crete and Corfu fell to our glorious soldiers, and in the twilight of his years Huseyn II’s scholar and archivist was able to take ship from the most southern edge of the Aegean sea all the way to the tip of Croatia without ever losing sight of the Empire that Huseyn II had built. However, this was not enough for Huseyn II, who had glorious visions of reclaiming not just the physical domain of Islam, but also its cultural legacy. For this reason late in his reign he declared war on the newly-founded state of Naples, which incorporated the city-states of Firenze, Romagna and Siena. Though Naples had military technology far in advance of our own, and was protected by powerful allies, through Huseyn II’s cunning diplomacy we were able to fashion a war in which Naples was isolated from its powerful friends, and through bravery and force of numbers we subdued the entire Italian peninsula in a brutal two year war. Though our brave soldiers faced warfare against modern cannon and forts, in mountains and forests unfamiliar to them, as ever the Christians wilted before the heat of our righteous fury, and the university cities of Firenze, Romagna and Siena were taken. Thus, in the year 1560, did the Islamic Enlightenment begin …

In his wisdom, Huseyn II recognized that to rule all these lands would be impossible, so he opted to carve off only the Northern states, and to vassalize Sicily and the Papal State; he then cast the lesser pickings of Southern Italy back to the Napolitan dogs. All praise should be given to Huseyn II for his tolerance: here he stood, at the doors to the Vatican itself, in possession of the very centre of the unbeliever’s faith, but recognizing the value of art and history for itself, he chose not to raze the city and put all its infidels to the sword, as all accepted to be his right; instead he gave the city its freedom, and allowed the curia to remain as a symbol of the lower status of Christianity. Perhaps when intelligent Catholics look upon their vanquished city, they will reflect on who is the One True God. If they do not, perhaps in future they will be chastised again by our glorious armies. For does our Holy Book not say,

If they desist not from their word (of blasphemy), verily a grievous chastisement shall befall the blasphemers among them.

And are not our emperors just in offering this chastisement?

Before his death in 1564 Huseyn II implemented imperial rule across this whole vast land, but sadly his successor Seyfetim I achieved nothing with the fruits of Huseyn’s work or the new-found enlightenment, and died leaving only bastards. After a brief struggle amongst them, Mehmet I cousin of Huseyn II took the throne, and he rules to this day in glory from the centre of our Empire. In his wisdom Mehmet I realized that it is not enough to take possession of the great centres of learning in Christendom, and thus to restore the legacy of Islamic thought to the Empires of Islam; like a wise and learned father, the Ottoman Empire must also chastise those of its more junior and less educated Muslim brethren, and bring the true fruits of Islamic thought to them. Nowhere was this more the case than with the Golden Horde, that great seething sea of barbarity spreading east of our holy land, which was barely Islamic except in name, and ruled by degenerate horse-loving wretches from beyond the great deserts. This Horde was a constant problem on our borders, and served to destabilize all it was in contact with. What the folk of the Horde needed was discipline and education, in equal measure. And who else should offer such, but a loving and firm-handed father?

Thus it was that in the early years of his reign Mehmet I began war upon the Golden Horde. In this war the wisdom of Huseyn II’s belief in the power of education was made manifest. Our soldiers and our culture were so far in advance of the Horde that even our smallest army had but to stride onto the battlefield, and countless throngs of our enemies would be banished. In but two years of warfare a handful of divisions of our mighty army spread out across the Horde, taking its lands in our grip from Dagestan south of our Empire all the way to India. Behind us we left a trail of vanquished armies and unsettled local warlords; as the Horde’s client system fell apart under the pressure of our armies, and the subject peoples saw the vulnerability of their former masters, they rose up against the Khanate. By the time our armies had rampaged across these vast distances to India the land was aflame with rebellion. We retreated again, choosing instead to take only the lands closest to our own; and at the end of this huge crusade, the peoples of Dagestan, Qarabagh, Azow and Astrakhan had been brought into the loving embrace of the Ottomans. Closer to our own shores, those foolish nations that had previously allied with the Timurids, then turned to the Horde for protection, were suitably chastised, their lands taken and their leaders executed; the rump of the kingdoms of Crimea and Candar was left an empty shell, vassal to our will; but the rest of their territories were absorbed into ours. Now our grip on the Black Sea was complete but for those ports held by Poland, and the nearest of our Islamic neighbours who had fallen to the degeneracy of the Horde were back within our grasp. We also possessed the great trading posts of Astrakhan, and were within striking distance of the gold mines of Samara.

Of course I joined this crusade across the steppes of the Horde. From my vantage point on horseback, as I stood outside my Yurt staring up at the vast Eastern sky, or when we stood in the ransacked rooms of the Khans’ shabby castles, smelling the smoke and hearing the screams of dying prisoners, it became clear to me that the Ottoman Empire offers all of the Islamic world a better, more enlightened way to live; those that do not take it must one day be forced into it for their own good. It was also clear, as I looked into the eyes of freed slaves, or witnessed the violence-charged resentment of ordinary citizens of the Horde, or saw the explosive violence meted out to vanquished armies by the peasants they had previously oppressed, that the Horde was collapsing. Barely an empire any longer, it was held together by the twinned tyrannies of low men and huge distances, and was an anachronism in the modern era. To its north Muscowy grew in confidence; to its East, the Ming empire; to its south a brace of new empires jostling for power. The Golden Horde was going to collapse under internal division, and then be torn apart by these powers; and at some point we, the Ottomans, would have to step in to assure peace and to prevent the worst excesses that we saw in the end times of the Timurids, and were then powerless to stop.

