27 December 2008

Holiday hiatus

Our daughter is home for a week after her first semester teaching in Josiah Quincy Upper School. Then I head off for a small family reunion on the occasion of my father's 84th birthday hosted by my brother who lives in the micropolitan area embracing Metropolis, Monkey's Eyebrow, and Possum Trot. How many readers already knew where that is?

Among the university press books I will pass along to family members are In Pursuit of the Almighty's Dollar for my father (a retired foreign missionary and small-town pastor), The Tangierman's Lament and Other Tales of Virginia for my brother in Virginia, and What Reconstruction Meant for my librarian brother in Kentucky.

My in-flight reading will be Great Leader, Dear Leader and Under the Heel of the Dragon, and bedtime reading will be Lipstick Jihad. Excerpts to follow in 2009.

23 December 2008

The Korean War as Mao's Triumph

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 634, 636, 638:
Because the Chinese viewed Korea as a great success, Mao became more than ever the dominant figure in Chinese politics. He had shrewdly understood the domestic political benefits of having his country at war with the Americans. As he had predicted, the war had been a defining moment between the old China and the new one, and it had helped isolate those supporters of the old China—those Chinese who had been connected to Westerners—and turned them into enemies of the state. Many were destroyed—either murdered or ruined economically—in the purges that accompanied and then followed the war. From then on there was no alternative political force to check Mao; he had been the great, all-powerful Mao before the war began, and now, more than ever, his greatness was assured in the eyes of his peers on the Central Committee, who were no longer, of course, his peers. Before the war he had been the dominant figure of the Central Committee, a man without equals; afterward he was the equivalent of a new kind of Chinese leader, a people's emperor. He stood alone. No one had more houses, more privileges, more young women thrown at him, eager to pay him homage, more people to taste his food lest he be poisoned at one of his different residences. No one could have been contradicted less frequently. The cult of personality, which he had once been so critical of, soon came to please him, and in China his cult matched that of Stalin.

There was in all this a scenario not just for political miscalculation but for something darker, for potential madness with so much power vested in one man, a man to whom so much damage had been done earlier in his life. That was always a critical element of what happened next: Mao as a young man, not unlike Stalin, had been hunted too long and too relentlessly, as it were, by so many enemies; the deepest, most unwavering kind of paranoia grew out of that past and was the most natural part of his emotional and political makeup. At the same time he had become the principal architect of an entirely new political economic-social system. He existed and operated in a nation without any personal limits on him and yet where everyone could be an enemy. Both his power and his paranoia were without limits. He who had been for so long the ultimate outsider now lived a life of imperial grandiosity. He no longer needed to listen to others; if the others differed from him on issues, it was because they did not hold China's welfare as close to their hearts as he did, and were perhaps enemies of his and of China as well—the two he judged to be the same.

He was sure that he was right on all issues—his words as they escaped his mouth were worthy of being codified as laws. China, he had decided, his China, was ready to rush into modernity—the Great Leap Forward, it was called, and the burden of turning a poor agricultural society into a modern industrial state virtually overnight fell on the peasants. If he had once been uniquely sensitive to their needs, more tuned to them as a political force than anyone else in the leadership, he now seemed prepared to put the entire burden of modernization, brutal though it would be, on them for his larger purpose. His new China would, if need be, be built on their backs. It was their job to make his dreams, no matter how unlikely, come true. The Great Leap Forward was probably the first example of a turn toward madness: as it went on, the peasants suffered more and more, under growing pressure to produce more agriculturally than ever before, even as there were conflicting pressures—for them to convert to a kind of primitive industrial base, as if there were to be a small foundry in every Chinese backyard. The Great Leap Forward was always more vision than reality. Figures on agricultural production were severely doctored to make the program look like a success. Almost everyone in the bureaucracy knew that it was largely a failure—the phrase that the distinguished Yale historian Jonathan Spence used was "catastrophic hardship"—but for a long time no one dared challenge Mao. The genuine independence of the rest of the Central Committee seemed in decline; the power and authority of Mao in a constant ascent. His will had become the national will; his truths were everyone's truths. He was never wrong. If he said that night was day, then night had become day.

Because his hold over the government was so complete, because his need to dominate every decision was so total, he forced anyone who was a potential critic or dissenter, no matter how essentially loyal, into the most dangerous role. Those who challenged him were not merely wrong, they could become, if the issue were serious enough, enemies of the people. Those who thought they were his friends and peers and old colleagues were, it turned out, badly mistaken; they were his friends and allies only as long as they agreed with him on all issues all the time. No one suffered more than one of his oldest allies, Marshal Peng. He was a simple man who had always known his limits and thus his place, a true Communist, a man who always deferred to Mao on politics. But Peng was also a proud man, every bit as confident of his sense of the peasants' welfare. Peng became a dissenter almost involuntarily—almost, it seemed, as if Mao wanted a break with him, wanted to turn on him and make him an enemy. By 1959, the early results of the Great Leap Forward were in and China was in the midst of a terrible famine. Yet ever higher agricultural yields were being reported. Almost , every senior official understood this—that the chairman's Great Leap was buttressed by lies and falsified statistics, but no one dared take him on.

Finally Peng did. He was by then the minister of defense ...

By the time he died from his beatings, he had been interrogated 130 times. As Mao destroyed Peng, he destroyed much of what had been the best and most idealistic part of the Chinese revolution, turning his government in the process into one where only his own monomania could flourish.
This book has been a good read in parts, but I'm more impressed by Halberstam's storytelling than by his scholarship. The major strengths, as far as I can see, are (1) his many gripping accounts of the fighting, based on interviews with survivors; (2) helpful maps; and (3) his incorporation of much new research, especially that based on recent access to Chinese archives. Otherwise, he just seems to be digesting a lot of secondary sources. Moreover, much of his very extended political spin (all Democrats, good; all Republicans, bad; anticommunism, worse than communism) is both tedious and tendentious, and his handling of sources often seems rather sloppy, as does his handling of lesser-known Sinitic names (like Han Liqin). The 669 pages of text contain no source citations whatsoever. Instead, endnotes list page numbers, quoted passages, and short reference citations.

However, in the passage cited above and elsewhere in the chapter, Halberstam quotes the words of Jonathan Spence, whose name appears neither in the bibliography nor in any endnote. In fact, there are no notes at all for pages 631–647, which includes the entirety of Chapter 53, Section 11, "The Consequences." Readers who do a little extra research on their own are thus left to assume that Halberstam's insights into the consequences for Mao perhaps come from somewhere in the 208 pages of Spence's 1999 Mao Zedong, leavened with who-knows-what.

21 December 2008

Niall Ferguson on Current Economic Prospects

Economic historian Niall Ferguson weighs in on China's and America's role in the current global economic crisis under the provocative headline, What "Chimerica" Hath Wrought.
The most important thing to understand about the world economy over the past decade has been the relationship between China and America. If you think of it as one economy called Chimerica, that relationship accounts for around 13 percent of the world’s land surface, a quarter of its population, about a third of its gross domestic product, and somewhere over half of the global economic growth of the past six years....

Yet commentators should hesitate before prophesying the decline and fall of the United States. It has come through disastrous financial crises before—not just the Great Depression, but also the Great Stagflation of the 1970s—and emerged with its geopolitical position enhanced. That happened in the 1940s and again in the 1980s.

Part of the reason it happened is that the United States has long offered the world’s most benign environment for technological innovation and entrepreneurship. The Depression saw a 30 percent contraction in economic output and 25 percent unemployment. But throughout the 1930s American companies continued to pioneer new ways of making and doing things: think of DuPont (nylon), Proctor & Gamble (soap powder), Revlon (cosmetics), RCA (radio) and IBM (accounting machines). In the same way, the double-digit inflation of the 1970s didn’t deter Bill Gates from founding Microsoft in 1975, or Steve Jobs from founding Apple a year later....

But the most important reason why the United States bounces back from even the worst financial crises is that these crises, bad as they seem at home, always have worse effects on America’s rivals. Think of the Great Depression. Though its macroeconomic effects were roughly equal in the United States and Germany, the political consequence in the United States was the New Deal; in Germany it was the Third Reich. Germany ended up starting the world’s worst war; the United States ended up winning it. The American credit crunch is already having much worse economic effects abroad than at home. It will be no surprise if it is also more politically disruptive to America’s rivals.

Among the other developed economies, both the Eurozone and Japan are already officially in recession, ahead of the United States. The European situation is especially precarious because, contrary to popular belief, European banks are in worse shape than their American counterparts. Average bank leverage in the United States is around 12:1. In Germany the figure is 52:1. Short-term bank liabilities are equivalent to 15 percent of U.S. GDP; the British figure is 156 percent. Indeed, the United Kingdom runs a real risk of being Greater Iceland—an economy crushed by a super-sized financial sector.

Moreover, unlike the United States, there is no single European Treasury that can implement multibillion-dollar fiscal stimulus. Monetary policy may be uniform throughout the Eurozone, but fiscal policy is still a case of every man for himself.

