HACKSAW RIDGE–A True Tale, Truly Told

Bayard & Holmes

~ Piper Bayard

HACKSAW RIDGE is the true story of WWII hero Pfc. Desmond Doss, the first Conscientious Objector to earn the Medal of Honor.

 

hacksaw-ridge-movie-poster-one-man-stayed-2016

 

When Doss was drafted into the US Army during WWII, he chose to serve as a combat medic rather than go to a CO work camp, and he fought for the right to do so without carrying a weapon. During the Battle of Okinawa, the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment. A bloody battle ensued, resulting in heavy casualties driving the Battalion back. Doss refused to seek cover. He carried seventy-five injured men off the fire-swept battlefield and lowered them down the ridge to friendly hands below. HACKSAW RIDGE tracks Doss’s life through his commitment as a Conscientious Objector, his fight to be allowed to serve in combat without bearing arms, and his heroic rescue of seventy-five fellow soldiers.

The production quality of HACKSAW RIDGE is excellent, with award-worthy acting and cinematography.

The talented Andrew Garfield is brilliant as Pfc. Desmond Doss, and Vince Vaughn, Sam Worthington, Luke Bracey, and Teresa Palmer are outstanding in their supporting roles. However, the movie is every bit as graphic, and then some, as you would expect from BRAVEHEART producer Mel Gibson. The “R” rating is well-deserved, and people under the age of 17 should not be admitted for good reason. I would also warn veterans about seeing this movie. It does not pull any punches in either the graphics or the audio, and it might be too intense for someone who has seen combat in real life.

 

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Doss pulling a man from the battlefield.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

HACKSAW RIDGE does an exceptional job presenting the conflicting-but-legitimate points of view of Doss, his fellow soldiers, and his officers.

Pfc. Desmond Doss was a devout Seventh Day Adventist who refused to touch a firearm or work on Saturdays. The story ably traces how Doss’s religion and home atmosphere solidified his commitment to never touch a weapon while instilling in him a deep sense of duty to serve his country. His faith was inseparable from his character and is portrayed realistically as such in the movie. Equally realistic are the reactions of Doss’s fellow soldiers to his “red lines.” They were suspect of Doss’s religious devotion, wondering if he was actually simply a coward who would get them killed on the battlefield. Doss’s officers were concerned, as well, about sending a man into the field who refused to fight, and they wanted him out. HACKSAW RIDGE gives a balanced and respectful presentation of the competing interests and motivations at work in the situation without over-dramatizing or unrealistically vilifying any of the men involved.

Some reviews have characterized HACKSAW RIDGE as “religious pomp and pornographic violence,” or “war propaganda.”

On the contrary, Doss was a deeply religious man, and religious beliefs were the foundation of his heroism in real life. The movie simply portrays him as such. As for the accusations of “pornographic violence,” I would invite those reviewers to do a tour or two in combat and then get back to us. Regarding the label “war propaganda,” a true tale truly told is not propaganda. HACKSAW RIDGE is true to Desmond Doss’s amazing life story with little dramatic embellishment. Interviews with Doss, his captain, and with soldiers who knew him at the end of the movie confirm the events and the characters as factual.

 

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE. Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers. This was true.

Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.
Waiting for Doss to finish his prayers.
This was true.

 

In fact, the movie HACKSAW RIDGE is not big enough to portray all of Doss’s heroic deeds.

For example, the film shows cargo nets hung from the top of the ridge. What it doesn’t show is that Doss was one of the three men to carry the massive cargo nets up the ridge and mount them there under the nose of the Japanese. (See article below, History vs. Hollywood, for historical picture of Doss with the nets at the top of the ridge.) After the battle wherein Doss brought down all seventy-five casualties on his own, he continued to assist wounded soldiers and to inspire the men in the 1st Battalion to go on to win a foothold on the ridge, even after being wounded by shrapnel and sniper fire. It’s worth reading the full text of his Medal of Honor citation below.

 

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge. Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss
Check out those cargo nets on that 400 ft. ridge.
Image from HACKSAW RIDGE.

 

In summary, this is a true story well told about a man of faith, whose faith gave him strength to rescue over seventy-five men from the battlefield during one of the bloodiest conflicts of WWII.

Those offended by displays of Christian faith or the horrors of war might find this movie is not for them. I would encourage those people to be open-minded and accepting of diversity and go anyway to learn about genuine historical events and a very real man who deserves an excellent movie. Those who are comfortable with religious conviction and who understand that war is hell will be amazed at the story of war hero Desmond Doss.

I give HACKSAW RIDGE our highest Bayard & Holmes rating, a .44 magnum, with one caveat.

Though the violence is realistic, it is extreme, just as one might expect the Battle of Okinawa to be. With excellent production and outstanding acting, it’s worth paying the prime time price for if you can stand the crowd.

 

 

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President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

The text of Pfc. Desmond Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

 

For more about Pfc. Desmond Doss and how HACKSAW RIDGE compares to Doss’s real life, see HistoryvsHollywood.com Hacksaw Ridge and Bayard & Holmes article, The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight.

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

During WWII, dozens of the bloody campaigns raged around the globe, involving millions of US military personnel. Four hundred sixty-four of those Americans received the Medal of Honor — two hundred sixty-six of them posthumously. Most of the recipients received the medal for incredible feats of valor while attacking the enemy. However, in a few instances, the medal was given to a recipient that never attempted to harm the enemy. Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector from Virginia, was one of those recipients.

