Planning for a War is Not the Same as Planning a War

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Mon, Apr 6 - 9:00 am EST | 4 years ago by
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Lines of Departure - China

Since at least the time of world class fool, blunderer, jackass, and complete and utter failure, Woodrow Wilson, there’s been a lot of confusion about what military planning is and means. For these purposes, it falls into two categories: planning to actually do something you intend to do, and planning to react to something you do not really want to happen but must be prepared for.

In terms of the latter, I would be not just surprised but disgusted if somewhere in the bowels of the five-sided puzzle palace there are no plans, kept more or less up to date, for invading Canada. I would be at least as surprised and disgusted if Canada doesn’t have some plans to resist that invasion, too. Sure, ours might be hidden as a response to a humanitarian crisis, or couched in terms of responding to a request from Canada’s government for help/intervention, while theirs – for all I know – may reference “Fenians,” or the like. Still, if the plans don’t exist – quite despite that none of us want to invade Canada – then a large number of multi-starred idiots need to be relieved. Why? Because you never really know. Because the future defies prediction in any detail.

That is different in kind from things like Hitler’s invasions of Poland and the USSR which fell not into the category of things that the planner would rather not happen (but had to be prepared to react to) but of things the planner absolutely intended to do.

So is China planning for a war as some claim? Sure they are; it’s their general staff’s job to do that planning. Do they want that war or wars? Puhleeze; as discussed previously, a real war is about the last thing they want. They’re much, much more likely engaged in the first, contingency, class of planning than the second, aggressive, class.

So what do they want? I think they want three things. These are 1) that their near neighbors be aligned and allied with them, not with a possible or probable enemy, or that they at least be very friendly neutrals, 2) that their coasts, coastal waters and shipping be safe, and 3) that at least the appearance of a united China be maintained, which appearance they’ll have as long as Taiwan doesn’t insist it’s a separate country. It’s a matter of face, which is a lot more than mere appearance and the loss of which has real, tangible, serious and dangerous consequences in the real world. (To us, too, by the way.) There are other things, no doubt, that China would like, but those other things are probably either easy as mud or not achievable by any measure, so probably not something they worry about overmuch.

It is, however, in the nature of those three factors that they cannot be solved by China by recourse to war, either individually or simultaneously. Try to force such of their near neighbors as are aligned with us to dump us and adopt a more pro-Chinese, or at least less anti-Chinese, stance and we can smack their coasts, and cut off their trade rather handily. Moreover, forcing their neighbors or trying to probably only forces them to align more closely with us, which isn’t the goal at all. With that much support from us, Taiwan probably declares independence or begins to wage war on the PRC, or both. Try to gain undisputed control of their coastal waters and they risk problems with us, with all those bordering states and near island states, which gets their imports and exports chopped. Push Taiwan hard enough and they do declare independence, anyway, with all the loss of face for the regime that that entails.

So what’s the stink about the Senkaku and Yaeyama Island groups?1 It’s hard to be sure but one suspects that the Yaeyamas, Japanese and inhabited, hence something that Japan must fight for, are a distraction for the seizure or ceding of the uninhabited Senkakus, while getting possession of those is more or less a means to establishing diplomatic and psychological dominance over Taiwan: “See, we’ve already outflanked you and can cut you off from aid; so let’s chat.” One suspects, too, that from the Taiwanese point of view it’s perfectly fine for Japan to retain the Senkakus, but the claim to them must be maintained to prevent the PRC from getting ahold of them. Thus, Taiwan must fight for what Japan may not.

This of course presupposes that we don’t try to throw either Taiwan or Japan to the wolves. We might throw Taiwan to the wolves, of course; to some extent we already have, decades ago. But the net result of trying to toss Japan to the wolves is that Japan reverts to being a wolf, rather a werewolf – a big, mean, nasty werewolf, who’s good with a sword, to boot. This wouldn’t be in China’s interest at all, and less still to the extent that “abandoned” Taiwan takes up with wolf-like Japan.