Emerging markets, too, have been hammered harder by the crisis than the “decoupling” thesis promised. In the year to the end of October 2008, the U.S. stock market declined by 34 percent. But Brazil’s was down 54 percent, China’s 58 percent, India’s 64 percent and Russia’s 66 percent. When Goldman Sachs christened these four countries the BRICs, they little realized that their equity markets would one day be dropping like bricks. These figures are scarcely good advertisements for the more regulated, state-led economic models favored in Beijing and Moscow.
via A&L Daily

20 December 2008

Mao as MacArthur, Peng as Ridgway

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 506-509, 512-513:
If politics, as Mao believed, had its special truths that they knew better than anyone else, then military men like Peng Dehuai, political though they also were, knew that the battlefield had its truths as well. The political and military truths had dovetailed perfectly during the Chinese civil war, but they would separate in Korea, where Chinese troops in the eyes of most Koreans would be simply another foreign army and where the appearance of Chinese soldiers would have its own colonial implications.

After the battles along the Chongchon, Mao was ever more confident; Marshal Peng on the other hand was aware that much of his success had stemmed from the fact that the Americans had stupidly stumbled into a trap. He was concerned as his troops headed south; he had no air cover, and his logistical limitations were clear to him from the start. In Mao's mind, however, the Americans had behaved as he had predicted, as capitalist pawns pressed reluctantly into an unwanted war. There were times now, as the Chinese moved south and Mao pressed for a more aggressive strategy, that Peng would shake his head, turn to his aide, Major Han Liquin [sic (prob. Liqin); "Major Liquin" (rather than Han), p. 515], and complain about Mao becoming drunk with success. In Peng's much more conservative view, there had already been serious signs of the difficulties ahead. Just feeding his vast army was a problem—in much of December they had gotten by subsisting largely on rations that the Americans had left behind, but their troops were now, he felt, half-starved....

But as the Americans retreated down the long, thin peninsula, the Chinese began to experience some of the very problems that had frustrated their enemies—most particularly the problem of extended supply lines in a country with primitive roads and rail systems. Because they lacked air and sea power, this was a significantly more serious problem for them. When the Americans had moved north, they had been able to use trucks and trains without fear of being attacked from the air. They could, if necessary, transport badly needed ammo and food by air and sea. Not only did the Chinese have far fewer motorized vehicles to supply a vast army, but the trucks and trains were a perfect target for the ever stronger American air wing. It was Mao's turn now to be distanced from the battlefield, and to see it, as MacArthur had, not as it actually was, but as he wanted it to be in his mind. Mao had misread the easy early victory up north, even as some of his commanders understood why it might not happen so readily again. As the historian Bin Yu noted, Mao now "encouraged by China's initial gains began to pursue goals that were beyond [his] force's capabilities." That placed the burden of dealing with reality squarely on Peng's shoulders.

In away Peng was an almost perfect counterpart to Ridgway—they could not have been more similar in what drove them and the way they saw and handled their own men. It would not be hard to imagine some switch in ancestry and an American version of Peng commanding the UN forces, and Ridgway, in a Chinese incarnation, the Chinese. Like Ridgway, Peng was a soldier's soldier, unusually popular with his men, because he was sensitive to their needs....

He was straightforward and no less blunt than Ridgway. It amused him when some of his former colleagues in what had been in the beginning a peasant army began to take on airs once they defeated the Nationalists. Peng still preferred to bathe in cold water, even when hot water was available, because he had always done so, and because this was what peasants did. In his lifestyle he preferred an almost monastic simplicity, and was uneasy with unwanted creature comforts....

Peng was a good deal shrewder than some of the other people in the politburo gave him credit for. He had never been fooled by his early success up along the Chongchon. Even before the war began, he had believed that, given the unusual nature of the Korean peninsula, the opposing armies would have a terrible time getting supplies to either end of the country. "Korea," he had told his staff before the war began, "will be a battle of supply." That was why he argued successfully with Mao that when they hit the Americans all-out for the first time, they should do it from positions as far north as possible....

He was furious when both the Russians and North Koreans argued strongly in December that his troops should pursue the Americans more aggressively. The Russians were not putting their men into the field, and as for the North Koreans, he was bailing them out from their own incredible mistakes and poor leadership. He hated the pressure they put not so much on him, but on Mao, to move more rashly, the implication being that the Chinese were showing the world that they were not as good Communists, or as brave as Russians might have been in the same circumstances....

The idea that the Russians might think the Chinese timid appalled Mao. The balance between the two countries might change significantly in the next decade—as Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev started a de-Stalinization campaign and the Chinese claimed the mantle of Communist purists—but at that point, China was still the untested junior partner, and the Russians still had the right to judge the Chinese. Thus, it was easy for the Russians to goad Mao. Russian representatives in Beijing kept pressuring Mao to pursue the enemy. So too did Kim Il Sung. He met with Peng at his headquarters and asked him to pursue the Americans more audaciously.

Peng controlled his temper. The Americans were not actually defeated, he said. They had held their army together better than Kim realized. They might simply be trying to lure the Chinese too far south, so that they could strike back with another amphibious landing (a not so subtle reminder of mistakes made in the past). Still, the retaking of Seoul seemed like a significant propaganda victory, and there were huge rallies in China celebrating its recapture. In late January, Mao cabled Peng with his directives for the next campaign. In the process, Mao suggested, Peng's forces would wipe out twenty to thirty thousand enemy soldiers. It was as if the chairman had not heard a word Peng had said in the last few weeks, caught up as he was in his own dreams of glory.

17 December 2008

Where Gandhi Learned His Methods

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 24-26:
ON 2 OCTOBER 1869, A SON WAS BORN INTO A MIDDLE-CLASS family in Gujarat, a collection of princely states under British authority on the western coast of India. Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi had an ordinary childhood, culminating, as ordinary childhoods often do, in a teenage rebellion. This revealed a boy whose desire to experiment was usually halted by an immobilizing timidity in the actual act of defiance. He tried smoking and stole gold from his family to finance it; but this upset him morally, and so he stopped. Though from a strictly vegetarian family, he tried eating meat; but this upset him physically, and then morally as well, and then he dreamed of a live goat trapped in his stomach, bleating, so he stopped that too. Once he was egged on to visit a prostitute, but stood in the brothel having a crisis of confidence until the woman shouted at him to go away. On another occasion, he and a cousin ventured into the jungle to kill themselves by overdosing on datura, the narcotic seeds of the thorn apple; but, once they found the plant, they lost their nerve.

This boy's family was reasonably well-off and of a middling but respectable caste. Hindu society had been divided for over seventeen hundred years into four main castes, reflecting second-century social groups: Brahmins (priests), Kshatriyas (warriors), Vaishyas (merchants) and Sudras (farmers). Within each of these were hundreds of minute subdivisions, and below them a mass of outcastes, or "Untouchables"—those unfortunates who, condemned by the bad karma of previous incarnations, were destined to spend their lives sweeping, begging, scrubbing latrines and cleaning up corpses. The Gandhi family were Vaishyas, and within that were of the Bania subdivision. Banias were notorious for being hard-bargaining salesmen, a trait which young Mohan evidently inherited and would one day apply to spiritual and political ends with unprecedented effect.

Mohan's rebellion was perhaps more unusual because the supposed cure for youthful misbehavior had already been administered. Karamchand and Putliba Gandhi had already married their thirteen-year-old son to a girl from a staunchly religious family. The girl who had been chosen, Kasturbai Makanji (known according to local tradition as Kasturba later in life, when she became matriarch of the household), was also just thirteen.

During daylight hours, etiquette decreed that Mohan and Kasturbai should ignore each other completely. Even an affectionate word between husband and wife was considered taboo. As darkness fell, they were left to their own devices, though neither had much idea what those should be. Mohan went to the bazaar to buy pamphlets, hoping to learn about his conjugal rights and duties. He was taken with the concept of fidelity and decided it should be his task to extract this from Kasturbai. He told her that she could no longer leave the house without his consent.

But, despite her youth, Kasturbai had already mastered the most effective technique available to women who live in extremely restrictive societies: that of passive resistance. She was a devout Hindu from a very traditional background and would not openly disobey her husband. Instead, she found a loophole.

Mohan's mother asked Kasturbai to accompany her to the temple every day. Because this request was made in the daytime, when the young spouses were not supposed to communicate, Kasturbai was unable to ask Mohan's permission. To disobey the command of the matriarch, on the other hand, would have been a terrible sin. So Kasturbai went with Putliba to the temple and returned to have her first fight with her husband, which she won by the sheer power of logic. Mohan was forced to remove the restrictions he had placed on Kasturbai.

This small incident would hardly be worthy of note, except for the fact that it formed the basis for Gandhi's entire political method. In later years, when he found that he was at a disadvantage being an Indian in a white world, he would remember and develop the tactic of a woman in a man's world. All Gandhi's most famous tactics—passive resistance, civil disobedience, logical argument, nonviolence in the face of violence, emotional blackmail—had come from Kasturbai's influence. He freely admitted this: "I learned the lesson of nonviolence from my wife."
This, I regret to say, is my last excerpt from one of the best books I've read in quite a while. Von Tunzelmann is both a wonderful storyteller and a diligent researcher. (In that she is the equal, in my estimation, of Barbara Tuchman, one of my all-time favorite narrators of history; and I hope she already has another manuscript in the works.) In my many excerpts, I have excised all the endnote references, leaving no indication that supporting notes, maps, and glossaries consume almost 20% of a book nearly 500 pages long.