But for now, we can do no more. Exhausted after two years of campaigning on those vast and open spaces, I returned to our capital to discover talk of a new and greater threat than any we had faced before: the Holy Roman Empire was looking eastward, to us; and the head of that greedy and evil Empire was none other than the King of Austria, our closest neighbour. Rumours grew that Austria hoped to retake Hungary from us and forge a new, larger Austro-Hungarian kingdom that would no doubt spell disaster for all Europe. It was our obligation to ourselves and also to all of Christendom to stifle that ambition. In the Autumn of 1582, war with eastern Europe’s greatest power loomed …



The Ottoman Empire in the reign of sultan Huseyn 2

The Ottoman Empire in the reign of sultan Huseyn 2

Our Sultan could not have known that those first few strides up the blood-slicked steps of his liege’s throne were the steps that would take our Ottoman Empire into history. Some might argue that he had wit and vision to see the future, but there is nothing in the family life or writings of Sultan Bayezid to make us think his vision was anything but that of the moment. He was a man of small visions and simple goals, I think, and he saw nothing more than a chance to head off brutal events that would lead to the destruction of our unique culture. So he took the moment, and the knife, and before anyone could stop him he made a future for us all. Now I am charged with writing the account of those heady  years, when our Sultans turned our fate around from slavery and subjection to conquest and greatness.

Our first Sultan, Bayezid I, has by now faded into history – he ascended the throne on the first day of the new year of 1389, and though our Empire has learnt to preserve its records better than any of its neighbours, still it cannot be said that much was written of him or his talents. Though our storytellers sing his praises during our many festivals, I think he was perhaps a man of few great traits – a man unsuited to leadership, but blessed with a sense of good timing and incredible bravery. It was only by the grace of those two instincts that he saved us from ruin, for when he ascended the throne we were beset by troubles.

In 1389 our Empire was yet a fragile and nascent thing, stretching from the mountains of Georgia in the east to the edge of Bosnia and Serbia in the west. We were as a minnow in a muddy river near the end of summer, flitting between great and predatory pikes: to our north and east lay the vast and fathomless expanse of land held by the Golden Horde, and to the southeast was the Timurid empire, a dynasty said to have been built on a foundation of numberless corpses. Our sultan Bayezid’s predecessor was ignorant and vain, and as well as squandering the great wealth of our lush lands, he had embroiled us in a war with both the Timurid empire and our two nearest Muslim neighbours, Kandar and Dulkadir. Lest something were done, all of the Ottoman lands east of Thrace[1] would have been divided up between the carnivorous Timurids and their jackal allies.

So it was that Bayezid slew our aging and vainglorious ruler, and ascended the blood-slicked steps to the throne, from there to guide our empire out of those dark times and into the bright light of eternal rule. Standing now at the window of my study in modern Dalmatia, looking over the gentle waves of the Aegean sea and listening to the call to prayer from a thousand sun-washed minarets in this great and peaceful city, I like to imagine that Bayezid’s throne was a beautiful monument to his glory, set in a great marble-pillared room, gleaming bands of sunlight from lead-light windows transforming the whole into a glowing space just one step from the ineffable heaven to which we all must one day return; but I know more likely it was a small and squalid chamber, the floor covered in dirty rushes and the throne little better than an animal-hide coated stool, perhaps set two steps up on a rough stone platform. Or perhaps the throne was behind a screen, to protect the sultan from his many enemies. Such were the times, and such were the men who risked our entire culture with their dissolute antics in the palace of our rulers.

So it was that Bayezid I began his great works. First, noticing that the Timurid empire was always warring with itself, and realizing that the Ottoman Empire was in no position to defeat such a voracious and barbaric culture, our Sultan by cunning diplomacy convinced them to accept a temporary peace, that they might focus on their own troubles. By the grace of Allah the Granter of Security, the Timurids miraculously relented in their threats of war, and called their puppet nations to heel. In the following 15 years until his death, Bayezid used this time to restore peace and stability to the core of our empire: from Serbia and Bosnia on the edge of Europe to the edge of Georgia in Asia, he restored dignity and nobility to our land. During this time trade, art and culture flourished, and the government grew in strength and sophistication. But Bayezid I knew that trouble lay in our future, and that the colonial powers of Europe and Asia could not long resist the temptation to pluck the ripe fruit of the Ottoman Empire. Such is the fate that awaits a nation straddling two great cultures, and realizing this Bayezid focused his preparations in peacetime for the coming war. He focused on building the size of our army, and developing the nation to support it as one in times of war; and near the end of his reign he annexed the Dalmatian coast, giving our glorious troops a chance to test their arms against European armies and eliminating the threat from the many upstart city-states along that beautiful stretch of sea. During this time too, all of the region once known as Bulgaria embraced the teachings of the Prophet (may peace be upon him), and turned to the one true faith.

Sadly, Bayezid I did not live to see the full fruit of his dreams, and he was replaced in 1404 by Musa I. Musa was a war-like and active leader, and for 9 years of his 29 year reign our empire was at war. First the armies of the Ottomans looked east, to secure our eastern borders against the Golden Horde, and in a brief but bloody two year war were able to capture the whole of Georgia and much of the Crimea. With the modern-day port of Kaffa in our grasp, Crimea our vassal and Georgia conquered, Musa I gained near-complete control of the Black Sea, with only Poland and the rump of the Byzantine Empire sharing access. Our glorious armies also conquered Trebizond, putting the coup-de-grace on the last province of a once-great empire, and then turned west, to conquer most of Greece as far as Athens. This was a time of war but also of peaceful expansion, with our kingdom learning much about foreign nations, and sending ambassadors and traders as far afield as distant Paris and remote Novgorod.