Does that mean we don’t have to worry at all? No, there are reasons to worry. There are also reasons not to worry overmuch. In the latter class is the surplus of males, mentioned previously, at something above thirty million excess males. It’s not quite the risk to us or anyone else some would claim. The reason – well, a reason, probably one of the biggest – why Chinese prefer boys to girls is that boys take care of their parents in their old age while girls marry and take care of their husband’s parents. In either case, though, from China’s point of view those one child family excess boys are not expendable because they’re needed to care for their parents in their old age, which the government is not well equipped to do. Can they afford to lose some? Sure. Can they afford to lose a bunch? One doubts.

Moreover, though the excess is real, even if they were all expendable, they’re not trained and they’re not for the most part in the right year groups to be trained. Perhaps worst of all, from the Chinese military point of view, they’re largely over-indulged, soft, spoiled brats whom it might not be possible to train.2

I’m not too worried about that excess; they’re more likely to be a problem for China than for us, but still not the kind of problem they can usefully export.

On the other hand, a valid reason to worry is that, from China’s point of view, they’re being surrounded. India, which used to be at least somewhat ideologically sympathetic to the PRC, and effectively allied with another communist state, the USSR, is fairly rapidly gravitating to our camp.3 SEATO has been dead for decades, but ASEAN, the Association of SouthEast Asian Nations, is still there. Furthermore, while ASEAN isn’t our lapdog, they don’t like and/or do fear China, and some of them are close to us (Thailand, for example) or inching closer (Vietnam), while the Philippines used to be us and, in some ways, still are us. Then the Philippines, Taiwan, Japan, and South Korea, with our Navy – with our combined navies – dominate China’s coast. To the north and west it’s all MMFA, which is to say, “miles and miles of not very much, really.”

Basically, they’re cut off if we want them to be, with only a possible line for commerce on someone else’s rail lines, the links to which would not be hard for us to cut. The word for that is “surrounded.” They’re also not food self-sufficient.4

Imagine how we, also a trading power, would feel if, instead of owning our coasts and having friendly Canada and weak Mexico on our borders, we had no control over our local waters and all our neighbors were hostile and powerful and in many cases allied with a greater power than ourselves. Add to that a historic image of our country as a woman, stripped and held down with her legs splayed, while a long line assembles, dicks in hand. That’s in good part China’s historical self-image, which self-image explains a great deal.

So what should we do? I’ll get into that next week, though I’ll admit in advance to having few hard answers.



2 That sounds like a very extreme case, of course. Halve it…quarter it…and it still means untrainable rabble.

3 Yes, as discussed above, China and India have had their problems, but the issues were non-existential.


Tom Kratman is a retired infantry lieutenant colonel, recovering attorney, and science fiction and military fiction writer. His latest novel, The Rods and the Axe, is available from for $9.99 for the Kindle version, or $25 for the hardback. A political refugee and defector from the People’s Republic of Massachusetts, he makes his home in Blacksburg, Virginia. He holds the non-exclusive military and foreign affairs portfolio for EveryJoe. Tom’s books can be ordered through

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  • KenWats

    A couple thoughts. One, if that’s China’s historical self-image – what’s ours? Lady Liberty? The plucky underdog thumbing our nose at the superpower (of the time)?

    Two, no matter how spoiled Chinese youth is, I have a hard time believing they’re more spoiled than Joe Snuffy was growing up in the US. And Joe seems to be doing just fine (for certain values of fine anyway). For every 16 year old who is spoon fed over there, I bet there’s a farm kid who busts his butt day and night and for whom life in the PLA infantry is a vacation, every meal a banquet, yada yada.

    • Neil

      Yes, this.

      Peasants have never been fully subject to the one-child policy and are more likely to “lose” their unwanted girls, so most of those “excess” boys start their day either by shoveling pig s**t or by choosing which freight train to hop. I’m not sure that makes them fit for modern warfare, but if not, it’s not because they’re soft. At any rate, they’re probably perfect for the role of domestic enforcer, which is at least half of the mission for China’s military.