My historian brother has done a lot of research on Gandhi and is very critical of him, as are many revisionist historians. Von Tunzelmann also dishes plenty of dirt on Gandhi (and the other principal actors), while crediting him with two outstanding achievements: launching an effective campaign of nonviolence with the Salt March in 1930 and dampening communal violence in Bengal during the partition in 1947, a partition that he fervently opposed but unwittingly abetted. Between those two events, many of his efforts were irrelevant, at best, and counterproductive, at worst.

15 December 2008

Ridgway's Repair Job in Korea, 1950

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 499-501:
More than most senior American commanders of his era, Matt Ridgway had a passion for intelligence. The American Army had always taken its intelligence functions somewhat casually; the men assigned to intelligence duty tended to have been passed over in their careers, not quite good enough for the prized command positions. Often the lower ranks in the Army's intelligence shop were very good, but their superiors were not respected by their peers. Perhaps it was the nature of the modern American Army—it had so much force and materiel that when it finally joined battle, intelligence tended to be treated as a secondary matter, on the assumption that any enemy could simply be outmuscled and ground down.

There were a number of reasons for Ridgway's obsession with intelligence. Some of it was his own superior intellectual abilities; he was simply smarter than most great commanders. Some of it was his innate conservatism, his belief that the better your intelligence, the fewer of your own men's lives you were likely to sacrifice. A great deal of it was his training in the airborne, where you made dangerous drops behind enemy lines with limited firepower and were almost always outnumbered and vulnerable to larger enemy forces.... George Allen—who as a young CIA field officer in Vietnam briefed Ridgway daily for several weeks as the French war in Indochina was coming to its climax in 1954, later said he had never dealt with a man so acute and demanding, not even Walter Bedell Smith, who had been Dwight Eisenhower's tough guy in Europe and later took over the CIA. Ridgway's sense of the larger picture was so accurate, Allen believed, because of his determination to get the smallest details right. It was Ridgway's subsequent report on what entering the war in Indochina would mean—five hundred thousand to one million men, forty engineering battalions, and significant increases in the draft—that helped keep America out of the war for a time....

The CIA, blocked from the Korean theater by MacArthur and Willoughby, was soon welcomed back. Starting at Eighth Army headquarters and running through the command, there was going to be a healthy new respect for the enemy. The Chinese had identifiable characteristics on the battlefield. They also had good, tough soldiers. Some units were clearly better than others, some division commanders better than others, and it was vital to know which these were and where they were. Now Ridgway intended to study them. There would be no more windy talk about the mind of the Oriental. The questions would be: How many miles can they move on a given night? How fixed are their orders once a battle begins? How much ammo and food do they carry into each battle—that is, how long can they sustain a given battle? Ridgway was going to separate battlefield realities from theoretical discussions about the nature of Communism. The essential question was: How exactly can we tilt the battlefield to our advantage?

Ridgway now intended to play at least as big a role in the selection of the battlefield as his Chinese opposites. For a time, he started his day by getting in a small plane and, with Lynch at the controls, flying as low as they could, looking for the enemy. With that many Chinese coming at his army, there had to be signs of them, evidence that they existed, but he saw almost nothing. That he found nothing did not, as had happened in November after Unsan, create a lack of respect for them—rather it brought greater respect for the way they could move around seemingly invisible. Gradually Ridgway began to put together a portrait of who the Chinese were and how they fought—and so, how he intended to fight them. The Chinese were good, no doubt about that. But they were not supermen, just ordinary human beings from a very poor country with limited resources. Not only did the Chinese operate from a large technological disadvantage, they had significant logistical and communications weaknesses. The bugles and flutes announcing their attacks could be terrifying in the middle of the night, but the truth was that, with only musical instruments, they could not react quickly to sudden changes on the battlefield. If they had a breakthrough, they often lacked the capacity to exploit it immediately. That was a severe limitation; it meant that a great deal of blood might be shed without their getting adequate benefits. In addition, certain logistical limitations were built into any attack they made—the ammunition and food they could carry was finite indeed. The American Army could resupply in a way inconceivable to the Chinese and so could sustain a given battle far longer.

Ridgway spent his first few weeks in country pressing everyone for information about the Chinese fighting machine. By the middle of January, he felt he knew much of what he needed to know. This war, he decided, was no longer going to be primarily about gaining terrain as an end in itself, but about selecting the most advantageous positions available, making a stand, and bleeding enemy forces, inflicting maximum casualties on them. The key operative word would be "pyrrhic." What he now sought was an ongoing confrontation in which every battle resulted in staggering losses for the Chinese. At a certain point, even a country with a demographic pool like China's had to feel the pain from the loss of good troops. He wanted to speed up that moment, to let his adversaries know that there were no more easy victories out there for the picking, no second shot at a big surprise attack. If the war was to be a grinder then the great question was: which side would do the more effective job of grinding up the other?

The first thing Ridgway realized was that it was a disaster to retreat once the Chinese hit. The key to their offensive philosophy was to stab at a unit, create panic, and then, from advantageous positions already set up in its rear, maul it when it retreated. All armies are vulnerable in retreat, but an American unit, because of all its hardware, condemned to the narrow, bending Korean roads, was exceptionally so. What the Chinese had done at Kunuri, Ridgway learned, matched their MO when they fought the Nationalists in their civil war. But no one, it appeared, had been paying much attention. The disaster at Kunuri, he believed, had not been writ so large because the Chinese were such magnificent soldiers or even had such an overwhelming advantage in manpower. Even as far north and as vulnerable as they were, if the American units had been well buttoned down at night, if each unit had had interlocking fields of firepower with reliable flanking units (and had not counted on the ROKs to protect them), the outcome of the battle might have been different. Even at Kunuri, the military had had the capacity to resupply the troops by air until the Chinese were exhausted. Ridgway's long training as an airborne man was critical to the strategy he sought now. He meant to create strong islands of his own, sustain unit integrity with great fields of fire, and then let the enemy attack. It was, he believed, why Colonel John Michaelis, with his Twenty-seventh Regiment Wolfhounds, had been so much more successful than other regimental commanders in the early part of the war. Michaelis was an airborne guy, and he did not mind if his men were cut off as long as unit integrity was preserved. He knew he could always be resupplied by air.

What Ridgway wanted to do was start the Eighth Army moving north again—for reasons of morale as much as anything.

13 December 2008

"One Million Dead": Just a Number

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 273-275:
"ONE MILLION DEAD": This is the most convenient number to have come out of the wildly varying estimates of how many people may have been killed following partition. Mountbatten preferred the lowest available estimate, which was two hundred thousand, and has been widely condemned for it; the denial of holocausts is always a sticky business, and yet more so when one may be implicated personally. Indian estimates have ranged as high as two million. Many historians have settled for a figure of somewhere between half a million and a million. The figure of one million dead has now been repeated so often that it is accepted as historical fact. "What is the basis for this acceptance?" asked the historian Gyanendra Pandey. "That it appears like something of a median?" Unfortunately so, for the truth is that no one knows how many people were killed, nor how many were raped, mutilated or traumatized. The numbers anyone chooses say more about their political inclination than about the facts. Fewer than four hundred thousand suggests an apologia for British rule; four hundred thousand to one million moderation; a million or more usually indicates that the person intends to blame the deaths on a specific party, the most usual culprits being one or more of Mountbatten, Patel, Jinnah or the Sikhs.

Beyond the dead, there were more numbers, too, plucked from the extrapolations and imaginations of regional officials, army, police and historians. Refugees on the move by the beginning of September: five hundred thousand, or perhaps one million. Women abducted and raped: 75,000, or perhaps 125,000. Total who would migrate from one dominion to the other between 1947 and 1948: ten million, or perhaps twelve million, or perhaps fifteen million. The Indian National Archives contain sheaves of charts scribbled by British and Indian officials, recording eighty-seven killed in Bengal here, forty-three injured in Madras there. "The figures make no pretence to accuracy," admitted the Home Department. The Punjab government reported that its casualty estimates were "increasing daily as investigation uncovers further tragedies"; the North-West Frontier Province government referred to "stray murders," which were not counted! Usually it was impossible to count the number of victims amid the "confused heap of rubble & corpses" that was left behind after riots. Sir Francis Mudie, governor of the West Punjab, remembered, "[I had to] ignore any report of a riot unless it alleged that there were at least a thousand dead. If there were, I asked for a further report, but I cannot remember any case in which I was able to do anything."