 

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Seventy years ago, on October 12, 1945, President Truman awarded Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor for his conduct during the US campaign to take Okinawa from the Japanese imperial forces.

The US undertook the invasion of Okinawa to establish large air bases for operations during the anticipated invasion of Japan. On April 1, 1945, 250,000 combat troops, organized into three US Marines Divisions and four US Army Divisions, stormed the shores of Okinawa.

The landings, themselves, were conducted without much resistance from the approximately 90,000 Japanese defenders. By 1945, the Japanese had decided that it was unwise to expose their forces to vastly superior US naval gunfire and US air support on the narrow beach zones where the concentrated fire would devastate them. Instead, they built strong defensive positions inland from the beaches, where the US advantages in naval gunfire and air support were negated by the close proximity of the attacking US troops.

To defend Okinawa, the Japanese military had perfected two other major defensive innovations.

The first of these was Kamikaze (Divine Wind) suicide air units. Most of us are familiar with the Kamikaze fighter plane units that were unleashed with devastating effect against the US Navy’s amphibious fleet during the US invasion of the Philippines in October of 1944. By the time the US invaded Okinawa, the Japanese had further refined their aerial Kamikaze weapons. In particular, they had developed a man-guided rocket-propelled bomb. These fast moving rocket bombs were difficult to shoot down, and, in combination with the slower Kamikaze fighter craft and light bombers, they managed to kill nearly 5,000 US sailors while sinking twenty amphibious assault ships and twelve destroyers.

On land, the Japanese introduced their second highly effective and savage innovation – the child suicide bomber. The occupying Japanese conscripted middle school children to conduct suicide bomb attacks against the invading US troops. US Marines and soldiers were hesitant to shoot at civilians that ran toward their lines because some of them were simply trying to escape the Japanese. Unfortunately, many of the children carried explosives under their loose fitting shirts. In some instances, the Japanese troops sent forward young mothers with babies. When US troops left their cover to try to assist the women and babies, Japanese snipers killed the US rescuers.

This combination of the aerial Kamikaze and the child suicide bombers greatly complicated the battle for the US forces.

The Japanese commanders in Tokyo, pleased with the effectiveness of the suicide bombers, ordered the conscription of all boys aged fifteen and older and all girls aged seventeen and older to be trained and equipped as suicide troops for the defense of the home islands against the awaited US invasion.

Such was the savage nature of the fighting on Okinawa, which made Desmond Doss’s conduct all the more remarkable.

Because of his religious beliefs, Doss was a conscientious objector. He did not want to engage in combat. His beliefs, however, did not keep him from serving in the US Army as a combat medic.

The text of Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

After his discharge from the US Army, Desmond Doss spent five years in treatment for his injuries and for tuberculosis. He died in March, 2006.

Of the thousands of stories of outstanding courage during WWII, Desmond Doss’s story is one of the most remarkable. He did not act with a burst of adrenaline for a few minutes to achieve remarkable results, but rather he acted calmly and repeatedly risked his life under fire for several days in order to save his wounded comrades. In the midst of one of the most savage battles of history, Desmond Doss, conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient, still stands as an outstanding example of courage and compassion.

Pfc. Doss’s story is being brought to the big screen on November 4, 2016, in the movie HACKSAW RIDGE. Watch for the Bayard & Holmes review.

 

 

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Bayard & Holmes Official Photo

Piper Bayard is an author and a recovering attorney. Her writing partner, Jay Holmes, is an anonymous senior member of the intelligence community and a field veteran from the Cold War through the current Global War on Terror. Together, they are the bestselling authors of the international spy thriller, THE SPY BRIDE.

Watch for their upcoming non-fiction release, CHINA — THE PIRATE OF THE SOUTH CHINA SEA.

 

cover-3-china-the-pirate-of-the-south-china-sea

 

Keep in touch through updates at Bayard & Holmes Covert Briefing.

You can contact Bayard & Holmes in comments below, at their site, Bayard & Holmes, on Twitter at @piperbayard, on Facebook at Bayard & Holmes, or at their email, BH@BayardandHolmes.com.

 

Chinese Aggression Spurs New Alliances for Japan

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is causing Japan to strengthen its alliance with the US and build new and unlikely partnerships with some traditional enemies.

 

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito Image by State Dept., public domain

US Pres. Obama and Japanese Emperor Akihito
Image by State Dept., public domain

 

Building a stronger defensive alliance with Japan is the least challenging foreign policy task faced by the Obama administration. It is also the easiest foreign relationship from the point of view of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration.

Modern Japan and the US share similar political and social values, and both countries are strongly independent and democratic in structure and outlook. At times in the past, trade imbalances and the vast US presence in Okinawa have stressed the US-Japan relationship, but those issues never prevented strong military and diplomatic cooperation. The two countries have shared a consistently solid relationship since the founding of modern Japan in 1947.

To understand the US-Japan relationship, we should consider Japan’s geographic and political dilemmas.

Japan imports most of its fossil fuels and about sixty percent of its food. Free navigation of the seas is critical to Japan’s prosperity, and even to its very existence. To varying degrees Russia, China, and North Korea all pose serious threats to Japan’s national security. In a sense, Japan is the “Israel” of the Pacific. They have no allies in their region. Fortunately, this may be changing.