      Demographic what-ifs aside, China’s self-image is the biggest problem we’ve got. I mean, if they really wanted to achieve resource security they could go a long way by developing what they’ve got. For example, they’re understood to have perhaps the largest known frackable oil reserves, and there’s iron in them thar hills, too. But it would be so much more satisfying to extort the needful from someone else. And, not coincidentally, that would keep the resources under the control of the central government, too.

      China probably doesn’t really want a war, but they’re not going to go out of their way to prevent that “short, sharp” war that dances tantalizingly just within their vision.

    • Duffy

      For some odd reason, Military Service has usually looked pretty good in comparison to shoveling pig shit. Does not matter where your shoveling pig shit at, 9 out of 10 pig shit shovelers will frequently sign up, for the adventure if not the three hots and cot. I do think China’s self image is an issue, but I do not think their self image is something that we can gauge very well. As far as they are concerned, they are better. They also have about 3,000 years of civilization to reinforce that view. I am not advocating that point of view personally, but I think they hold it very strongly. And a short short war that dances tantalizingly within their vision, may also be an imminent threat to their regional security, depending on how they view it.

    • akulkis

      My knowledge of Chinese history is rather scant, but it seems to me that foreign expeditions (even of the peaceful kind) have tended to lead to leadership changes. If that is true, this might put a damper on any leader wanting to get involved in international wrangling of any type.

    • Tom Kratman

      Yeah, I am sure there are, but the farm kids aren’t expendable.

  • Gary Wolfman

    I’ve been told by acquaintances of mine that on occasion a Canadian is posted into an exchange position in the US as a planner, and ends up inadvertently on the planning team to update the “invade Canada” CONPLAN…it’s supposedly endearingly awkward when everyone realizes what just happened.

    And, yes, we do have all kinds of CONPLANS of our own.

    • Tom Kratman

      In the old days I’d have said we do that deliberately so said exchange Canadian can spread the word. Now I’d suspect incompetence of a very high order.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      Is it become the Pentagon has gotten less competent, or because as you’ve gotten older and wiser you learned to have less respect for its abilities?

    • Tom Kratman

      Not mutually exclusive.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    How long would Japan’s ability to turn into a werewolf last? They’ve had sub-replacement fertility rates since the 1970s ( You can be born elsewhere and become American, but I don’t think you can become Japanese.

    • Tom Kratman

      It has happened, but is very rare. Their armed forces used to be a way in for some – there was at least one Korean IJA general, for example, during WW II – as was being acquired as a war or other sort of bride. Nitobe, for example, married an American girl. That said, they are still nuts* and, if they had to, I am pretty sure they’d eliminate every obstacle to child-bearing and -raising and reward every success.

      *there are reasons, you know, why just about every science fiction writer trying to create a genuinely alien hostile species tends to make that species look and act Japanese.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      There is a lead time of no less than 15 years between when you start encouraging child raising to when the effects are militarily relevant. Or do you think they’ll do it anyway before the danger materializes, because they’ll need somebody to take care of the elderly?

    • Tom Kratman

      Not quite the right calc. One bull to fifty compliant heiffers, and the other 49 oxen can be used up and written off during those formative 15 (really 18+) years.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      I got the 15 figure (pregnancy plus 14 years) from a certain Academy Militar. Or was that a special case because Balboa only used the very best(1) high school boys, rather than a population average?

      I see your point about using some of the older men as cannon fodder in the meanwhile, as long as you keep enough not only for breeding stock but also for war production.

      (1) In terms of military usefulness

    • Tom Kratman

      Well…a) Carrera, unlike China, had lots of kids from the most fecund women on his planet, and b) he’s a ruthless fucking maniac.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      More ruthless than the Japanese would be if forced into werewolf mode?

    • Tom Kratman

      Hard to say, really.