In Stalin's famous words, one death is a tragedy; one million deaths is a statistic. In this case, it is not even a particularly good statistic. The very incomprehensibility of what a million horrible and violent deaths might mean, and the impossibility of producing an appropriate response, is perhaps the reason that the events following partition have yielded such a great and moving body of fictional literature and such an inadequate and flimsy factual history. What does it matter to the readers of history. today whether there were two hundred thousand deaths, or a million, or two million? On that scale, is it possible to feel proportional revulsion, to be five times more upset at a million deaths than at two hundred thousand? Few can grasp the awfulness of how it might feel to have their fathers barricaded in their houses and burned alive, their mothers beaten and thrown off speeding trains, their daughters torn away, raped and branded, their sons held down in full view, screaming and pleading, while a mob armed with rough knives hacked off their hands and feet. All these things happened, and many more like them; not just once but perhaps a million times. It is not possible to feel sufficient emotion to appreciate this monstrous savagery and suffering. That is the true horror of the events in the Punjab in 1947: one of the vilest episodes in the whole of history, a devastating illustration of the worst excesses to which human beings can succumb. The death toll is just a number.

12 December 2008

Japan's Many Failed Stimulus Plans

In Wednesday's Washington Post, Amity Shlaes chronicles the failure of Japan's attempt to stimulate its economy during the 1990s by heavy government investments in infrastructure.
The situation in Japan then was similar in some ways to that in the United States today. A dramatic market crash and a plunge in real estate prices shook what had been a confident nation. Japan turned inward; economists talked earnestly about paradigm shifts. The obsession with exporting no longer seemed to be serving the country well. Leaders cast aside their previous concerns about budget deficits. The then-Ministry of International Trade and Industry sorrowfully let it be known that there were "areas in which Japan lags behind major developed nations."...

The projects were similar to some infrastructure plans under discussion here today. Bridges? Japan put up the longest suspension bridge in the world. Airports? Kansai International, yes, on an artificial island, but also local fields such as Ibaraki Airport near Mito. Roads? Japan built new streets and highways, including the famous New Tomei Expressway. For biotech and telecommunications, Japan poured out the subsidies.

When one plan proved insufficient, another was begun.... Between 1992 and 2000, the Japanese launched 10 stimulus packages that included public works. The Land of the Rising Sun became the Construction State. Other worthy issues, such as consistent tax reform, lagged. In fact, fiscal reform overall was postponed. After the 1995 Kobe earthquake claimed thousands of lives, the focus on infrastructure was reinforced....

"The construction state is in some respects akin to the military-industrial complex in cold-war America (or the Soviet Union), sucking in the country's wealth, consuming it inefficiently, growing like a cancer and bequeathing both fiscal crisis and environmental devastation," commented Gavan McCormack, a professor at the Australian National University. The stimulus plans had the opposite effect of what was expected. Appalled at the country's new deficits, Japanese consumers closed their wallets.

Worst, though, was the failure on jobs. Unemployment fell in many nations in the 1990s. In Japan, the '90s were a lost decade: The unemployment rate more than doubled and surpassed the U.S. rate -- an unthinkable occurrence just a few years earlier.

11 December 2008

British India's Problem of 565 Princely States

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 221-225:
Each of the 565 princely states in India had a separate agreement with the government, ensuring the paramountcy of the British Crown over its affairs. It had taken centuries to bring the states under paramountcy, and many still operated through arcane systems of government and society. It was the boast of the empire's supporters that the reassuring eminence of the Indian civil service, staffed almost entirely with public-school-educated British men, kept things on track. Some thought this the pinnacle of British achievement, allowing the states their freedom of cultural diversity while tempering the worst excesses of absolute rule. The idea was to leave rulers as independent as possible; in case of trouble, for the British to offer the ruler in question "private counsel"; and, should that not fix the trouble, to intervene. In the event of gross totalitarianism or outright rebellion, the British raj would remove the individual prince who had proved to be a bad egg, install a more responsible scion of his family and leave the dynasty intact.

Unfortunately, this appealing portrait of a smooth, tolerant and accountable system was a fiction. In reality, the British presence in India was relatively small and unable to keep watch over so many princes. The notion that the "British race" had a monopoly on freedom and democracy was unsupportable with regard to the lengthy traditions of public debate, heterogeneous government and freedom of conscience that had existed for centuries in the Indias of Asoka and Akbar. If anything, the presence of the British damaged these traditions and actually safeguarded the princes from any new incursion of democracy. The British army was always on hand to give succor to each imperiled tyrant and stamp out any attempts by the people to express their discontent. As one staunch imperialist boasted, the princes had been "mostly rescued from imminent destruction by British protection." And so imperialists were able to perfect a classic piece of doublethink: railing against what they called "Oriental despotism" on one hand, while propping it up with the other.

Even the illiberal Lord Curzon had been appalled by the standard of princely behavior during his viceroyalty, half a century before. he had written to Queen Victoria: "For all these failures we are responsible. We have allowed the chiefs when young to fall into bad hands. We have condoned their extravagances, we have worked at their vices." ... "As Your Majesty knows," he added, "the Maharaja Holkar is half mad and is addicted to horrible vices." This last was a particularly pointed comment—Victoria liked Holkar, because he had once sent her a telegram on her birthday—though "half mad" underestimated his insanity by around 50 percent. He would stand at a high window overlooking his subjects and issue random edicts as they popped into his head, once ordering the abduction of every man wearing a black coat. Once, he harnessed the bankers of Indore to a state coach and whipped them soundly as he drove them around the city.

During his tour of India in 1921, the young Dickie Mountbatten had admired the princely states but was shocked by their inequality. In Udaipur, he wondered at the habit of feeding pigs when people were starving, an injustice that prompted him to note, "There are times when I do sympathize with the Bolsheviks." Princely excesses were common in states where the vast majority of people were destitute. The Jam Sahib of Nawanagar had 157 cars and a wife with 1,700 saris. The Nawab of Junagadh spent twenty-one thousand pounds on a wedding for two of his dogs. The Maharaja of Patiala moved into London's Savoy Hotel, occupying all thirty-five suites on the fifth floor, and ordered that three thousand fresh roses be brought to decorate his rooms every day. Visitors to the miserly Nizam of Hyderabad would have seen that he used what looked like a crumpled ball of old newspaper as a paperweight—little suspecting that wrapped in it was the 185-carat Jacob Diamond, twice the size of the Koh-i-Noor. The Gaekwar of Baroda's second wife, Sita Devi, earned herself the nickname "India's Wallis Simpson" when she plundered the state treasury to finance her jewelry habit. Sita Devi made away to Switzerland with untold riches, including the incomparable Baroda pearl carpet. This remarkable object measured six feet by seven and a half feet, and was made up of 1.4 million pearls, 2,520 rose-cut diamonds and hundreds of emeralds and rubies, embroidered onto deerskin and silk in delicate arabesques....

These are some of the grosser examples of princely behavior and should not be taken as a slander against every individual prince. Some among them were men and women of great intelligence, ability and compassion. A Gaekwar of Baroda introduced the first free, compulsory education in India in 1894. A Maharaja of Travancore introduced progressive land reforms in the early 1880s. One turn-of-the-century Maharaja of Cochin was greatly admired for his modernizing legal reforms—though he became so frustrated at the complacency of his British patrons that he abdicated in 1914. But the existence of a few commendable examples does not vindicate the system. The reason that the Indian princely states were uniquely badly ruled was the very fact of British protection. Aside from their consciences, the princes had no incentive to govern well. Foreign invaders would be dealt with, domestic challenges neutered and the ravening mob readily suppressed, all by the might of the British Indian army.
UPDATE: The blogger at Blood & Treasure comments that this sounds like "a sort of best case scenario for Afghanistan"!

06 December 2008

Mao's War in Korea, 1950

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 337-339:
In late September, after the In Min Gun started a panicky retreat north, the Chinese began to edge ever closer to intervention. What they would do next—entering the war, taking terrible casualties, but stalemating the Americans and the United Nations in the process—they did for their own reasons, not out of any great love for the North Koreans. Their respect for the Koreans and Kim at that moment was in fact quite marginal. They felt the Koreans had gotten their country too easily: the Chinese, after all, had won their great victory by fighting a numerically and technologically superior foe for decades. In addition, Mao and the others were still irritated by the arrogance and brashness of Kim Il Sung.

The Chinese leaders had been appalled by Kim's lack of response to their warnings about a possible amphibious landing at Inchon. Any Chinese commander who had disregarded such powerful, hard intelligence would have been relieved of command. In early August, as Chinese Army forces began to build up north of the Yalu, the Chinese sent one of their senior corps commanders, Deng Hua, to visit with his Korean military counterparts. Deng crossed the Yalu, got to the border town of Andong, and discovered that that was as far as he could go. The Koreans were not going to let him anywhere near the battle zone.

The Chinese decided to send their troops to Korea because Mao believed it was good for the new China and necessary for the future of the revolution, both domestically and internationally. He also feared what a failure to intervene would mean—that his China, for all its rhetoric, was not that different from the old China, a powerless giant when facing what was in their eyes the armies of Western oppressors. Therefore, almost from the moment it became clear that Kim's offensive was doomed, Mao had begun the planning that would end with the use of Chinese troops in Korea. In early July, a time when Kim's armies were still gaining singular successes on the battlefield, Mao had nonetheless ordered the creation of what became the Northeast Border Defense Army, the NEBDA, to be positioned along the Korean border. It was to include more than three armies from the Fourth Field Army, which had some of China's best troops. Eventually the force numbered thirty-six divisions, or roughly (with support units) some seven hundred thousand troops. Seven artillery divisions and some antiaircraft units were eventually attached.