China remains bitter for the brutal invasion and occupation carried out by Imperial Japan during the first half of the twentieth century.

 

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Image public domain.

Japanese Soldiers with Broken Statue of Chinese Leader Dr. Sun Yat Sen.
Image public domain.

 

China’s communist government has found it convenient for its political mythology to foment hatred toward Japan rather than seek reconciliation. Fifty years ago, Japan could afford to be less concerned with China’s hatred.

As the People’s Republic of China has begun to overcome its long history of inept and self-destructive government, it has been able to develop its massive population and considerable natural resources.

Having established a stronger economy and a stronger military, China has made itself more “relevant” in the Pacific. Unfortunately for them and for everyone else, they have chosen to seek “relevancy” and legitimacy through increased aggression toward their neighbors. As China’s military strength and aggressive attitude grows, so grows Japan’s concern for self-defense.

The one challenge that remains in US-Japan relations is Japan’s poor relationships with other US allies in the Pacific.

The US has had a close, though rather one-sided, relationship with South Korea since WWII. That relationship has been based on the US’s willingness to defend South Korea against its communist neighbors. While North Korea remains a menace and a constant nuisance to both South Korea and Japan, until recently that has not been enough motive to bring the two nations closer. Both South Koreans and North Koreans remain angry over the Japanese occupation prior to and during WWII.

However, there are now signs of a thaw in relations between South Korea and Japan.

To a degree, North Korea’s nuclear threats and China’s increasing aggression are motivating Japan and South Korea to cooperate more on issues of trade and defense. It may take several more decades for South Koreans to form a more favorable view of Japan, but if the Japanese exercise some diplomatic skill, they may eventually be able to change their image in South Korea. This would enable more effective military cooperation against the growing threats from the North Koreans and China.

A similar three-way dilemma exists between Japan, the Philippines, and the US.

For the same historic reasons, Japan remains unpopular in the Philippines while the US maintains close relations with both countries. As with South Korea and Japan, the US has long hoped for and attempted to promote closer relations between the Philippines and Japan.

In the case of the Philippines, there have been strong signs of growing cooperation with Japan.

Recently, a Japanese warship took part in naval exercises with the US and the Philippine navies. Even as recently as two years ago, the presence of a Japanese warship in Philippine coastal waters would have been completely unwelcome in the Philippines. In another clear sign that China’s aggression is forcing Japan and the Philippines together, Japan is selling jet trainer aircraft to the Philippines. This sale is a major event in Philippine-Japan relations.

By quietly acting as a go-between, the US has been able to help Japan begin to build better relations with its Western Pacific neighbors.

In military terms, relations between Japan and the US are very good and getting better. Japan continues to allow the US to maintain considerable air and naval forces in Japanese territory, and the working relationship between US and Japanese forces is excellent. Senior military officers from both nations have a high degree of trust in each other’s ability and integrity. When the US and Japanese militaries make an agreement, both sides are confident that the agreement will be carried out.

Perhaps the single greatest impact thus far from China’s growing aggression in the South China Sea can be seen in Japan.

The Japanese constitution limits Japan to a relatively small self-defense force. While the Japanese self-defense force is small, it is high in quality. Whenever the Japanese government has committed to building ships for its maritime self-defense force, the ships have been well designed, well built, and delivered on time. Japanese politicians and voters are starting to consider expanding their military both in budgetary and doctrinal terms. In budgetary terms, Japan has made small increases in expenditures, and they are now developing their own stealth fighter. This new stealth fighter is in addition to Japan’s participation in the expensive US led F-35 program.

 

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base Image public domain.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter at Edwards Air Force Base
Image public domain.

 

In doctrinal terms, Japan was willing to participate in naval exercises in the Philippines.

Until recently, the Japanese government and Japanese voters would have considered such a deployment unacceptable. The Japanese voters still have a deep aversion for involving themselves in another war of aggression, but they are beginning to accept that the security of the Philippines directly impacts their own national security.

Over eighty percent of Japan’s oil comes from the Mideast. Since the Fukushima nuclear power plant leak disaster in 2011, Japan’s oil import requirements have increased. Free navigation of the international waters of the South China/West Philippine Sea is even more critical to Japan than it is to the Philippines.

The US has announced that the linchpin for US strategy in the Pacific will be the Philippines.

In reality, that only appears to be the case because of how little Japan needs to improve its self-defense as compared to how desperately the Philippines needs to build a credible military. For diplomatic reasons, both the US and Japan prefer to publicly keep the focus on the Philippines.

The relationship between Japan and the US has evolved in to one of equality, shared values, and genuine mutual respect. Whatever problems might arise between the US and Japan, the relationship will remain strong.

The Japanese people have no desire to create a Japanese hegemony in the Pacific, but China’s expansionist agenda has forced them to accept a greater role in international affairs in the region.

In our next episode, we will consider the changing US-Malaysian relationship.

The Race for US/Asia-Pacific Alliances

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On November 23, 2013, the People’s Republic of China declared its East China Sea Air Defense and Identification Zone, which asserted expanded territorial boundaries. The new zone includes international waters as well as areas claimed by both Japan and Taiwan as sovereign territories.