Musa I died peacefully in 1433, and was replaced by Abdullah I, who ruled only for 7 years that were spent consolidating the Ottoman culture in Georgia and Greece. He died young, and a regency council ruled in the place of his successor, Suleyman I. Under a regency council little can be done abroad or at war, and the 5 years of the regency council as well as the 8 year reign of Suleyman I were times of little note; during this period our Empire did not grow, though it flourished, and Suleyman I – though he styled himself “the Magnificent” – was in truth too much a drunkard and a layabout to enact great plans of state. However, despite being raised by a wine-soaked fool, Jem I succeeded Suleyman  in 1453 to achieve great things. In three years of brutal battle while still a young man, Jem I managed to conquer all of Eastern Hungary and parts of Wallachia, reducing the once-proud kingdom of Wallachia to a humble vassal and extending our empire so that finally the tide of the one true faith washed up against Europe. All of christendom looked on in shock as the One True Faith spread its influence as far as borders of Hungary and Poland.

Jem I’s vision of uniting Hungary, Bulgaria, Transylvania, and all the Slavic states with Ottoman under the banner of the One True Faith was not completed before he died, though, and internal unrest prevented his successor Huseyn I from continuing this mission; for 25 years the Ottoman Empire lived at peace with its neighbours under his reign. By now the Timurid Empire, which 100 years ago we so feared, had collapsed under the weight of greed and corruption that its leaders were so famed for, and its last provinces sat on our borders warring only with themselves. Those nations that this degenerate gang of barbarians once held on such a tight leash had now fled to new owners, as the lowly gutter dogs that they are, and where once we were threatened by vassals of Timurid we were now flanked by the Golden Horde’s two chained lions, Candar and Dulkadir. Nonetheless, Huseyn I skilfully built relations with the Golden Horde, somehow finding common ground with their filthy, fur-clad leaders, and our Empire bided its time as we waited for an empire built on greed and bloodlust to begin consuming itself. While we waited, though, that last principality of the Timurids gave up its fight with itself; its leaders came on their knees to us and begged to be allowed to join the Ottoman Empire, that they might share in its grace and peace. Truly, God is Great.

After Huseyn’s death in 1509 our current glorious emperor, Huseyn II, ascended the throne. His plans of completing the conquest of Hungary were delayed, however, by the western powers. In 1510 the distant kingdom of Castille noticed our expansion – perhaps word of the beauty and munificence of our Imperial lands reached the Castillian King in his dismal narrow-windowed castle, sparking his jealousy – and a warning was issued. Our people barely new of these great and distant powers of France, Castille and Britain, and we thought our affairs and theirs completely disconnected, but this was to prove far from the case. Because the people of christendom follow a religion based on idolatry and cannibalism, they must always be jealous and frightened in the face of the Prophet (may peace be upon him); though we had no conflicting interests and our Caliphate has only ever sought peace, the infidels of Castille sought to chastise us from their distant cities. For seven years they sent ships full of pale-skinned minions to harry our shipping lanes and blockade our ports, and in one dismal year they even landed their sweaty and ill-prepared troops on the western shores of our Greek conquests. But here, too, we showed them the teachings of the One True Faith: our fleets sank and destroyed their fleets, and when they had the temerity to land men on our hallowed shores we defeated them, drove them back into the sea, and tossed the survivors from the cliffs of Montenegro. After 7 years a mealy-mouthed, pale-skinned wretch came to us begging peace, and though in truth our glorious armies were preparing to launch an invasion of Castille, Huseyn II showed his famous mercy, and brokered a peace that until this day has been unsullied.

With this peace, Huseyn II gained the chance to focus on his grand plan, and within just the last few years it has been completed: after war with Austria, Bohemia and Hungary our glorious empire has captured the remains of Hungary and all of the outlying territories of Bohemia. Behold the map! Our Empire is now so vast that as an ambassador in Georgia sits down to dine on dates and flat bread with one of the Khans of the Horde, here on the Dalmatian coast an artist will be just setting up his easel to paint a picture of court ladies taking a light lunch of olives and pastries; or North in the Mountains of Carpathia a shepherd might be settling down to a morning break of nuts and dried mutton. Truly, our Empire has grown beyond the dreams of humble Bayezid as he grabbed the reins of power, intent only on guiding us out of the darkness. Now, we have become the Empire of the Sun, its territories so far-flung that they hold the whole of a day in their grip. And even now, as I sit here in my study contemplating this great sweep of history, I hear our ruler looks in the same direction as me, across this tranquil Aegean sea to the coast of Northern Italy, whose universities and libraries hold the secrets of a thousand years of learning. Were our Janissaries to take those hallowed halls, then surely an Islamic Reformation could begin, in which the whole world looked to the crescent sun of the Ottomans for knowledge, as well as the wisdom of the One True Faith. Is this the future of the Ottomans, to teach Europe of Asia, and Asia of Europe … and all of them to learn the One True Faith, that is greater than all that has come before it in all of time …?