Mao had felt that there was a certain inevitability in China being pulled into the war, and he wanted to be as realistic as possible in gauging the price China would pay. On August 31, Zhou Enlai chaired a meeting on force levels where the senior people spoke not only of what they would need, but what it might cost in terms of potential casualties in the first year of a war with the Americans. The answer, they decided, was around 60,000 deaths and 140,000 wounded.

The Chinese decisions in the weeks following Inchon were essentially those of one man, Mao Zedong. He was the classic example of the revolutionary as true believer. Starting out with so little, he had been unusually successful during those long years of the civil war—and most of his judgments, however bloody and difficult, had turned out right. He was sure he understood the ordinary Chinese—the peasants—better than anyone else. He believed in China's right to be a great nation again; that the source of its strength was his revolution; and that the revolution had succeeded because it had evoked the purity of the Chinese peasantry and so turned historic political suffering into military strength. His men had been better soldiers than their well-armed Nationalist opponents because of their beliefs. As the principal architect of the new China, in his mind he now charged himself with keeping the revolution true to itself. That kind of belief in a single strand of history and in yourself as its principal figure—in effect serving as history's man—is powerful stuff; it has both its strengths and its weaknesses.

What Mao knew—about China's peasants and their suffering, and the cruelty of the old order—he knew brilliantly; what he didn't know, he didn't know at all and often was unable to learn. That kind of success has the capacity to produce a terrible kind of megalomania. Epic revolutions probably demand someone with a supreme, invincible sense of self, a belief in the price that other men have to pay for the good of their vision; it was what allowed men like Mao and Stalin to rationalize great suffering for the good of the cause. But in such men there were no boundaries, no restraints, and what began as an all- consuming vision became almost inevitably a great nightmare as well; in time, monstrous crimes would be inflicted not on China's foreign enemies, or even its domestic dissidents, but on its own loyal citizens, including many of the men who had served Mao so loyally in those years of civil war and then in Korea. But to understand Mao's action at this critical juncture it is important to think of him always not just as the architect of a revolution but as its guardian as well, someone who believed that his enemies—of whom there were many, domestic and foreign—were always out to destroy his revolution and that he had to move against them before they moved against him.

04 December 2008

British India's Rising Religious Separatism

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 236-238:
Despite his preoccupation with trivialities, even Mountbatten could not ignore the fierce controversies thrown up by the two partitions of Bengal and the Punjab. For centuries, both regions had been melting pots of cultures, a jumbled variety of Muslims and Hindus living side by side, with Sikhs, Buddhists, Animists and Christians fitted in too. In times of peace, it had not mattered much to which of these religions a Punjabi or a Bengali adhered. As Jinnah himself had admitted, most people within the regions tended to consider their local identity before their religious affiliation. But the importance of religious identity had been growing in the twentieth century, notably in India and more slowly in the world beyond it.

The reason for this effect can in part be traced to the British policy of "divide and rule." Undoubtedly, the raj did plenty to encourage identity politics. The British found it easier to understand their vast domain if they broke it down into manageable chunks, and by the 1930s they had become anxious to ensure that each chunk was given a full and fair hearing. But picking a few random unelected lobbyists, based on what the British thought was a cross-section of Indian varieties, was not a reliable way to represent 400 million people. India's population could not be divided into neat boxes labeled by religion and cross- referenced with social position. India was an amorphous mass of different cultures, lifestyles, traditions and beliefs. After so many centuries of integration and exchange, these were not distinct, but rippled into each other, creating a web of cultural hybrids and compromises. A Sunni Muslim from the Punjab might have more in common with a Sikh than he did with a Shia Muslim from Bengal; a Shia might regard a Sufi Muslim as a heretic; a Sufi might get on better with a Brahmin Hindu than with a Wahhabi Muslim; a Brahmin might feel more at ease with a European than he would with another Hindu who was an outcaste. When the British started to define "communities" based on religious identity and attach political representation to them, many Indians stopped accepting the diversity of their own thoughts and began to ask themselves in which of the boxes they belonged. At the same time, Indian politicians began to focus on religion as a central part of their policies—defining themselves by what they were, and even more by what they were not.

This phenomenon is shown at its clearest with Jinnah, who began his career as the leading light of Hindu-Muslim unity, and ended it by forcing the creation of a separate Islamic-majority state. But the arc of Jinnah's career merely amplifies that of Indian politics as a whole. Congress was a largely secular and inclusive organization during Motilal Nehru's prime in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. Though it was the opposite of his intention, the emergence of Gandhi gave confidence to religious chauvinists. While Gandhi himself welcomed those of all faiths, the very fact that he brought spiritual sensibilities to the center of politics stirred up extreme and divisive passions. Fundamentalist Hindus were rare presences on the political scene before Gandhi. In the wake of Gandhi, though, Hindu nationalists were able to move into the central ground of politics; while organizations like the Hindu Mahasabha and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), dedicated to the formation of a Hindu nation, swelled their ranks from the fringes. This was no slow, invisible political trend; it was happening visibly during the spring and summer of 1947, when holy sadhus clad in saffron robes marched around the streets of Delhi, bellowing forth political slogans. Rajendra Prasad, who was to become the president of the new Constituent Assembly, wrote to Nehru on 7 August telling him that since July he had received 164,000 letters and postcards demanding that cow slaughter be made illegal—a common concern of devout Hindus, but one which is often used and taken as an anti-Muslim strategy. It was the Muslims in India, and the Untouchables, who ran the lucrative leather and beef industries, mostly for export. The threat of a ban on cow slaughter naturally drove Muslims and Untouchables into the arms of more radical political organizations, which they felt would stick up for them. Whether the British caused division by carving up politics on the basis of religion, or whether they were simply responding to a trend in Indian society for Hindu nationalism and the beginnings of an Islamic resurgence, is an endlessly debatable question.

03 December 2008

Wordcatcher Tales: The Hazelnut Coast Shibboleth

My history-professor brother, who digs up many sources containing observations about the varied roles of mercenaries and conscripts in militaries ancient and modern, sent me the following excerpt from Michael E. Meeker's (1971) “The Black Sea Turks: Some Aspects of Their Ethnic and Cultural Background,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 2:318-345.
It is said that the Laz when conscripted [by the Turkish state] are automatically placed in the navy … because Anatolians associate Black Sea men with the sea, even though many of them have little or no experience as sailors or fishermen. The eastern Black Sea men, realizing that the period of service for the navy is three years, while that for the army is only two, naturally try to hide their origins, but the recruiting officer simply asks each man to pronounce the word ‘hazlenut.’ The vowel sounds of this word are inevitably distorted by the eastern Black Sea men, and the recruiting officer places each man in the army or navy according to his pronunciation. The accents of the Black Sea Turks are by no means uniform even in one given local, but most accents east of Samsun feature a distortion of the vowel harmony typical of Anatolian Turks. As one proceeds eastward along the coast the accents tend to become more unlike the Anatolian accents, until in the province of Rize even some Anatolian consonants are distorted or changed [different]. For example geldim becomes jeldum, and balik become paluk. These consonantal changes are more localized than [the vowel harmony changes], therefore the latter remains the best test for detecting eastern Black Sea origins.
There are two intriguing terms in this passage, one an ethnic label of miragelike reference, the other a shibboleth of chameleonlike pronunciation.

The Laz language is not at all related to Turkish. It is a South Caucasian language (related to Georgian and Mingrelian) with a lot more complex system of consonants than Turkish, but a much simpler vowel system, just (a, i, u, e, o). Laz is spoken in the far southeast corner of the Black Sea coast, where Turkey meets Georgia. (See Dumneazu's post this past summer about Laz ethnorock music.)

Nowadays, most Turks seem to consider the Laz people to be any inhabitants of the northeastern coast of Anatolia (old Pontus), whose Trabzon dialect of Turkish is called Lazca. This usage may go back many centuries, to an era when the ancestors of the current speakers of the "Lazca" dialect of Turkish actually spoke a "Lazca" language related to Georgian. (The Pontic Empire of the Trebizond was the last remnant of the Byzantine Empire to fall to the Ottomans—in 1461.) The Turkish-speaking "Laz" now prefer to call themselves Karadenizli (‘from the Black Sea’), and the men would rather spend two years in the army than three years in the navy (according to Meeker 1971). Even though they eat a lot of anchovies, they are rarely fisherfolk; instead, they are mostly farmers growing tea and maize.

And hazelnuts (Corylus avellana). Turkey produces about 75% of the world's hazelnuts, and half of those come from Ordu Province, smack in the middle of old Pontus, the Hazelnut Coast.

The Turkish word for ‘hazelnut’ is fındık, with a dotless ı that sounds like an unrounded u (like Tokyo-standard Japanese u). The word fındık (or funduk or finduk or whatever other variants fail the shibboleth) appears to have entered Turkish via Arabic bunduq/funduq, which derives in turn from Greek φουντούκι (funduki), from Ancient Greek ποντικόν κάρυον 'Pontic nut' (at least according to this thread in Projet Babel, Des mots turcs d'origine grecque). Etymologically then, Turkish fındık = Pontic (i.e., Black Sea) [nut].