 

East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone Image by Voice of America, public domain

East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone
Image by Voice of America, public domain

 

The Senkaku Islands southwest of Okinawa are a part of this new territorial grab. The Senkakus are uninhabited, but they are astride international navigation routes used daily by Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, the US, and other nations. Japan, Taiwan, and South Korea refused to recognize China’s claim to them.

As part of the new Defense Zone, the People’s Republic of China wants all aircraft to report to Chinese controllers and obtain their permission to fly through. Since China declared this, the USA and Japan have responded by increasing military flights through the zone without complying with China’s request. This is their way of asserting their continued right to access international waters and airspace without having to submit to illegitimate Chinese authority.

It might seem counterproductive for China to encourage resistance and distrust from its important trading partners in and across the Pacific.

None of China’s Pacific neighbors, except its “allies” in North Korea, pose China with a national security threat. However, by declaring the new Defense Zone, other Pacific nations have been energized to increase their defense spending and to seek closer alliances with each other and with the US.

So why set up an annoying “Defense Zone” only to have it ignored by other Pacific nations? Did China miscalculate?

In my opinion, the People’s Republic of China anticipated the international reactions and accepted those costs in order to begin enacting a broader long-term strategy. China is not playing at politics for this week or this year, but rather it is focused on slowly achieving important goals during the next few decades. In that context, their feeble Defense Zone takes on a different meaning.

The Defense Zone does not keep the US and Japanese military planes away, and, in fact, it attracts more of them. But in the minds of communist government rulers, it has a value in the realm of psychological warfare.

For one thing, those rulers can ignore the outcome of their declaration and proclaim it a victory to their imprisoned citizens. In Japan or the US, that sort of thing would not play well, and it would most likely inspire criticism from citizens. However, we should never forget that for despotic regimes like China, the greatest psychological warfare battles must be fought at home.

Since extending its imaginary sovereignty over the Senkakus, China has increased its ongoing imperial claims by occupying some of the disputed Spratly Islands in the South China Sea.

The Spratly Islands range in size from “too small for people to comfortably inhabit” to “small wet tidal sand bars.” Both China and Taiwan claim sovereignty and exclusive rights over the entire South China Sea, including the Spratlys. These claims are absurd in the extreme, but communist China never shies away from absurdity in politics. (See US-Philippine Relations Hit Critical Threshold.)

The Spratlys are all closer to Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and the Philippines than they are to China. In fact, in the Philippines, the sea area around the eastern Spratlys is referred to as the West Philippine Sea. When viewing a map of the Spratlys and their neighboring countries, it is easy enough to see how territorial claims for the Spratlys might be in dispute, but China is not in that neighborhood, so their claims are by far the least legitimate.

Because it expanded and militarized a few of the Spratly Islands, China claims that it now has exclusive territorial rights over the Spratlys. The United Nations rules – rules that China agreed to as a UN member nation – make it clear that occupation of artificially expanded reefs gives no right of territorial claims in the surrounding waters. However, the People’s Republic of China only recognizes rules and agreements when it suits its purpose. The Chinese rule has always has been, “We do whatever we can get away with.”

The impacts of the Chinese imperial ambitions in the Spratly Islands have been fairly predictable.

Important trade routes that include oil shipments to Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines, and the US run through the waters around the Spratly Islands. Before reaching the Spratly Islands, a tanker journeying from the Indian Ocean to Japan, China, Philippines, etc., would have to navigate the narrow Straits of Malacca between Sumatra and the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.

Freedom of passage through the Straits of Malacca is important to all Pacific nations, but they are China’s most critical vulnerability. If oil tankers did not traverse the Straits to China on a regular schedule, the Chinese economy would soon be paralyzed.

Since the impacts of the China’s South China Sea campaign were obvious to me, then I have to assume that they were also obvious to the Chinese, but again, they are playing for the long game. The short-term diplomatic and political repercussions are acceptable costs to the communist Chinese regime.

The most obvious impacts of the newly declared Defense Zone have been the shift toward cooperation with the US by nations such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Brunei, and a refocus on US relations in the Philippines and Taiwan.

From a US perspective, China’s expansionist strategy seems to require a clear and manageable response. The US government believes that the nations bordering the South China Sea should take reasonable steps to improve their military capabilities and their regional cooperation.

It’s all clear and simple when viewed from the Washington, D.C. universe. The situation is more complex when viewed from the shores of the SW Pacific nations.

Each of the Pacific nations has responded in its own unique way with its own unique goals and obstacles. Each of them wants to reshape its relationship with the US, and it is best that each be considered as a separate case. In our next installment, we will examine the evolving US-Philippine relationship.

The Triumph and Defeat of Japanese Militarism

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

On February 26, 1936, a group of young Imperial Japan Army officers led a violent coup against the Japanese government in an attempt to restore absolute power for the monarchy.

From a Western point of view, the coup appeared to be an effort to install military rule over civil authority. That was, indeed, one of the goals of the coup leaders and supporters, but they also intended to murder or remove senior army officers from rival military factions.

 

Flag of The Righteous Army wikimedia commons, public domain

Flag of The Righteous Army
wikimedia commons, public domain

 

In the decade leading up to the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, most Western diplomats viewed the internal politics of Japan as being a rivalry between a “Peace Faction” and a “War Faction.”

The reality was quite different. The actual “Peace Faction” in Japan was quite small and lacked significant power. The actual “War Faction,” the real power in Japan, was a variety of military factions and supporting wealthy industrialists.