Yes, I think this is our future … let us see where it will take us …

fn1: Istanbul

Chongching after necessary urban renewal, 1952

Chongching after necessary urban renewal, 1952

Since I began reading Antony Beevor’s The Second World War I have returned to my old Hearts of Iron 2 campaign. When last I played I had just defeat the perfidious USA, establishing am empire stretching from the east coast of the USA to Yemen, stretching as far North as the Canadian arctic and as far south as New Zealand. The only major powers still outside my control were the UK, Germany, the USSR and Nationalist China. The USSR has been largely ignoring me, but very soon after I had annexed the USA – in fact, before I had had a chance to repatriate my troops – that devious Generalissimo, Chiang Kai-Shek, declared war on me! I made several failed attempts to win that war, but gave up sometime in 1950 with a large portion of my army stuck on the eastern seaboard of mainland China, and being pushed back from my previous holdings in India and Burma. Many of my troops were still moving around the USA, and no matter what I did I couldn’t seem to defeat the Chinese. So, like all good gamers everywhere, I gave up and moved on to something else.

Having had my interest in the war reignited by Beevor’s book I thought I’d give it another go. I decided to use a new strategy, at least for the short term: consolidate my holdings so that there was no risk of losing the parts of China I had gained, and then build a huge fleet of missiles that would destroy China’s industry, rendering them incapable of fighting, while I shifted my armies around and built new ones. I realized I was woefully short of land-based aircraft, tanks, mountain troops or for that matter unit attachments – a consequence of fighting the war in the Pacific. So, I would rebalance my army by building it up, while laying waste to Chinese industry and reorganizing my forces.

China’s defense in depth and the role of strategic bombardment

China’s armed forces basically consist of three types of unit: infantry, mountain infantry, and militia. It has vast numbers of all three, but limited industry with which to support them. To give a sense of contrast, when the war started China had perhaps 3-5 tank divisions, maybe 150 divisions of various forms of infantry, one obsolete air arm (soon eliminated) and total industrial capacity (IC) of 100. I had perhaps 80 divisions including marines, tanks, cavalry and mountain troops, three or four land-based air arms (also soon depreciated) and a total industrial capacity near 300 (I think). I could run a large productive enterprise, maintain an excess of supplies, and fully reinforce all those troops while upgrading them and fighting an aggressive war. China at 100 IC was already incapable of balancing all those tasks. When it started the war it was largely neglecting upgrades, but even a small drop in IC would force it to choose between income, supplies and reinforcements. Low income means growing dissent; low commitment to supplies can lead to complete social collapse very rapidly if not addressed; and low reinforcements means the slow attrition of forces, especially those in mountainous or jungle areas with poor supply – like a lot of the Nationalist Chinese troops who had waged an unjustifiable war of aggression on my peace-loving troops in Thailand and Burma.

The Chinese strategy for deploying these soldiers appeared to be one of defense in depth: multiple layers of large armies all mutually reinforcing one another. This makes encirclement and destruction close to impossible, because although you can win against an army in a province, by the time you have moved troops there another army attacks from the rear and cleans you up. Fighting wars of encirclement and destruction is the only way to make headway against your enemy in the start of a war, but is extremely difficult to do if you don’t have the troop numbers, since you need to be able to advance, protect your flanks, and have reserves to smash the encircled army.  This is particularly difficult when you have poor infrastructure and tough terrain, so movement forward is slow – never a problem for defenders with reserves in depth. With my troops spread out from Rangoon in the south to Beijing in the north, and under attack along the entire front, it just wasn’t possible to make headway. I think around Beijing I tried encirclements of the province of Datong perhaps five times in one year, and every time I was beaten back before I could complete the snare. This is dangerous when you’re up against numerically superior but inferior troops, because if you destroy your own troops’ morale you can suffer highly effective counter-attacks, and when you are defending a strip of land only three provinces wide with the sea at your back, you don’t have much space to retreat.

So, the simple solution in the short term was to hold what I had gained while I built up and reorganized forces; and simultaneously to destroy industry so that Nationalist China suffered growth in dissent, reduction in supplies, and the inability to reinforce troops. Even if in the short term I couldn’t gain ground from this, it would force the enemy to pay dearly for each province they recaptured, and prevent them from growing their forces while I grew mine. Then I could run a couple of counter-attacks once my forces were bigger.

1950: reorganization, entrapment and strategic bombardment

During the first year of the war I had to move troops from the far coast of the USA to China, then deploy them inland. I also needed to build specialist troops (mountaineers) and tanks to help me through the tough terrain of inland China. Later in the year I realized that China had no air force but that I lacked the planes to take advantage of it, so I established a large aircraft construction program, and I also needed to modernize and update much of my equipment. This is because for Japan the first stage of the war is naval and not land-based, and infantry power tends to be neglected compared to having an advanced (and huge) fleet.

While I engaged in all this reorganization I tried to lay a few traps to whittle away my enemy. This involved withdrawing from attacks and letting my enemy penetrate inward by multiple provinces, then smashing into their rear lines to encircle the invader. This is a risky move because they can recapture key strategic areas, and I had to play this game near Nanjing or Beijing, both places I didn’t want to lose. The game never worked in the Beijing area – they would attack across too wide a front and I would have to repulse the entire front before I could do encirclements. But it worked just south of Nanjing, where I lured maybe 5 or 6 divisions into such a trap and manged to destroy them, though it took time and lost me a front line area in the process of relocating troops. Unfortunately, against an army the size of Nationalist China, five divisions isn’t worth the expenditure of reinforcements. By the time mid-1951 came around I was down to 400 manpower and losing 1 more a day in reinforcements, and it was looking like I wouldn’t actually be able to enlarge my army suffiiciently if I also had to bleed my population to reinforce brave divisions.