    • Ori Pomerantz

      BTW, why are they more nuts than other cultures? They have a track record of being much more successful, is that it?

    • Tom Kratman

      I don’t think anyone really knows why they’re nuts.

    • Duffy

      That whole line of reasoning, that Japan can (and will) turn into a wolf, presumes that the problem with Japan (or Japanese culture)currently may be the result of, or maybe symptoms of, forcing them into a role, culturally, that is abnormal for them. I can but that. They also have recently acquired some flat tops. That could be bad for everyone in the region. I would like to point out that, currently, if their are countries that I know have the ability (Technologically) and may well have the material on hand, to develop and deploy, a credible nuclear deterrent, one is Japan (S.Korea being the other). Their reliance on the American Nuclear deterrent, which is becoming less and less credible in recent years, may end of their accord, not ours.

    • Boognish69

      One speculation is that losing World War II has had detrimental effects on the Japanese psyche. One doesn’t have to watch much Japanese animation–particularly once you get away from the cutesy “mainstream” stuff from Studio Ghibl/Hayao Miyazaki that’s all most Westerners see of it–one comes away with the distinct impression that a whole lot of it is written by people who are very unhappy at the way the Second World War turned out, despite not having been born at the time.

      Japanese animation is full of really Freudian stuff, with the hyper-masculine giant robots, which are always depicted standing insistently erect, and are always made of some magical super-duper space age magic alloy that’s harder than steel (hurr hurr), and which are frequently depicted as not only powered by the Pure Heart and Fighting Spirit of the pilot but also being immune to bullets or nuclear weapons. Every third manga or animation series some years seems to be about an engaging group of plucky misfits serving in Earth’s Imperial Space Navy, after the end of a disastrous war against giant blue-skinned aliens who cheated horribly by outnumbering Earth forces greatly, when it’s not about prepubescent girls who have made dire bargains with something that a Westerner would regard as a demon to gain magical power to protect the city against invading eldritch abominations, and so on. An anthropologist could have a field day with this stuff, but no one in the West today would, I think, ever dare to publish the results.

      And then there’s Japanese erotic material, which is not merely bizarre but uniquely bizarre. Those who don’t understand what I mean should probably not look into the matter–much of it is not for the faint of heart.

      Anyway. tl;dr the Japanese are nuts either because we nuked them too much or not enough.

    • Tom Kratman

      Used panty vending machines come to mind.

    • Ming the Merciless

      More interesting question is what the werewolf would want to do. Grab Lebensraum on the Asian mainland as in 1931-45? Seems unlikely. Grab oil in Indonesia or further afield? Why, when they can simply buy it? Grab a defensive perimeter in the Pacific? OK, but now they’ve antagonized the “far enemy” (us) who could help them against the “near enemy” (China)…

    • Ori Pomerantz

      This depends on two factors:

      1. How much can they rely on the US? Remember, we’re the country that elected Obama twice.

      2. In the circumstances that demand this werewolf transformation, how antagonized would we be if they fought China? It won’t happen because China was nice to them. If China were to attack Japan, would we be upset if Japan fought back?

    • Tom Kratman

      Probably wouldn’t want to do any more than eliminate the threat, but since every elimination of a threat puts you right up against the threat again….

    • Ming the Merciless

      Trying to eliminate a nuclear-armed threat would be a self-defeating effort to say the least. But hey maybe the “global zero” folks will succeed in making the world safe for Great Power conventional war once again.

    • gaige

      That’s more or less the plot to Tom Clancy’s EndWar video games and novels. All the major players have effective ballistic missile defense, taking strategic nuclear war off the table, which paves the way for a (mostly) conventional World War III.

    • Ming the Merciless

      What takes stealthy nuclear-armed cruise missiles and stealth bombers with nuclear gravity bombs off the table?

    • gaige

      Never really explained, but all sides do have very advanced radar systems and stealth fighters of their own, so I assume stealthy cruise missiles and stealth bombers are being held in reserve for strategic reasons. Nukes are used in the novels, but they’re shielded backpack nukes delivered by special operations teams.