The principal military faction consisted of senior military officers that were aligned with Japan’s growing industrial giants.

They wanted to pursue a thorough physical modernization of the Japanese Army and Navy prior to conducting any wars against Western nations. At the time, they were concerned with building an Army to defeat the Soviet Union and conquer vast areas of eastern USSR and eastern China, and their basic intent was to defeat communism before communism could destroy Japan.

This principal military faction, as well as other factions, believed that sufficient oil, iron, and coal for Japan’s industry and war machine could be obtained from the conquered areas of China, Korea, and the USSR. However, while large quantities of steel were produced in the Japanese-occupied areas of China, Japan failed to locate and develop any significant new oil fields from their territories on the Asian mainland. Oil, then as now, remained a critical factor in political decisions.

The coup leaders believed the Japanese military did not need more modernization, and they didn’t like the influence the wealthy industrialists held over the Emperor. They viewed Emperor Hirohito as the victim of these industrialists, and they naively believed they needed to rescue him from them, as well as from the corrupt politicians and military officers.

By February 22, the eight principle coup leaders had managed to recruit eighteen more young officers. They began to finalize their plans. The coup leaders dubbed themselves “The Righteous Army.” They mobilized over 1,400 soldiers under their command. Most of the soldiers were ignorant of any conspiracy and were told simply that they had been called out to defend the Emperor from unspecified conspirators.

In the early morning hours of February 26, the coup leaders divided their 1,400 troops into six groups. At 5:00 a.m., they conducted simultaneous attacks on the Prime Minister’s residence, the Tokyo police headquarters, the War Ministry, and the homes of three prominent politicians.

The attack on the Prime Minister’s Palace succeeded in capturing the palace. The attackers murdered the Prime Minister’s brother-in-law, mistakenly identifying him as the Prime Minister, which left them unaware that the Prime Minister escaped. The attack on the Police headquarters succeeded, as well, but due to lack of proper preparations, the other four attacks on political targets failed.

The entire conspiracy was based on the notion that the conspirators would rescue the Emperor from the corrupt industrialists and their military lackeys.

Unfortunately for them, the conspirators failed to understand that Emperor Hirohito felt no need to be rescued by the Righteous Army or any other faction. In spite of popular perceptions, the Emperor agreed with the aims of the industrialists and the military modernists. He was also being well compensated financially by the new industries being built in Japanese-occupied Manchuria and Korea.

The conspirators gained entrance to the Royal Palace grounds by posing as a relief force. Once the subterfuge of the young officers leading the “relief troops” was discovered, they were expelled. The Emperor subsequently instructed his staff to issue a proclamation denouncing the coup.

The Emperor’s staff wisely made that proclamation vague, and the conspiracy leaders mistook it as a declaration that they had been victorious.

It took an additional three days to convince them to stand down and return to their barracks. When they finally abandoned the captured grounds of the Police headquarters and the Prime Minister’s Palace, the officers and over a hundred co-conspirators were arrested. Nineteen of the officers were executed, and three others committed suicide.

The coup itself was dramatic enough, but the aftereffects were even more dramatic.

The military underwent a reorganization that left the modernist “pro-war” faction in control of the Army and Navy. The civil government ended up under tighter military control. Anyone in the government or military that even vaguely resembled anything like a peace supporter was assassinated or marginalized.

Japan was already at war with China, and the path toward expanding and escalating that war now shone more brightly than ever.

The civilian influence over government policy dwindled after the coup attempt, while the most aggressive military expansionists used the reorganization to consolidate their power and further their agendas, shaking out anything like a peace faction. The only question that remained was whether Japan should secure oil by capturing the Western USSR or by striking south and capturing Borneo and Sumatra.

In May of 1939, a force of 35,000 Japanese attempted to capture part of eastern Mongolia. The Japanese underestimated the Soviet commitment to defending their Mongolian allies. By September, 65,000 Mongolian and Soviet troops had expelled the Japanese. In the aftermath, the Japanese commanders in Tokyo decided that it would be best to capture and secure oil, tin, and rubber sources in the southwest Pacific region before building up forces in northwest Manchuria for a major assault against the USSR.

Planning for a surprise attack on US Naval forces in Pearl Harbor, the conquest of the Philippines, and the conquests of Borneo and Sumatra now began in earnest.

In the summer of 1941, when the German Army invaded the USSR, its early successes confirmed for the Japanese the wisdom of first striking southward. They were certain that the Germans would prevent the USSR from causing any trouble in Japan while Japan swept up the valuable resource areas of the Southwest Pacific.

The Japanese were right about the USSR being busy with the German invasion, but they grossly underestimated the determination and ability of the US to mobilize vast military forces to defeat them in the Pacific. That miscalculation was not fully understood until August of 1945, when Tokyo lay in ruins, and nuclear weapons had been dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

 

US General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito September 27, 1945 public domain, wikimedia commons

US General Douglas MacArthur and Emperor Hirohito
September 27, 1945
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

On May 3, 1947, Japan adopted a modern democratic constitution, formally ending its era of military dominance over its government. In the final chapter of the struggle for control over modern Japan, the “war factions” were brought to their knees, and the small and previously powerless “peace faction” had the last word.