27 November 2008

Mao's Humiliation in Moscow, 1949

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 352-354:
IN DECEMBER 1949, Mao finally made his trip to Moscow. Harrison Salisbury, of the New York Times, who won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Moscow in those days, remembered the shroud of silence that Stalin had already placed in the preceding months over the news of Mao's coming victory. There was virtually no mention of it in the controlled press; "a snippet on the back page of Pravda, or a few paragraphs inside Izvestia. The word 'China' hardly appeared." Now, with Mao on his way to Moscow, there was more open evidence of the cold Soviet shoulder. Stalin's seventieth birthday was self-evidently a great moment of celebration in the Communist world and an occasion not to be shared with any other event or person. On December 6, Mao set out by train for the Soviet capital. The war was barely over and he was fearful of attacks by Nationalist dissidents. He traveled in an armored car, with sentries posted every hundred meters along the tracks. In Shenyang, the largest city in the northeast, Mao disembarked and checked to see if there were posters of him. There were very few, it turned out, and a great many of Stalin—the work of Gao Gang, whom Mao saw as a pro-Soviet dissident. Mao was furious and ordered that the car carrying gifts for Stalin from Gao be uncoupled from the train and the gifts returned to him.

Mao's arrival in Moscow on December 16 was an edgy one. He was treated not as the leader of a great revolution bringing into the Communist orbit one of the world's great nations but rather, as the historian Adam Ulam has written, ''as if he were, say, the head of the Bulgarian party." V. M. Molotov and Nikolai Bulganin, both senior politburo members, came to the station to meet him. Mao had laid out a handsome luncheon buffet. He asked the two Soviet leaders to have a drink with him. They refused—based on protocol, Molotov said. They also refused to sit and share the food. Then Mao asked them to accompany him to the residence where he was scheduled to stay. Again they refused. There was no major celebration or festive party for him. It was as if Mao was now to learn his place in Stalin's constellation, the real Communist universe; if he was a fraternal brother, then he should know that there would always be one Communist brother who was so much bigger than all the others. One of Khrushchev's aides told his boss that someone named "Matsadoon" was in town. "Who?" the perplexed Khrushchev asked. "You know that Chinaman," the aide answered. That was how they saw him: that Chinaman. And that was how they treated him. The main reception for the Chinese delegation was held not in the Main Hall of the Kremlin but in the old Metropole Hotel, "the usual place for entertaining visiting minor capitalist dignitaries," in Ulam's words.

Things did not get better after the first reception. For days on end Mao was isolated, waiting for Stalin to arrange meetings. No one else could meet with him until Stalin had, and Stalin was taking his time. When Mao first arrived in Moscow, he announced that China looked forward to a partnership with Russia, but he emphasized as well that he wanted to be treated as an equal. Instead he was being taught a lesson each day. He had become, in Ulam's words, ''as much captive as guest." As such, he shouted at the walls, convinced that Stalin had bugged the house: "I am here to do more than eat and shit." He hated Russian food. At one point Kovalev, his contact man, dropped by to visit him. Mao pointed outside at Moscow and said, "Bad, bad!" What did he mean by that? Kovalev asked. Mao said he was angry at the Kremlin. Kovalev insisted he had no right to criticize "the Boss," and that he, Kovalev, would now have to make a report.

When Stalin finally met Mao, they proved to have a remarkable mutual instinct for misunderstanding. "Why didn't you seize Shanghai?" Stalin asked, for the Chinese had taken their time before entering the city. "Why should we have?" Mao answered. "If we'd captured the city, we would have had to take on the responsibility for feeding the six million inhabitants." Stalin, already fearing that Mao favored peasants over workers, was appalled. Here was proof of it, workers in a city left to suffer.

The trip to Moscow was in all ways a disaster, and Mao would have along memory for the way he had been treated. In economic and military aid, he got very little from his negotiations on that first trip—a paltry $300 million in Soviet arms over five years, or $60 million a year. To make matters worse, there were also some Chinese territorial concessions that had to be thrown in. The lack of Russian generosity staggered the Chinese. "Like taking meat from the mouth of a tiger," Mao would say years later. For Mao, very much aware of the scale of his great triumph at home and what it meant in terms of history, the treatment by the Soviets had essentially been a humiliation, but one he had been forced to accept without complaint. "It is no wonder that Mao conceived, if he had not nurtured it before, an abiding hatred of the Soviet Union," Adam Ulam wrote.

26 November 2008

Wordcatcher Tales: Begum, Jhampan

I never read much Kipling as a kid, and some of the vocabulary of British India that I have encountered in Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008) is new to me. Here are two such novelties.
The royal tour ground on, zigzagging up through the belly of India and stopping in Bangalore, Mysore, Hyderabad and Indore. By 4 February [1922], it had reached Bhopal, where Dickie [Mountbatten] and David [Windsor] were the guests of the only woman ruler in Asia, the Nawab Sultan Jaban Begum. The Begum was an ardent Muslim and usually ruled from behind a purdah screen. The rare sight of her tiny figure, swathed in a blue burka, next to the white-uniformed Prince of Wales gave the tour's photographers some of their best opportunities. But it was an image more connected to the past than to the future. [p. 70]
Bhopal seems to have had a number of enlightened female nawabs. Begum is the feminine of Turkic Beg (or Bey) which turns up in many names from former parts of the Ottoman and Mughal empires—Izetbegovic, for example.
The British continued to come to Simla, sometimes for eight months of each year, with the European ladies and gentlemen carried up in the local jhampan sedan chairs. They were followed by hundreds of coolies, who had been press-ganged from their surrounding farms into the service of Her Majesty's government, lugging dispatch boxes, carefully packed crockery, musical instruments, trunks full of theatrical costumes for amateur dramatics at the Gaiety Theatre, crates of tea and dried provisions, faithful spaniels in traveling boxes, rolled-up rugs, aspidistras, card tables, favorite armchairs, baskets of linen and tons upon tons of files; all the paraphernalia of the raj literally borne on the shoulders of one long caravan of miserable, sweating Indian peasants. Eventually, in 1891, a narrow-gauge railway was opened, weaving in and out of 103 tunnels up from the plains at Kalka—a journey which still took at least six hours. The British never questioned whether all this was worth it. Gandhi may have criticized the administration's annual repair to Simla for being "government working from the 500th floor," but that was exactly the point. [pp. 193-194]
This word turns up under jompon in Hobson-Jobson (via Google books), which cites a 1716 source that defines a jampan as a "palankin"; an 1849 source that defines a jhappan as a "kind of arm chair with a canopy and curtains"; and an 1879 source that specifically mentions its use in Simla:
The gondola of Simla is the jampan or jampot аs it is sometimes called on the same linguistic principle ... as that which converts asparagus into sparrow grass ... Every lady on the hills keeps her jampan and jampanees just as in the plains she keeps her carriage and footmen — Letter in Time Aug. 17
That's the wonderful Hobson-Jobson: A Glossary of Colloquial Anglo-Indian Words and Phrases, and of Kindred Terms, Etymological, Historical, Geographical and Discursive by Henry Yule, Arthur Coke Burnell, William Crooke (J. Murray, 1903), digitized from a printed original at the University of California.

23 November 2008

Mountbatten's Best Matchmaking

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 156-158, 162:
Since he had returned from Southeast Asia Mountbatten had engaged himself almost full time in a project worthy of the Order of the Red Rose. In one of the most daring bloodless coups ever attempted, he would install the House of Mountbatten on the British throne—the same throne which, only thirty years before, had ordered his father's ruin. Mountbatten's involvement in the marriage between his nephew, Philippos Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Glücksburg, and the king's daughter, Princess Elizabeth, can hardly be overstated. He introduced the couple, engineered meetings between them and went to great lengths in grooming Philip to become a consort.

Philip's credentials for marrying the world's most eligible woman were tenuous. His father was a playboy who had disappeared into the champagne bars of the Cote d'Azur; his mother, abandoned, had gone mad and become a nun; his sisters had all married Nazis; he himself was only a naval lieutenant, and a penniless one at that. He had been a prince of Greece before a coup ousted his family, but the revolution had left him poor and nameless. He met Princess Elizabeth for the first time on 22 July 1939, when the royal family visited the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth under the proud supervision of Dickie Mountbatten. Philip was eighteen years old; Elizabeth was thirteen and playing with a clockwork train. Their eyes met over lemonade and ginger biscuits, and Philip was among the cadets invited to lunch on the royal yacht. There he impressed the princesses by being able to jump high and eat an abnormal quantity of shrimp, though not simultaneously. When the time came for the yacht to sail, the cadets followed in rowboats and motorboats for a while; Elizabeth watched the tall, blond, strikingly handsome Philip row his little boat farther than anyone else.