Simultaneously with this tactic I also tried strategic bombardment. I built ICBMs 10 at a time and launched them at all China’s major industrial centres, usually managing to knock its base IC down by 40 in one night. There’s a lesson here for war planners in long wars: distribute your industry. One ICBM can do 10-12 points of IC damage, but if you only have 3 or 4 IC in a province you limit their effectiveness. Amongst China’s 80 points of base IC, 10-12 were in Chongqing, 6 in Chengdu and 6 in Urumqi, so three missiles could knock off a quarter of its value easily. This didn’t cause the collapse I hoped for, and Chinese IC seems to grow back ridiculously fast, but it is satisfying nonetheless to restart the game as China after one of these attacks and to see the lines of red in their production tab: no production of new soldiers at all, no reinforcements, no upgrades, and all industrial output committed to supplies and money. I compounded this by nuking Chonqing twice in two years (destroying 10 IC each time and slowing down its rate of regrowth) and also Xinyuang once. Nuking Xinyuang destroyed 3 points of IC but also wiped out 10 divisions of soldiers who were inconveniently perched there. By this time China could not replace lost units, so that was 10 divisions I would never have to face again. Nukes also cause an automatic 10% of dissent, which is extremely useful because it puts a further dent on IC and reduces the effectiveness of soldiers.

Nonetheless, for this whole year I made no progress. Just gathered an enormous army in eastern and northern China, and watched as the Chinese army slowly recaptured parts of southeast Asia that I thought would be mine for eternity.

1951: regaining the initiative

From mid-1951 my armies from America and my newly-produced planes and tanks began to flood the eastern areas. I deployed them in the south near Sichuan, in the middle to protect my possessions around Nanjing (a very important area) and somewhat further north to try and trap large numbers of soldiers around Beijing. I also deployed tactical bombers and later close air support fighter-bombers into these campaign areas, and by the end of 1952 I had enough of these planes to be able to rotate them out when their strength began to wane. It’s a testament to the obstinacy and ferocity of the Chinese army that even though they had no functioning anti-aircraft guns and no air force, I still had to rotate my airplanes out or lose them (in fact I did lose a couple of divisions over the year). During this time I also continued my strategic bombardment. This was to prove useful for an unexpected but important subsidiary reason: with all its available IC constantly diverted to supplies and reducing dissent, the Chinese government could not build anti-tank or anti-aircraft attachments for its units, even though they are cheap and quick. With functioning industry it would have been able to flood its units with these counter-measures, which would have led to the very rapid destruction of my (still quite small) tactical support air wings. Unfortunately my strategic bombardment had forced the Chinese to put all military production of any kind on hold for a year.

Once my forces were in place I began the long, slow process of encircling and destroying armies while gaining ground. This didn’t work so well in the south on the road to Chongching, with continual set backs and frustrations, but I had some success sealing off peninsulas and advancing down one side of a great river to the north. In each encirclement I would tend to liquidate 3-5 divisions. During this year I lost maybe 10 divisions of my own, who were trapped and destroyed before I realized (multi-tasking all this stuff can lead to slip ups). Progress was slow, grinding and frustrating, but the lack of Chinese reinforcements meant that over this year their armies weakened and became increasingly disorganized. They also began to spread more thinly as I chewed off smaller armies, and the defense in depth tactic began to weaken.

1952: the big push

By the beginning of 1952 I had managed to reorganize and assemble a spare army, which I used to recapture Rangoon in an amphibious assault. From there I pushed out north through the jungle with the Irawaddy River on my right, stomping Chinese units as I went. In the mountains of Burma and India isolated units of Chinese mountain troops were being destroyed by a combination of exposure, lack of supply and constant aerial attack. In mid-1952 I landed a second expeditionary force in western India, using new motorized units with rocket artillery to push rapidly across the sub-continent and completely separate the Indian armies from supply lines over the Himalayas. I soon ruthlessly put them down and moved to attack towards Calcutta, while simultaneously redeploying a huge army of marines to capture Chittagong and cut off more troops between my Irawaddy armies and the marine invasion. Within two months a horrific jungle war that had tied up 20 or 30 divisions for 2 years – including the complete annihilation of 5-10 – became a rout, with whole Nationalist armies being torn apart in the high mountains. Meanwhile the defensive line around Chongching collapsed and in one month I managed to surround 20 divisions in the capital area, eliminating all of them while capturing most of China’s industrial heartland. In the north, the Beijing front finally got encircled with a huge pincer movement into the Mongolian desert, and the Chinese army was finished as a fighting force. My newest nuke didn’t have to be deployed, and in three months the war had changed from a stalemate to complete destruction. With the simultaneous collapse of Indian, Burmese, Manchukuo and Sichuan fronts the Chinese lost their will to go on, and offered unconditional surrender.

Of course I took it. I now possess an Empire of unparalleled size: from the Azores in the Atlantic through America and Asia to Oman, including all of India and China, Canada, every piece of land in the Pacific and all of Oceania. All that remains of foreign possessions in this Greater Co-prosperity Sphere is a ragtag group of starving British soldiers in Hong Kong. Only two allies stand between me and the complete destruction of the colonial powers: Britain and France. I have already destroyed half the British navy – can I conquer them before Germany does? And do I dare to take on the Soviet Union?

Where next for the Empire of the Eternal Sun?