The Medal of Honor Recipient Who Wouldn’t Fight

Bayard & Holmes

~ Jay Holmes

During WWII, dozens of the bloody campaigns raged around the globe, involving millions of US military personnel. Four hundred sixty-four of those Americans received the Medal of Honor — two hundred sixty-six of them posthumously. Most of the recipients received the medal for incredible feats of valor while attacking the enemy. However, in a few instances, the medal was given to a recipient that never attempted to harm the enemy. US Army Pfc. Desmond Doss, a conscientious objector from Virginia, was one of those recipients.

 

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss public domain, wikimedia commons

President Harry Truman awarding Medal of Honor to
Conscientious Objector Desmond Doss
public domain, wikimedia commons

 

Seventy years ago, on October 12, 1945, President Truman awarded Desmond Doss the Medal of Honor for his conduct during the US campaign to take Okinawa from the Japanese imperial forces.

The US undertook the invasion of Okinawa to establish large air bases for operations during the anticipated invasion of Japan. On April 1, 1945, 250,000 combat troops, organized into three US Marines Divisions and four US Army Divisions, stormed the shores of Okinawa.

The landings, themselves, were conducted without much resistance from the approximately 90,000 Japanese defenders. By 1945, the Japanese had decided that it was unwise to expose their forces to vastly superior US naval gunfire and US air support on the narrow beach zones where the concentrated fire would devastate them. Instead, they built strong defensive positions inland from the beaches, where the US advantages in naval gunfire and air support were negated by the close proximity of the attacking US troops.

To defend Okinawa, the Japanese military had perfected two other major defensive innovations.

The first of these was Kamikaze (Divine Wind) suicide air units. Most of us are familiar with the Kamikaze fighter plane units that were unleashed with devastating effect against the US Navy’s amphibious fleet during the US invasion of the Philippines in October of 1944. By the time the US invaded Okinawa, the Japanese had further refined their aerial Kamikaze weapons. In particular, they had developed a man-guided rocket-propelled bomb. These fast moving rocket bombs were difficult to shoot down, and, in combination with the slower Kamikaze fighter craft and light bombers, they managed to kill nearly 5,000 US sailors while sinking twenty amphibious assault ships and twelve destroyers.

On land, the Japanese introduced their second highly effective and savage innovation – the child suicide bomber. The occupying Japanese conscripted middle school children to conduct suicide bomb attacks against the invading US troops. US Marines and soldiers were hesitant to shoot at civilians that ran toward their lines because some of them were simply trying to escape the Japanese. Unfortunately, many of the children carried explosives under their loose fitting shirts. In some instances, the Japanese troops sent forward young mothers with babies. When US troops left their cover to try to assist the women and babies, Japanese snipers killed the US rescuers.

This combination of the aerial Kamikaze and the child suicide bombers greatly complicated the battle for the US forces.

The Japanese commanders in Tokyo, pleased with the effectiveness of the suicide bombers, ordered the conscription of all boys aged fifteen and older and all girls aged seventeen and older to be trained and equipped as suicide troops for the defense of the home islands against the awaited US invasion.

Such was the savage nature of the fighting on Okinawa, which made Desmond Doss’s conduct all the more remarkable.

Because of his religious beliefs, Doss was a conscientious objector. He did not want to engage in combat. His beliefs, however, did not keep him from serving in the US Army as a combat medic.

The text of Doss’s Medal of Honor citation speaks for itself, telling the story of his remarkable courage under fire:

“He was a company aid man when the 1st Battalion assaulted a jagged escarpment 400 feet [120 m] high. As our troops gained the summit, a heavy concentration of artillery, mortar and machinegun fire crashed into them, inflicting approximately 75 casualties and driving the others back. Pfc. Doss refused to seek cover and remained in the fire-swept area with the many stricken, carrying all 75 casualties one-by-one to the edge of the escarpment and there lowering them on a rope-supported litter down the face of a cliff to friendly hands. On May 2, he exposed himself to heavy rifle and mortar fire in rescuing a wounded man 200 yards [180 m] forward of the lines on the same escarpment; and 2 days later he treated 4 men who had been cut down while assaulting a strongly defended cave, advancing through a shower of grenades to within 8 yards [7.3 m] of enemy forces in a cave’s mouth, where he dressed his comrades’ wounds before making 4 separate trips under fire to evacuate them to safety. On May 5, he unhesitatingly braved enemy shelling and small arms fire to assist an artillery officer. He applied bandages, moved his patient to a spot that offered protection from small arms fire and, while artillery and mortar shells fell close by, painstakingly administered plasma. Later that day, when an American was severely wounded by fire from a cave, Pfc. Doss crawled to him where he had fallen 25 feet [7.6 m] from the enemy position, rendered aid, and carried him 100 yards [91 m] to safety while continually exposed to enemy fire. On May 21, in a night attack on high ground near Shuri, he remained in exposed territory while the rest of his company took cover, fearlessly risking the chance that he would be mistaken for an infiltrating Japanese and giving aid to the injured until he was himself seriously wounded in the legs by the explosion of a grenade. Rather than call another aid man from cover, he cared for his own injuries and waited 5 hours before litter bearers reached him and started carrying him to cover. The trio was caught in an enemy tank attack and Pfc. Doss, seeing a more critically wounded man nearby, crawled off the litter; and directed the bearers to give their first attention to the other man. Awaiting the litter bearers’ return, he was again struck, by a sniper bullet while being carried off the field by a comrade, this time suffering a compound fracture of 1 arm. With magnificent fortitude he bound a rifle stock to his shattered arm as a splint and then crawled 300 yards [270 m] over rough terrain to the aid station. Through his outstanding bravery and unflinching determination in the face of desperately dangerous conditions Pfc. Doss saved the lives of many soldiers. His name became a symbol throughout the 77th Infantry Division for outstanding gallantry far above and beyond the call of duty.”