Less than eighteen months after the smitten Princess Elizabeth had watched her handsome quasi prince rowing after the royal yacht, the Conservative MP Chips Channon spent a few days in Athens. He met Philip at a cocktail party and, during the course of extensive gossiping, established that "he is to be our Prince Consort, and that is why he is serving in our Navy." At this stage the prospect seemed improbable. The Greek royals were impoverished, shabby and foreign. It was Dickie who organized a campaign to fashion young Philip into an eligible naval hero. The most important factor in this transformation would be to secure for him British nationality. For some reason, no one—not even the genealogically preoccupied Mountbatten—remembered the 1705 Act of Naturalization of the Most Excellent Princess Sophia, Electress and Duchess Dowager of Hanover, and the Issue of Her Body. As a descendant of Sophia, Philip had been British since birth. Unaware of this, Mountbatten embarked upon a frenetic two-and-a-half-year campaign. On 23 August 1944, he flew from Southeast Asia Command to Cairo, near Philip's station at Alexandria, to "sound out" Philip and the king of Greece about whether the former could assume British nationality. He told the British high commissioner, incredibly, that the British king had ordered his secret mission, on the grounds that Philip could "be an additional asset to the British Royal Family and a great help to them in carrying out their royal functions." In fact, the king had already warned Mountbatten off: "I have been thinking the matter over since our talk and I have come to the conclusion that we are going too fast," he had written to him two weeks before. Soundings were taken; they were, apparently, satisfactory; Mountbatten was on the plane back to Karachi that same afternoon.

In October 1945, the matter of Philip's naturalization came before the cabinet. Attlee postponed any further discussion owing to the undesirability of aligning the British government with the Greek royalist cause. But by then the teenage Princess Elizabeth was playing "People Will Say We're in Love" from the musical Oklahoma! nonstop on her gramophone; and Philip had been seen helping her with a fur wrap at the wedding of Mountbatten's daughter Patricia. Mountbatten moved quickly, making personal appointments with the king, the prime minister and the foreign secretary, while expending considerable effort in enlightening his media contacts about Philip's gallantry. "Please, I beg of you, not too much advice in an affair of the heart," Philip wrote to his uncle, "or I shall be forced to do the wooing by proxy."...

On the evening of 18 March 1947, Dickie and Edwina [Mountbatten] held a farewell reception at the Royal Automobile Club in Pall Mall. It was a double celebration for them. That very morning, Mountbatten had secured a great victory, signaled by an announcement of the superfluous naturalization of Lieutenant Philip Mountbatten, RN, in the London Gazette. He had planned to call his nephew "HRH Prince Philip." Philip preferred to start again as a commoner, but it is hard to imagine that Dickie had nothing to do with his choice of surname. "Most people think that Dickie's my father anyway," Philip later acknowledged. With Philip's engagement to the heiress presumptive soon to be announced, the House of Mountbatten was now right at the front of the line for the British throne.

21 November 2008

Truman: The WYSIWYG President

From: The Coldest Winter: America and the Korean War, by David Halberstam (Hyperion, 2007), pp. 203-205:
Truman was an easy man to underestimate. He lacked one of the great strengths of the Roosevelt persona: to a nation accustomed to a presidential voice that had been warm, confident, aristocratic, and altogether seductive, Truman's voice was a distinct disappointment, flat and tinny, with little emotional intimacy. His speeches were uninspiring—blunt and oddly without nuance. Some advisers suggested that Truman try to speak more like Roosevelt, and make his speeches more conversational, but he was shrewd enough to know that that was the wrong path, that he could not emulate the great master. All he could do was be himself and hope that the American people would not judge him for what he was not. He was aware that the comparisons with Roosevelt would be unfavorable at first, and they were. In the beginning, he was an easy target for political jokes, and there was often a cruel edge to them. "To err is Truman," said the acid-tongued Martha Taft, wife of Robert Taft, a key Republican senator. "I'm just mild about Harry" went another. A favorite of the moment, wrote the columnist Doris Fleeson, was "I wonder what Truman would do if he were alive." "Poor Harry Truman. And poor people of the United States," wrote Richard Strout, in The New Republic.

Truman became president when he was sixty years old. He was a late bloomer of acceptable but not overweening ambition. His people were farmers and he had done his share of farming as a boy, and in 1948 he had delighted Midwest crowds—his support there was one of the keys to his surprise victory—by telling them that he could seed a 160-acre wheat field "without leaving a skip." He had plowed the old-fashioned way, he added—four Missouri mules, not one of these fancy tractors. In his senior year of high school, through no fault of their own, the Trumans' farm had failed and all chance of a college education for Harry had disappeared. He tried for West Point, his one shot at a free education, but was turned down because of his poor eyesight. (He was blind as a mole, he noted later in life.) His one entrepreneurial attempt, to run a haberdashery shop, lasted a mere three years and ended in failure. He spent much of his time trying to prove to his ever dubious mother-in-law, who came from one of Independence's first families, that he was worthy of the hand of her daughter, that Bess Wallace had not married down. Here success eluded him; he proved better at making the case for his intrinsic value to millions of fellow Americans than to Madge Gates Wallace. He arrived in the Senate in 1934, in his fiftieth year, relatively late in life, as the sparklingly honest representative of the unusually corrupt political machine of Boss Tom Pendergast. It was as if his special assignment within the Pendergast organization had always been to bring it some degree of honor and legitimacy. He was a small-town man with small-town virtues. For much of his life, he wore a triple-band gold Mason's ring and a small lapel button that showed he had served in World War I. He was comfortable in the world of small-town lodges, and was a member of the American Legion, the Veterans of Foreign Wars, the Moose, and the Elks.

But a life filled with a curious blend of disappointments and relatively few successes (at least on the scale of most men who attain the presidency) had created its own set of strengths. "I liked what I saw. He was direct, unpretentious, clear thinking and forceful," General Omar Bradley wrote after their first meetings. He was not much given to self-deception and there was little artifice to him. He was hardworking, and always well prepared. He did not waste other people's time, nor did he want them to waste his. In contrast to Roosevelt (who loved to play games with people even when he didn't need to), Truman was comparatively simple and significantly less manipulative. What you saw, by and large, was what you got. George Marshall had always been uneasy with Roosevelt and some of the games he played with his top advisers. There had been one unfortunate moment when the president had tried verbal intimacy with Marshall, a man who thought the more formal the relationship with a politician, the straighter it was likely to be. Roosevelt called him by his first name, the first step in what was clearly to be a process of seduction. He immediately understood his own mistake by the coolness it generated. It was General or General Marshall thereafter, not George. Marshall for that reason clearly preferred Truman. There were fewer political land mines around.

In the Senate Truman had been all too aware of his own limitations. A great many of his colleagues were better educated, wealthier, and more successful; they knew worlds of privilege and sophistication he could only guess at. As one of his high school friends, Charlie Ross, later a star reporter for the St. Louis Post Dispatch and eventually his press secretary, said of him, "He came to the Senate, I believe, with a definite inferiority complex. He was a better man than he knew." America, at the time he assumed the presidency, was changing rapidly, becoming infinitely more meritocratic, driven by powerful egalitarian forces let loose by World War II and new political benefits that went with them, like the GI Bill, which allowed anyone who had been in the military to go to college. Truman, by contrast, was a product of a far less egalitarian America, which had existed at the turn of the century, one where talented men and women did not always attain careers that reflected their abilities and their ambition.
I am afraid we are now back to being a far less egalitarian America, at least by this measure. It has been two decades (1988–2008) since we had anyone but an Ivy Leaguer as president—and we just elected another one.

18 November 2008

'Quit India' vs. the Muslim League

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 127-128:
IN JUNE 1942, [American journalist] Louis Fischer spent a week at Gandhi's ashram and observed the preparations for a new campaign under the slogan "Quit India." The slogan was not only catchy but accurate: the British administration was to be harried, disobeyed and besieged until it simply upped and left, war or no war, economy or no economy, responsibility or no responsibility. The Quit India resolution, passed by Congress on 8 August 1942, announced that Congress would "no longer [be] justified in holding the nation back from endeavouring to assert its will" against the British administration, and sanctioned "a mass struggle on nonviolent lines under the inevitable leadership of Gandhiji." The struggle would only begin at Gandhi's word; but this was a call for treason as far as the British were concerned. The first arrests were made in the early hours of the morning of 9 August.

Over the following days, India exploded in violent uprisings, described by the viceroy, Lord Linlithgow, as the "most serious since that of 1857." There were Quit India hartals across the country, which turned into riots. The police and the army fought back, often brutally, leaving an official civilian death toll of 1,028; bazaar gossip put the total at 25,000. Effectively, Congress had given the raj an excuse to imprison hundreds of its leaders, including Gandhi himself and Nehru—who, according to his sister, was almost thankful for it, so uncomfortable had he felt opposing the war effort. The resolution could never have succeeded. Britain could not evacuate India in the middle of the Second World War, with Japan looming on its eastern front. But the empty space created in politics by the Congress leaders being in prison gave the Muslim League its chance to rush in.

According to Jinnah, it was not in the interest of the Muslims for the British to abandon them in a potentially hostile swamp of Hinduism. The logical position of the League was actually to keep the British in India—at least for as long as it took to convince them of the case for Pakistan, and perhaps indefinitely. The effect of Gandhi's Quit India misstep, and the League's hugely successful campaign during the 1940s, can be seen from the election statistics. In the general election of 1945–46, the Muslim League would win about 75 percent of all Muslim votes. In every previous election, its share of the Muslim vote had hovered around 4.6 percent. During the war years, Gandhi and Congress handed Jinnah a sixteenfold increase in his support. Quit India damaged the chances of a united India at least as much as any single act of the British administration ever had.