Image credit: that picture is actually PLA soldiers entering North Korea at Yalu, but it looks like I imagine much of China looked after this 3 year war was over…

Not enough to save you from castration

Not enough to save you from castration

I’ve been reading Anthony Beevor’s The Second World War, and I have been very disappointed by its handling of cryptography. Overall the book is an interesting and fun read, not as engrossing or powerful as Stalingrad or Berlin but retaining his trademark narrative flow, mix of military and personal history, and leavened with analysis of the broader political currents flowing through the war. It also doesn’t ignore colonial history the way earlier generations’ stories did, and  it is willing to present a relatively unvarnished view of Allied commanders and atrocities. The book has many small flaws, and I don’t think it’s as good as previous work. In particular the writing style is not as polished and the tone slightly breathless, occasionally a little adolescent. I’m suspicious that his grasp of the Pacific war is not as great as of Europe, and that he may fall back on national stereotypes in place of detailed scholarship, though I have seen no evidence of that yet. But the main problem the book has is just that the war is too big to fit into one person’s scholarship or one book, and so he glosses over in a couple of sentences what might otherwise have formed a whole chapter. This was particularly striking with the Nanking Massacre, which gets a paragraph or less in this book. That, for those who aren’t sure of it, is about the same amount of coverage it gets in a Japanese middle school history textbook – which also has to cover the whole of World War 2. Interesting coincidence that …

Anyway, as a result of this a great many things that might be important are given very little description. For example, the famous technology of the war – the Spitfire, the Messerschmitt, the Zero – are introduced without explanation or elucidation, and though constantly referred to by their proper names we don’t know what their strong or weak points are – it’s as if Beevor assumed we were going to check it ourselves on wikipedia. I was a little disappointed when I realized that Beevor had decided to treat the decryption/encryption technologies of the war – and the resulting intelligence race – in this way. So at some point early in the Battle of the Atlantic he starts referring to “Ultra Decrypts,” as if they were simply another technology.

This is disappointing because Ultra decrypts aren’t just another technology. There was an ongoing battle between mathematicians and engineers of both sides of the war to produce updated technologies and to decrypt them, and the capture and utilization of intelligence related to encryption methods was essential to this effort. The people who participated in this battle were heroes in their own right, though they didn’t have to ever face a bullet, and their efforts were hugely important. Basically every description of every major engagement in the African campaign includes the phrase “fortunately, due to Ultra decrypts, the Allies knew that …”[1]; the battle of Midway was won entirely because of the use of decryption; and much of the battle of the Atlantic depended on it too. These men, though they never fired a shot in anger, saved hundreds of thousands of tons of allied materiel, tens of thousands of lives, and huge tracts of land and ocean from conquest. Yet they aren’t even mentioned by name, let alone given even a couple of sentences to describe what they did and how they worked. This is particularly disappointing given that Alan Turing, who was hugely important to this effort, was cruelly mistreated by the British government after the war and ended up committing suicide. It’s also disappointing because cryptography was an area where many unnamed women contributed to the war effort in a way that was hugely important. In one earlier sentence during the Battle of Britain Beevor refers to “Land Girls,” the famous women who farmed England while the men were at war. It would be nice to also see a reference to “the Calculators,” young women who crunched numbers before computers were invented.

I find this aspect of Beevor’s book disappointing, and I’m sure that there are similar oversights in reporting the contribution of other “back office” types. Maybe it’s reflective of the modern idea that only “frontline workers” count, and only their stories are important. Or maybe it’s a reflection of a culture in which the contribution of nerds and scientists is always devalued relative to the contribution of adventurers, sportspeople and soldiers. It’s a very disappointing missed opportunity to tell an important and often under-reported story about the huge contribution that science makes to advancing human freedom.

fn1: And usually also includes the phrase “Unfortunately, [insert British leader] was too [timid/stupid/slow/arrogant] to respond and thus …”

The struggle for improved town planning laws continues unabated...

The struggle for improved town planning laws continues unabated…

Today’s Guardian is running an article about the controversy of renaming Volgograd to Stalingrad for the annual celebrations of that particularly brutal period in World War 2. If anyone hasn’t read Anthony Beevor’s book on this topic, I strongly recommend it – I don’t know how factual it is but it’s an excellent read anyway. Apparently, according to this article, the decision to rename Volgograd to Stalingrad for this few days of the year (covering the time when the Nazis surrendered) is controversial because it is seen as honouring Stalin, who was in charge at the time. From the article:

Communists and other hardliners credit him with leading the country to victory in the second world war and making it a nuclear superpower, while others condemn his purges, during which millions were murdered.

Stalin was definitely a bad, bad man, who did bad, bad things, and although some have argued that many of the bad things he did were necessary conditions to enable the rapid industrialization that gave the USSR the power to destroy Hitler, others would probably just as likely argue that his excesses reduced the USSR’s power to resist invasion. Beevor doesn’t make a judgment either way but certainly describes how Stalin’s behavior before the war and in the early stages of Operation Barbarossa made the Nazis’ job easier, but by contrast Aly and Heim in Architects of Annihilation argue, at least by implication, that Stalin’s programs of “de-kulakization” and industrialization – which were accompanied by famine, mass relocation and the destruction of whole communities – were essential to the later war effort and were actually copied by Hitler’s planners and demographers as they set about the extermination of the Jewish race and the residents of Eastern Europe. So in this sense it could be argued that Stalin’s specific pre-war policy framework[1] may have been an essential pre-condition to the victory in the war[2]. If so, it’s a very odious fact but it does suggest that Stalin’s role was essential to winning the war[3], as were the sacrifices of the 20 million or so people who died as a result of his policies.

Beevor on the other hand quotes a general speaking to Stalin early in the war, when Stalin was panicking. I can’t remember exactly the quote, of course, but basically the general told Stalin “It doesn’t really matter how tough they are or how badly we fare now; just pack up our industry to the other side of the Urals, and eventually we’ll destroy them.” A lesson they learnt, of course, from Napoleon, though they did have help from vampires back then.