After his discharge from the US Army, Desmond Doss spent five years in treatment for his injuries and for tuberculosis. He died in March, 2006.

Of the thousands of stories of outstanding courage during WWII, Desmond Doss’s story is one of the most remarkable. He did not act with a burst of adrenaline for a few minutes to achieve remarkable results, but rather he acted calmly and repeatedly risked his life under fire for several days in order to save his wounded comrades. In the midst of one of the most savage battles of history, Desmond Doss, conscientious objector and Medal of Honor recipient, still stands as an outstanding example of courage and compassion.

Manila–Triumph Over Devastation

By Jay Holmes

In The Scream Heard Around the World–Manila, Part 1, we saw the far-reaching effects of a speech given by Carlos Cespedes in Cuba and how it spawned a movement for freedom in both Cuba and the Philippines. In The Battle That Wasn’t–Manila, Part 2, we looked at how the reach of that scream carried on through a poem by Dr. Jose Rizal and influenced the course of a nation. In A Nation Becoming and the Battle for Manila, we investigated the challenges the budding Philippine nation faced, as well as the WWII Japanese invasion and the Bataan Death March. Today, we review the Japanese occupation of Manila, WWII, and the realization of Dr. Rizal’s dream.

After the Japanese defeated the main formations of U.S. and Philippine forces at Corregidor in May of 1942, it took them two more months to defeat them on the other major islands. Throughout the Archipelago, a few thousand U.S. and Philippine forces that had managed to avoid death or capture served as nuclei for the formation of various guerilla groups. By way of submarine delivery and a few airdrops, the Allies were able to keep them supplied with weapons, ammunition, explosives, radios and medicine.

A few additional U.S. troops were inserted into the islands to help organize and coordinate the various guerilla groups. The allied guerilla activities caused the Japanese to retain more infantry and aircraft in the Philippines than they had intended. With airpower, the Japanese were able to prevent the guerillas from billeting in large formations or moving on roads and trails except at night. Though the guerillas were usually unable to cause significant casualties to the occupying Japanese troops, the drain on Japanese forces further hampered the Japanese advance to the South and the Southeast. This helped the Allies in coming to grips with the Japanese in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

 

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor, Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

Tanks line up for the invasion of Cape Sansapor,
Dutch, New Guinea, 1944

 

By the middle of 1944, General MacArthur’s Southwest Pacific Command (SWPC) had managed to leapfrog its way up the northern coast of New Guinea. In September, Allied forces captured Morotai in the Dutch East Indies. The Allies quickly built a large, reinforced runway on the island, which provided SWPC with a valuable base of operations for heavy bombers and long-range reconnaissance against the Japanese forces in the southern half of the Philippines. The U.S. Navy sent carrier groups under Task Force 38, commanded by Admiral William Halsey, to conduct repeated raids against the various Japanese airbases in the central and northern Philippines. The raids were highly successful in destroying Japanese planes at a surprisingly low cost to the pilots of TF 38.

 

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944 image from U.S. Navy

Admiral William F. Halsey, 1944
image from U.S. Navy

 

The Allied Combined Chiefs of Staff (CCS) had allocated resources to SWPC for an invasion of the southern Philippines in late December. Halsey and his staff were convinced that Japanese airpower had suffered a terrible attrition not just in numbers, but also in declining quality of pilots. Based on intelligence information from guerilla groups throughout the Philippines and on the minimal opposition that pilots had faced during their repeated raids, Halsey felt certain that the U.S. invasion of the Philippines should be moved up from December to October, and that they should strike in the central Philippines to quickly defeat the main Japanese formations. General Douglas MacArthur concurred with Halsey’s assessment.

By 1944, based on Admiral Halsey’s many successes against the Japanese, his reputation had grown to epic proportions, and he had the trust of both the CCS and the Allied political leaders. Wisely, MacArthur left it to Halsey to make the recommendation to the CCS that the invasion timetable be moved up. With offensive operations taking place on multiple fronts from Europe to the Pacific, the competition for supplies and shipping to support operations was a limiting factor in Allied offensive operations around the globe. Halsey’s reputation carried the day, and the CCS quickly agreed to his recommendations.

 

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

Gen. Douglas MacArthur wades ashore at Leyte
Philippine Islands, Oct. 1944

 

On October 20, 1944, the U.S. Sixth Army landed on the eastern shore of Leyte, northeast of Mindanao Island. The Japanese general staff underestimated the strength of the U.S. forces supporting the invasion. In conjunction with waves of kamikaze air attacks, the Japanese launched a complicated, three pronged attack with the majority of their remaining naval ships in an attempt to destroy the U.S. landing forces.

A series of large naval battles ensued from October 23 through 26. The combined might of the U.S. surface ships, carrier planes, and submarines ensured a disastrous defeat for the Japanese Navy. The defeat was so complete that the Japanese Navy was never again able to attempt any major engagements for the remainder of the war. Henceforth, the entire Japanese Navy became a kamikaze force.