    • akulkis

      If I understand it correctly, phased array radar using LARGE (i.e. dozens of miles in length) arrays can still defeat stealth.

    • gaige

      I’ve heard it said that simple weather Doppler radar can get solid returns off stealth aircraft. Problem is, that it gets solid returns off any weather whatsoever, too. Not sure how accurate that is, frankly.

  • trashhauler

    In my experience as a war and contingency planner, the actual planning began at the first warning order. In 1989, I helped plan the air invasion of Panama, in deepest secret, with only a handful of other planners. The existing plans for Panama all assumed we had free access to its facilities, which we did not. Instead, we built it from scratch in little more than a few weeks, using guile and cunning where brute force didn’t fit.

    Same thing in 1991, with first, DESERT SHIELD and then DESERT STORM. With no warning, we had to move hundreds of thousands of troops, hundreds of tanks and aircraft, thousands of vehicles and tens of thousands of tons of supplies and equipment. Given CENTCOM’s ever-changing priorities and the available ports and airfields, we basically had to start from scratch, cobbling together an air flow plan, launching aircraft on the fly as loads became ready for us (and often before they were ready). I vividly recall when the XP “warplanners” came down to present the off-the-shelf war plan for the region. They presented it to me, serving my shift as the flow cell chief and asked how they could help. After thumbing through a couple of key annexes, I pointed out that the assigned forces, on load, off load, and en route airfields, ports, and overflight permissions were all different from what their plan assumed. Making it essentially worthless, except for some of the diagrams. I then asked them if any of them knew how to schedule aircraft, because we needed people who could do it rapidly. A couple had some experience and we kept them. The others we released back to their offices. I put their bound war plan down on the floor next to my desk and we used it as a footrest.

    Since those day, most war plans have become little more than data bases and templates, backed up with lots of “what-if” war fight modeling. The trend has been to seek planning speed and flexibility, with the goal being “a plan in a day” based on what is available at earliest warning.

    • Tom Kratman

      Our planning difficulties, I think, tend, for most campaigns, to be of a different order of difficulty and complexity than anyone else’s, precisely because so much (for anything but Mexico and Canada, everything, really) depends on air and sea deployment over very long distances, where the political situation can never be known in advance.

    • trashhauler

      Complex is right. Time-distance calculations become a matter of planning art, rather than science, with anticipated and unknown delays given due consideration. Then too, one has to deal with “TPFDD error” as everyone realizes they are actually going to war. Each commander promptly tells his troops to take that extra machine gun, those spare engines, and all the friggin’ ammo they can find. They then leave it to the mobility officer and the aerial port to figure out how to get ten chalks into nine aircraft. Then they’d call me, demanding another air machine.

    • Tom Kratman

      Extra aircraft? Bah; in 85 I was one of the Cairo 77.

    • trashhauler

      Ah, what are you complaining about? Eventually, ya got back, didnja?

    • Ori Pomerantz

      The Cairo 77? You mean you got left in Cairo for some time?

    • Tom Kratman

      Bright Star 1985. 78 of us were scheduled to fly home from Cairo West (which, by the way, your guys had littered with some broken up Russian bombers in 67 and the shredded sections of which were still there) via C-5A. It broke. Bumping someone else off their flight would have fucked up the troop flow to no end. Se we had to wait until another aircraft could be found. No problem except for two things: 1) we’d already been “customized” and our baggage palletized, so we had no clothes beyond what we were wearing, no toiletries (hence couldn’t shave), nothing to read, etc., while we were held behind barbed wire so we couldn’t break customization, and b) it took about 11 or 12 days, IIRC, to find a plane, during which time we dropped to the Cairo 77 due to food poisoning. You know how fucking cold the desert can get at night? Right, no sleeping bags or poncho liners either. This lasted until some multi-starred asshole (I presume) decided it might reflect badly on him when we mutinied and let them break customization to give us our baggage again, but that was well over a week later.