So reading that article on the reveneration of Stalingrad’s name, and the dispute about how much Stalin needs to be tied to the victory over Nazism (and, by extension, its fascist satellites), or whether the Soviet Union (and Russia) was/is the kind of place where it doesn’t matter who is in charge, no one will ever be able to conquer it. I guess it won’t change anything about the current debate (after all, since when are these debates ever actually about historical facts?) but it’s an interesting question about Stalin’s legacy, since implicit in it is the suggestion that the only way Russia could have defeated the Nazis is by a massive program of industrialization that cannot possibly be achieved without mass suffering. If that’s the case, then it’s hard to believe that the first half of the 20th century could have followed any trajectory that would not have ended in mass suffering – at least not once WW1 was over. And if so, that really is a sad, sad state of human affairs, and points to something cruel and terrible in the heart of modernity.

fn1: it sounds so innocuous when put like that, doesn’t it?

fn2: not to mention the massive contribution of the USA under lend-lease from 1941-1945, something for Americans to throw back in the face of unsympathetic foreigners who tell them they didn’t win the war.

fn3: another side reason that he may have been essential was that Hitler was obssessed with capturing Stalingrad because of its name, and had the city been named Puppygrad he might have been a little less focused on squandering hundreds of thousands of well-trained troops on it.

The Guardian has a short video featuring three British actors reading war poems. The first and last is Sean Bean reading Wilfred Owen’s Anthem for Doomed Youth and The Last Laugh. Wilfred Owen is one of my favourite poets but I’ve never heard him read professionally before. It’s quite moving, though I’m not sure what I think of the idea of actors reading war poems on remembrance day – the slickness and glamour of it is a bit offputting. Nonetheless, if you’re a fan of Boromir or just want to hear some sad poetry read by professionals, it’s worth a look.

Or both? Last night I had the pleasure of watching Clint Eastwood’s Letters from Iwojima, which is a superb and beautiful movie with a genuine sensitivity to both Japan’s sad war history and to its wartime culture. It’s all the more impressive for having been directed by an American (and from a generation not renowned for their sensitivity towards Japanese feelings over the war), who obviously gave the Japanese a great deal of space to express their own culture within the movie. However, while I was watching it I found myself torn between repulsion and respect for the Japanese general, Kuribayashi, who had the sad task of setting up 20,000 Japanese men to die for no good purpose. Reflecting on this movie, I’m really not sure if it can be placed into the small number of movies that offer a genuine critique of the futility and stupidity of war (and especially of that war, for the Japanese), or whether it is just another chapter in the long and disappointing history of movies that defend or glorify war through the vehicle of its horrors and futility.

First, though, the good. This movie has a gentle and understated tone in the first half, as we watch the preparations for the island’s defense and the fears of the various Japanese soldiers are portrayed through letters home, and through the ordinary soldiers’ conversations with each other. We have occasional flashbacks to their lives before the war, the circumstances of their recruitment or their assignment to Iwo Jima, and some of the politics that undermine the efforts of General Kuribayashi to defend his island. Kuribayashi’s vicious defensive plan is described but not in so much detail that it bogs down the story. The story is primarily told through the eyes of an ordinary soldier called Saigo, who has a wife and child at home and is desperate not to die. He has many lucky escapes both from the cruelty of his own superior officers and from the vicissitudes of battle.

The film also offers a novel perspective on the US Marines, because it treats them just as the enemy is usually treated in a war movie of old: they are just faceless foes who need to be killed, and until near the end of the movie we do not see them or hear them, or learn anything about them. There are only really three face-to-face encounters between Japanese soldiers and Americans, and in one of these encounters we see US cruelty that is known about by historians but usually glossed over in war movies. In many ways this movie depicts the key properties of allied and Japanese propaganda that I described in my series of posts about the book War Without Mercy: the Japanese see the Americans as inferior and barbaric, their suspicions that they will be treated badly on surrender are confirmed by Marine savagery, but the movie itself ends with a (somewhat jarring) moment in which the Japanese soldiers adopt a moral message taken from a dead Marine’s letter: just as described in the last chapters of the book, this American movie maker begins to portray the Japanese as good captives, receptive to American moralisms and cultural tropes now that they have been subjugated.

This unconscious lapse into one of the classic propaganda tropes of the war’s victors made me aware of the possibility that this movie is not as radical as perhaps some reviewers of it might like to think. The decision to portray the entire episode through the eyes of the losers was a bold and impressive move, but I found myself ultimately disappointed by the depiction of General Kuribayashi. We’re obviously intended to view him sympathetically: he’s something of a radical in the war effort, rejecting suicide tactics and favouring gentle treatment of his men, and he obviously believes the war is lost. Having lived in the USA he understands (as did the ill-fated Admiral Yamamoto) that Japan cannot defeat such a titan, and yet he does all he is ordered to do, and does it well. I think this movie asks us to view this as a noble tragedy, of a man doing his best in circumstances he cannot escape, and maintaining his humanity throughout, but I think there were two fatal flaws in the depiction of this character: one, that his supposedly noble humanitarianism was really just a kind of utilitarian brutality; and two, that we never see him struggling with or justifying the one decision he never even considers – surrender.