Linlithgow wrote to Churchill, admitting that he was concealing the severity and the extent of the violence from the world. But the Americans found out and sent their own mediators to Delhi. The Americans' "zeal in teaching us our business is in inverse ratio to their understanding of even the most elementary of problems," Linlithgow complained to the secretary of state for India, Leopold Amery. It would be bad if the Americans came, he averred; it would be worse still if they tried to talk to Gandhi or Nehru. He pleaded with Amery "to arrest at least for a time this flow of well meaning sentimentalists." But the flow of Americans continued, and Indians delighted to see them spoiling official occasions for the British by wearing the wrong clothes, disregarding procedure and cheerfully ignoring distinctions of rank.

17 November 2008

Mohammad Ali Jinnah: Too much a toff for Yorkshire

From Indian Summer: The Secret History of the End of an Emperor, by Alex von Tunzelmann (Picador, 2008), pp. 94-95:
Jinnah was a successful barrister, born in Karachi and called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn. Tall and slender, he hardly ate, and smoked fifty Craven A cigarettes a day! He was often described as looking cadaverous, but this description does no justice to his dynamism. With his smooth coiffure and glittering stare he looked more like a cobra than a corpse. The photojournalist Margaret Bourke-White described at length "the Oxford-educated Jinnah" with his "razor-sharp mind and hypnotic, smoldering eyes." Jinnah had not, in fact, been educated at Oxford; he had attended a madrassa in Karachi and a local mission school. But it was easy to believe that this urbane gentleman, described by the New York Times as "undoubtedly one of the best dressed men in the British Empire," his public speaking rich with quotations from Shakespeare, was part of the British elite.

Jinnah had begun his political career in Congress. He made himself a figurehead for Hindu-Muslim unity and was acclaimed as such by Hindu Congress luminaries. He had joined the Muslim League in 1913, confident that he could act as abridge between the political parties. But it was the emergence of Gandhi as the spiritual leader of Congress in 1920 that began to push Jinnah out. "I will have nothing to do with this pseudo-religious approach to politics," Jinnah had said, rejecting the call for satyagraha. "I part company with the Congress and Gandhi. I do not believe in working up mob hysteria. Politics is a gentleman's game." But politics is rarely gentlemanly, and as if to prove it there was a profound and deadly clash of personality between Jinnah and the other English gentleman of Congress, Jawaharlal Nehru. Like his compatriot and friend, the poet Muhammad Iqbal, Jinnah disdained "the atheistic socialism of Jawaharlal." "We do not want any flag excepting the League flag of the Crescent and Star," he would declare. "Islam is our guide and the complete code of our life."

Despite his position as one of the key figures in the rise of twentieth-century Islam, Jinnah was no fundamentalist. His Islam was liberal, moderate and tolerant. It was said that he could recite none of the Koran, rarely went to a mosque and spoke little Urdu. Much has been made of his reluctance to don Muslim outfits, his fondness for I whiskey and his rumored willingness to eat ham sandwiches. In fact, he never pretended to be anything other than a progressive Muslim, influenced by the intellectual and economic aspects of European culture as well as by the teachings of Muhammad. The game he played was carefully considered: here was a Muslim who understood the British sufficiently to parley on equal terms, but asserted his Islamic identity strongly enough that he could never be seen to grovel. His refusal of a knighthood was significant; so, too, was his demurral in the face of Muslim attempts to call him "Maulana" Jinnah, denoting a religious teacher. Some historians go so far as to describe him as a "bad" Muslim, revealing more about their own ideas of what a Muslim should be than about Jinnah's faith. In any case, the Muslim League suffered from no shortage of good Muslims. What it had lacked was a good politician. And Jinnah was without question one of the most brilliant politicians of his day.

Jinnah had married Rattanbai "Ruttie" Petit, the daughter of a prominent Parsi banker, when he was forty-two and she just eighteen. Rebellious and beautiful, Ruttie had been a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru's sister Nan Pandit; she was closer still, indeed almost passionately so, to Padmaja Naidu, who would later become Jawahar's lover. The deeply personal and incestuous nature of Indian politics is plain from these relationships. Jinnah's marriage was not an easy one. After the birth of their daughter, Dina, he and Ruttie separated. Ruttie died on her thirtieth birthday in 1929, following a long affliction with a digestive disorder. Jinnah was devastated at her death and moved to London with Dina. He took a large house in Hampstead, was chauffeured around in a Bentley, played billiards, lunched at Simpson's and went to the theater. He considered standing for parliament in the Labour interest but was rejected by a Yorkshire constituency, allegedly with the verdict that it would not be represented by "a toff like that." His sister Fatima gave up a career as a dentist to become, in effect, his hostess, though that title belies her full significance. Fatima Jinnah was a woman of intelligence and drive, and was influential in her brother's move toward Islamic nationalism.

16 November 2008

Sumo's No-throw Zabutons

This year's Kyushu Grand Sumo Tournament is at the halfway point, and Kyushu-based blogger Ampontan explained after the first day how the Japan Sumo Association has reconfigured the zabuton (lit. 'seat futon') in the box seats in order to discourage fans from throwing their seat cushions when some lower-ranking rikishi upsets a yokozuna. Since the yokozuna fight last, cushion-throwing opportunities tend to come at the very end of a long day of sitting.
The new, difficult-to-throw zabuton made their debut at the Kyushu tournament at Fukuoka City’s Fukuoka Kokusai Center on Sunday the 9th. The space in the box seat areas have been expanded, and instead of having four individual square zabuton for each of the patrons in the box, they will be provided with double zabuton sets. These consist of two rectangular cushions measuring 125 centimeters (49 inches) by 50 centimeters and attached by a cord. A fan would have to be seriously upset to get one of those things airborne.

The reactions to the new cushions have been mixed. One member of a local Kyushu group with ringside seats (called suna kaburi in Japanese, or “covered with sand”) said, “I’ve been hit by flying zabuton before, and it didn’t hurt. But some people who have been hit said that it hurt a lot, so I’m glad they’re doing something about it.”

In contrast, one woman in her 20s from Fukuoka City who plans to attend the tournament said she was disappointed that she wouldn’t be able to see any flying zabuton because she thought it represented the real sumo atmosphere. A housewife in her 50s said she thought it was a bit frightening because people might decide to throw something else instead of the zabuton. (Are not those views representative of the classic difference between youth and age?)
The first day must have been frustrating for would-be launchers of zabuton torpedoes because the lower-ranking veteran Aminishiki gave the live audience a perfect opportunity by defeating reigning champion Hakuho.

After Day 8, however, Hakuho remains tied for the lead, at 7-1, with Miyabiyama, another lower-ranking veteran who is currently the heaviest rikishi in the top division, tipping the scales at 179 kg, just 2 kg more than the giant Estonian Baruto.

Among the fresh foreigner faces in the top level this time around are: the Mongolian Koryu, the Russian Aran, and the Georgian Tochinoshin. There are now eight Mongolians in the top division, and six more in the Juryo rankings, along with two Georgians, one Bulgarian, one Estonian, one Korean, and one Russian.

Now if they could just prevent the wrestlers from throwing matches ...

15 November 2008

On the Vital Role of Hermits

The latest volume (#28) of Buddhist-Christian Studies, which has just gone online at Project MUSE (subscription required) contains a couple of anniversary memorials to Thomas Merton, who died in Bangkok, Thailand, in 1968. (It also contains several papers from a panel on the notable contributions of Masao Abe to Buddhist-Christian interfaith dialogue.)

Buddhist-Christian dialogue seems awfully passé to me in an era when positive dialogue seems all too scarce among Muslims, Christians, and Jews, on the one hand, and between crusading atheists and theists of all stripes, on the other. But I do appreciate Thomas Merton's appreciation of the hermit life—the need to get away from it all—even though he may have been one of the most outspoken Trappists who ever lived (as my father is one of the more talkative Quakers I've ever met). The editor of Buddhist-Christian Studies, however, thinks Merton ignored one vital class of hermits (p. viii, n. 5):
Merton’s model of the hermit life does not exhaust the phenomenon within Western Christianity. Historically speaking, the hermit life was embraced by far more people than the limited number of professed monks whose spiritual growth had taken them beyond the life of the coenobium. For example, hermit shrine keepers were numerous throughout Christian cultures for centuries; most of these were simple laity without whom many pilgrimage sites would simply not have existed, and their identity has not yet found a modern voice. The massively popular pilgrimage churches of traditional Catholicism had at their heart the hermit-sacristan who tended the lamps and swept the floors. The professed hermit monk, the monastic hermit order, and the shrine hermit all found expression in the legal and the architectural boundaries of medieval and early modern societies.
Perhaps lay bloggers, photographers, and Wikipedists can be considered the hermit-sacristans of this information age, quietly tending our quirky little shrines that attract pilgrims who seek to escape the self-referential obsessions of the cloistered academies and the hourly tolling of alarm bells from the cathedrals of the major media.