Once the U.S. 6th Army was ashore on Leyte Island, the Philippine guerillas attached themselves to them, volunteering to handle scouting and sabotage missions. The newly supplied guerillas were able to befuddle Japanese defensive maneuvers on Leyte by blowing up the right bridges and telephone lines at just the right time while the 6th Army conducted its offensive. Their efforts undoubtedly saved thousands of U.S. lives.

 

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944 image from U.S. National Archives

U.S. Navy gun crews cover landing on Mindoro Island, 1944
image from U.S. National Archives

 

Although fierce fighting by well dug-in Japanese troops continued for several months, the 6th Army was able to launch an attack on nearby Mindoro Island on December 15, 1944. Mindoro Island is located south of Luzon, and it offered a perfect location for fighter bases to support any future operations against the large Japanese Army formations on Luzon Island. The Japanese had expected the next assault to come elsewhere, and they had not reinforced their garrison on Mindoro. The results of their miscalculation were disastrous. The 6th Army had complete control of Mindoro by December 18.

To confuse the Japanese about allied intentions, Philippine guerillas conducted major sabotage operations in southern Luzon while the U.S. conducted air raids against southern Luzon. When U.S. minesweepers appeared in southern Luzon harbors the Japanese were convinced that a landing and would soon be conducted. It would, but in another area much further north.

 

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders to the beaches of Luzon. 1945

U.S. Coast Guard landing barges sweep through waters of Lingayan Gulf carrying first wave of invaders
to the beaches of Luzon. 1945
image from U.S. National Archives

 

On January 9, 1945, U.S. forces stormed ashore at Lingayan Gulf. The surprised Japanese offered little resistance. In an amphibious assault that out-scaled the Normandy landings, the U.S. landed 176,000 troops within three days. Japanese General Yamashita, the Tiger of Manila, could see a very effective trap for his army forming in southern Luzon, and he ordered half his army to retreat to the northern mountains of Luzon while the other half moved to block the expected allied assault on Manila. Yamashita hoped to minimize the U.S. advantages of complete air supremacy and armored formations by fighting a prolonged defensive action in the mountains of northern Luzon. It was a wise move on his part.

In the late hours of February 3, the lead elements of the U.S. 1st Cavalry reached Santo Tomas University on the outskirts of Manila. The campus had been used as a prison for U.S., Philippine, Australian, New Zealand, and Dutch civilians. The U.S. troops were shocked by the emaciated condition of the prisoners.  The nightmare was just beginning.

Before they could be ensnared, General Yamashita took his southern force out of the Luzon area to join the rest of his army in the north. Before Yamashita had left Manila, he placed Vice Admiral Denshichi Okochi in charge. He ordered Okochi to destroy the port facilities, declare Manila an open city, and escape northward.

MacArthur’s staff ordered that fire from tanks and artillery only be used selectively and at close ranges to avoid as many civilian casualties as possible. Sadly, an estimated 1,200 Filipinos died from U.S. fire. Sadly, that was the least of the suffering for the inhabitants of Manila.

Admiral Okochi had ignored Yamashita’s orders. Instead of leaving, he used his force of 20,000, consisting of Naval Special Troops and other naval and army troops, to make a last stand in Manila. In a war defined by ruthless Japanese atrocities, Okochi and his men engaged in one of the worst atrocities of the war in the Pacific. Women of all ages were raped and murdered. Hospitals were set afire with patients tied to their beds. Babies were torn from their mothers’ arms and mutilated.

It took the allied forces another month of non-stop, heavy urban fighting to clear the Japanese from Manila. In the final hours of the battle, Admiral Okochi and his staff committed ritual seppuku. At his orders, his forces had raped, tortured, mutilated and murdered about 100,000 Filipino civilian inhabitants of Manila. The fighting reduced most of the city’s historical buildings to rubble.  Allied commanders had grown accustomed to the Japanese military’s barbaric crimes. However, Okochi’s savagery against civilians in Manila and the many other war crimes committed against Philippine civilians and POWs further inflamed Allied anger against Japan and ultimately helped President Truman make his difficult final decision to use atomic bombs against Japan in August of 1945.

 

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945 image from wikimedia commons

Japanese surrender in the Philippines, Sept. 15, 1945
image from wikimedia commons

 

On February 27, 1945, Manila was considered safe for the return of the Philippine government. At Malacañang Palace, a formal ceremony was conducted to install Sergio Osmeña as the President of all of the Philippines. The last pockets of Japanese defenders were not cleared until March 3. At a horrible cost, Manila, or the little that was left of it, was now free. Fighting continued in the Philippines until after the Japanese surrendered on September 2. About 15,000 Allies had lost their lives. Fighting against superior U.S. firepower and U.S. air supremacy, the Japanese had lost about 338,000 soldiers and sailors. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, about one million Filipino civilians were murdered or lost their lives to starvation and Japanese abuse.

After the war, the Philippine people rebuilt Manila into a capital city. The ground beneath the city is considered by the Philippine people to be their most sacred ground.

In 1946, fifty hard years after revolutionary scholar and poet Dr. José Rizal left his goodbye poem to Manila, My Last Farewell, in his prison cell on his execution day, the Philippine people received their independence. His dream was finally realized.