      “Free the Cairo 77!”

    • Ori Pomerantz

      Why didn’t they just let you go into Cairo without letting you access your already customized stuff? They in the US they would have just needed to have you go through customs the way civilians do it.

    • Tom Kratman

      Mix of excessive optimism and general control-freakishness. They (whoever they were) had us there, where we couldn’t go anywhere. They were promised a plane, “right soon now.”

    • trashhauler

      Weird things happen in Egypt. First time I flew into Cairo West, I was the second US military aircraft in since the end of the 1973 war. We had to overcome the language barrier just to confirm permission to land – then we had to go around because a three-ship of Badgers(!) flew past us and landed first. In 1978, the taxiways were still covered with FOD from bombing. I told the scanner to get out and kick the junk out of our path. Then, while we were unloaded, we were given a van and driver and taken to the Pyramids of Giza (in our flight suits). Quickest tourist stop I ever made until I did the same thing at Pisa, Italy.

      The next year, I flew a C-141 into the International airport, Cairo East. And, no shit, we were instructed to fly in civilian clothing. So there we were in a green Starlizard, me dressed in jeans and cowboy boots as I parked the thing at the civilian terminal. I don’t think we fooled anybody.

    • Bordeaux Vixen

      Statisticians galore?

    • trashhauler

      Not at all. Oh, some statisticians, for limited purposes, mostly in steady state conditions. But not in the building of a deployment infrastructure and adjustments to the unexpected. I liken it to building the delivery structure of FEDEX and UPS combined – but doing it from scratch in a matter of days, generally in a part of the world they wouldn’t choose for operations. It is never as elegant or efficient, but it must be effective.

    • akulkis

      Funny… when I left Saudi… we flew back on a 747.. and what was painted on the side?

      FED EX

    • trashhauler

      You are probably misremembering, akulkis. Before I retired, I was the USTRANSCOM expert on the Civil Reserve Air Fleet (CRAF) for about 20 years. Fedex has never been certified to carry passengers (which would require many FAA-mandated changes to aircraft and operations). Very occasionally, a cargo carrier will accommodate a courier or someone accompanying a specific piece of equipment, but we’ve never used them to carry passengers. In any case, Fedex hasn’t had B747 aircraft for many years.

      Of all our CRAF cargo carriers, the only one that can carry passengers is Atlas, because they are dual certified and use B747 passenger aircraft. World Airways was also dual certified, but they’ve gone away.

    • Boognish69

      As one who observed Desert Shield/Desert Storm from the outside, so to speak, with great interest, I came away with three conclusions. I was as happy as anyone about the eventual outcome of the war.

      I was, however, greatly troubled that from the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in July 1990, it took seven months–SEVEN MONTHS–to put a sizable force in place that wasn’t ready to go until February 1991.

      And it was to my great relief that no one used the (rumored–and assumed in enough circles that there were wargames in both board and software form published for the civilian conflict-simulation hobbyist market assuming them) World War III plans for the region, which were said to assume that a Russian mechanized army group or two was rolling from Syria and Iraq down into Saudi Arabia to link up with desantniks that had seized the oil fields and the ports. Supposedly under these plans the 82nd Airborne and the 6th “Light Motorized Infantry” Division (the so-called “Rapid Deployment Force” with their dune buggies with TOW launchers), and maybe a Marine expeditionary brigade–if one could be spared or scraped up out of reservists, that is–would be dropped into Saudi and asked to seize a port or airfield or three and hold on until whatever National Guard units could be spared from the German and Korean fronts could get mobilized, loaded onto ships and planes, paint their vehicles in MERDC desert camo en route, and, everyone hoped, eventually arrive in Saudi with enough bullets, blankets, beans, and POL to push the Russians back up the peninsula and out. I am pretty sure that one would have been quite horribly bloody.

    • Tom Kratman

      Nisi bonum and all, but Fat Normy was a wimp about that. We waited for the corps from Germany, but didn’t need it. We should have rolled around November of 90.