The sense projected in the movie, through letters and flashbacks and his dealings with Saigo, are that he is a humanitarian, a general who cares about his men and their wellbeing. But whenever he deals with his men as soldiers, or as a group subject to his orders, his reasoning is always strictly utilitarian. He forbids suicide charges due to their futility, but at the end when there is nothing left to fight for he himself leads a charge, rather than surrender. He stops a captain from beating his soldiers, but not out of any leniency on footsoldiers who have been voicing the same doubts of victory that he voices to his comrade Nishi; rather, he doesn’t want men wasted – his issue is with the stupidity of the punishment, not with its necessity. Similarly when he rescues Saigo from an unnecessary beheading, his reasoning is that Saigo was following orders, not that beheading men for cowardice is wrong. Nothing in his actions questions the fundamentals of the war, his role in it or the inevitable expendability of his men – and he certainly doesn’t hesitate to leave his men for dead or to command their deaths when the battle begins. He is also remarkably uncritical of his own peers and his leadership: when he learns that the Navy have been lying to him about their defeat in the Marianas and the impossibility of naval support, he seems singularly unfazed. Would he react the same way if his privates were revealed to be shirking off work, or surrendering quickly?

The second, bigger problem I had with the supposed sensitivity of his portrayal is very simple: he didn’t surrender. I know it’s a historical movie, so he can’t (everyone here is trapped in an infinite loop of cruel slaughter that no one can escape), but this doesn’t mean I have to be subjected to a vision of him as a gentle and kind soldier when the inexorable flow of the story is to the pointless deaths of 30,000 men. Kuribayashi had another, simple option at the beginning of summer, about halfway through the movie, when he discovered that the Navy had been lying to him about the powers and disposal of the Combined Fleet: he could have arrested his admirals and navy commanders for treason, had them shot in front of their men, and then surrendered the island and all the men on it to the Americans. This would have meant the bloodless capture of Iwo Jima four months earlier, which would have ended the war – which Kuribayashi already knew was lost – four months earlier, which would have meant four months less of starvation, burning and mass murder on the Japanese mainland, as well as four months’ less brutality and oppression in China. Furthermore, this surrender would have sent shockwaves through the other isolated islands of the Pacific, and by shaking the Americans’ belief that the Japanese would never surrender, it might have led them to consider alternatives to the nuclear attacks on Japan. Of course, Kuribayashi didn’t surrender, and it’s good that the movie presents the actual events of Iwo Jima rather than my silly alternative universe ideals; but the fact that he didn’t surrender really makes me doubt the depiction of him as a man who cares for his men. Or perhaps more viscerally, it makes me doubt the depiction of him as a good man. I guess the movie would have been less popular if instead of showing a man tortured by his inevitable noble sacrifice, it showed a hard and cruel leader who used his men efficiently rather than with the casual brutality and scorn that seems to characterize much of the Japanese high command. It’s probably not a palatable alternative, and certainly wouldn’t have been popular in Japan, to have the central relationship of the movie not Saigo’s gentle respect for his noble leader, but the continuing dialectic of conflict between the human needs of the men and Kuribayashi’s burning desire to use them pitilessly and efficiently to kill as many Americans as possible, for no better purpose than to keep Japan independent for a few more months.

The final scenes of this movie have Kuribayashi leading a so-called banzai charge, the single most futile expression of the cruelty and inhumanity of Japan’s WW2 military. This charge was led by a man who had banned such charges earlier as counter-productive, and it is obviously intended to be viewed as noble but tragic. Watching this, I just felt it was pathetic and hopeless, and I would like to see more war movies which, rather than just viewing the war through the ordinary soldier’s eyes, actually try to critique it through their eyes. I think Letters from Iwo Jima goes part of the way towards doing this, but it fails at the last, and it fails for a simple reason: Japan’s war in the Pacific was a horrible mistake that plunged millions of people across a huge swathe of the world into 15 years of bloody darkness, none more so than the people of Japan itself. Portraying Japan’s experience of this war sensitively is a sign that the west has matured in its approach to the USA’s (inevitable) victory in that senseless war, but portraying Japan’s experience sensitively is also a very difficult task, because of that simple fact. In my opinion, you can’t properly approach this task by the kind of narrative presented in Letters from Iwo Jima. Instead, I think a more radical narrative is required, one that presents a more nuanced and critical view of the relationship between the fascist, repressive Japanese military leadership and its supposedly passive military mass. Elevating the leadership to the position of noble losers doesn’t, in my view, achieve that goal: instead, it serves to reinforce the view that war is a fundamentally noble enterprise in which, unfortunately, a few eggs need to be broken in order to make the omelet.

Japan’s experience of World War 2 is a clear case of “war, what is it good for?” – a whole generation burned away in a conflagration with no purpose and no hope of victory. I don’t think that approaching the enemy from a position of sensitivity and understanding (as Clint Eastwood is obviously trying to do in this movie) should mean throwing away that simple fact. Rather, it means incorporating it, and presenting your view of the war first and foremost with a critique of the leadership, the criminals who pushed ordinary citizens like Saigo into that fire. While this movie does a beautiful and impressive job of presenting folks like Saigo as real people rather than faceless enemies, I think it fails to be sufficiently critical of Kuribayashi, who may have been a great guy to his family but still failed to intervene in the senseless deaths of 30,000 people, because he clearly thought that those deaths were right and just. Such men are history’s greatest criminals, and I think that there should be more space in the narrative for recognition of their flaws.

Which isn’t to say, of course, that I could do a better job. This movie is a splendid piece of work, a great showcase of the subtleties of ordinary Japanese life and culture, and deserves its critical acclaim. It’s definitely worth watching and deserves acclaim, as well, for taking on the rare and difficult task of viewing “our” victory through “their” eyes. If you appreciate war movies and you’re interested in seeing an American perspective on the Japanese in the war, I definitely recommend it.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 74 other followers