    • trashhauler

      It didn’t actually take that long. DESERT SHIELD was nerve-wracking as we worked through CENTCOM’s endless changes, with the threat of Saddam hanging over our heads. I do remember scrambling to find and deliver TOW launchers all over the world. The TPFDD was worthless (near 70% line errors) and we actually kept track of priority on a grease board, changing it daily, sometimes several times a day.

      There were many four-star level arguments. For example, CINCMAC got pissed when 18th Corps/CC blamed a small delay in deployment on lack of aircraft, which was a lie – there was nothing ready for loading on the ramp. Word came down to park ten C-5s on the ramp at Pope and let them sit there until General Luck could fill them up.

      There was a short hiatus after we got some covering forces into Saudi Arabia. There was a series of action officer meetings to discuss what was needed for offensive operations. I attended to provide rough closure estimates, though there were many unknowns at the time. The desire for overwhelming strength led to the deployment of 7th Corps from Europe. We also futzed around delivering the French and Egyptian divisions, though we needed neither.

      The main forces were in place by late December, though they needed work up. A huge headache was Christmas mail, which began to absorb way too much airlift. (I was sent to Riyadh in February to establish a retrograde planning office and the plane was loaded with Christmas junk.) Then we used up 31 days in aerial bombardment, both interdiction and battlefield attrition, with SCUD hunting as a distraction.

      The timing was driven as much by politics and loin-girding as it was by actual deployment capability. A point about General Schwartzkopf: he was jovial on TV, but he was an ugly boss. I never saw so much fear in any HQ as I saw in CENTCOM forward. Even as an outsider, I was harassed, though I was insulated by the fact that I had already been passed over for promotion before the war started (long story, let’s just say I’ve never played well with others). At that point, I could (and did) cheerfully tell Army colonels to go pound sand. But others in the HQ lived in rank fear that any mistake would result in their disappearance.

  • Mark Andrew Edwards

    Logically, I think you’re right, sir. But I’m concerned that China is going to have a war, logic be damned. It might be a naval engagement or a combined arms occupation of islands but they show every sign of drawing the sword, not just rattling.

    I may be mis-reading things. This might just be brinkmanship but it sure looks like they’re going to assert themselves using a stick, not a carrot.

    • Tom Kratman

      Or we might fuck up, too. Yes, certainly possible, but it doesn’t get less likely by paranoia on anybody’s side.

    • akulkis

      The problem is, since the mid 1990′s, if not earlier, they’ve been teaching at their War College that they WILL be at war with us by 2020.

  • Ming the Merciless

    So what’s the stink about the Senkaku and Yaeyama Island groups?1 It’s hard to be sure but one suspects that the Yaeyamas, Japanese and inhabited, hence something that Japan must fight for, are a distraction for the seizure or ceding of the uninhabited Senkakus, while getting possession of those is more or less a means to establishing diplomatic and psychological dominance over Taiwan

    China’s goal in the Senkaku dispute is to demonstrate that the US security guarantee to Japan is worthless. And if it does prove worthless, South Korea, Taiwan, and others will surely take note.

    • Tom Kratman

      I don’t think it’s really aimed at Japan, though it might be. It’s much more important, in any case, to Taiwan. As far as undercutting our position, or our guarantees, that’s always an iffy and dangerous proposition. Sometimes we’re wimps. Other times whole language groups can disappear, as a Brit friend of mine observes. I suspect that the Chinese are just too conservative to take that kind of risk.

    • Ming the Merciless

      “China is mounting a direct, if subtle, challenge to the international order the United States created in the Far East after World War II. Most are aware that China is attempting to leverage growing military strength into a larger, dominating position by laying claims to islands in the East and South China Seas. Few realize that China is attempting to overturn the legal underpinnings of the US position in the western Pacific.

      Like the Chinese proverb “to point at the mulberry tree to curse the locust tree”, Beijing’s challenge to Japan’s sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands is in fact a bid to abolish the entire structure of Far Eastern international relations established by the San Francisco Treaty of September 1951.

      If the United States declines to back Japan in China’s challenge over the Senkaku Islands, it would invalidate the US security guarantee to Japan, call into question the alliance itself, and undermine the US position in the Western Pacific, both legally and in fact.

      To cave in to China’s challenge to Japan over the Senkakus would be to abandon the international system the United States put in place after World War II and open the door to Chinese domination of the region’s surrounding states, whose leaders would all have to come to terms with China as the dominant power. The result would mark the beginning of the end of America’s dominance of the Western Pacific and begin to resemble the Chinese system of vassal states that existed before the collapse of the Ching Dynasty 150 years ago.”

    • Boognish69

      US security guarantees have been known to the whole world to be worthless for 40+ years. Indochina would be the foremost example of this. See also, the Shah of Iran. See also, Nicaragua. See also Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear arsenal in 1994 in exchange for Bill Clinton’s solemn promise that US Marines would be deployed in the event of any Russian attempt to recreate the USSR by force. See also–but that would be belaboring the point.

      In the 21st Century, I submit that having a “security guarantee” with the US is more dangerous than being an enemy of the US. The writing has been on the wall for many, many years now and I am not sure what can be done to reverse the trend at this late date. I wonder whether this is what it felt like to live in Rome in the early Fourth Century.

    • Ming the Merciless

      Our guarantee to South Vietnam wasn’t “worthless”. It was worth the deployment of two million soldiers over eight years, with 58,000 American dead, 300,000 wounded, 3,000 downed fixed-wing aircraft, 5,000 lost helicopters, and a couple of hundred billion dollars. Ironically, we hadn’t even given a security guarantee to South Vietnam when we intervened in 1965, so it was truly an unnecessary war. But even a formal defense guarantee isn’t a guarantee that you’re going to win.

      Any defense guarantees we had with the Shah and Somoza didn’t come into play because they weren’t invaded. If they didn’t have the will or the ability to crush their internal enemies, it wasn’t our job to step in and do it for them. To be sure, Carter’s policy towards them was as criminally stupid as the rest of his foreign policy.

      Our guarantees were pretty good from 1981 to 1992. Today… as you say, there is no worse friend, no better enemy, than the USA.

      Dick Cheney recently:

      “I don’t know, Hugh. I vacillate between the various theories I’ve heard, but you know, if you had somebody as president who wanted to take America down, who wanted to fundamentally weaken our position in the world and reduce our capacity to influence events, turn our back on our allies and encourage our adversaries, it would look exactly like what Barack Obama’s doing. I think his actions are constituted in my mind those of the worst president we’ve ever had.”

      Along those lines, if you were going to eviscerate NATO, sending a force to the Baltics and daring the Russians to attack it would be just the way to go. When Putin calls that bluff, NATO is done.

  • RatDog

    Charlie Rose interviewed Lee Kwan Yew and asked who the toughest Asians are. he repled that individually, the Koreans, but as a society, the Japanese are.
    Having been at Yokota Air Base for several years recently, I can’t say the JASDF looked too tough– but then again that was just a non-flying command echelon.
    Walking around downtown Tokyo, the men didn’t look too tough but that changes real quick when you see blue collar workers or bubbas from the countryside. And I suspect that the bored dedication to the giant Japanese companies by the college-educated salarymen could be focused elsewhere in a pinch.
    I know the younger generations are different and all that but you really can’t over-exaggerate the amount of social conditioning that the average Japanese receives from the moment he comes out of the womb. The societal actions and expectations are far more strict and controlled than anything we can imagine in the west. I had great fun as a westerner– which is to say an outsider seeing the Disneyland version of Japan– but I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes were I expected to behave according to Japanese norms.
    As for whether the Japanese could effectively militarize at this point– I’d have to say yes, they probably could– but it would take an inordinate amount of both civilian and military casualties to do so.

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