Friday, December 23, 2016

Military History Always Cheers Me Up

We live in what that famous Chinese proverb called, “interesting times.” For “interesting,” read panic-inducing; life-threateningly dangerous; revolutionary; or just bloody depressing. We need strategies to deal with the emotional impact. Reading military history always works for me.

Not the genre of military history that concentrates on the staff officers; the big picture; the order of battle; or the dates on which objectives were taken. You’ve got to find materials that dig deeper and include the nuts and bolts details of the lives of the guys who were in immediate danger of being shot, stabbed or blown-up. The mere mention of “infantry assault” doesn’t really convey much meaning. What was the emotional impact of infantry assault on the participating individuals, on either the giving or the receiving end?

Not just the infantry, either. Here’s an interesting fact about the six-month-long battle for Guadalcanal: total infantry deaths (combined U.S. Marines and U.S. Army), 1,700; total U.S. Navy deaths at sea, 5,000. Did I say interesting? More like shocking.

There were seven naval battles associated with the Guadalcanal campaign. Two of them were fleet/carrier actions; five were up close and personal gunfights that took place at night between groups of cruisers and destroyers. I just read a great book about those naval actions, “Neptune’s Inferno,” by James Hornfischer. Highly recommended.

It’s always the little tidbits that catch my eye, and stick in my memory. In the diary of one Japanese officer there was a little chart to show the life expectancy of a Japanese soldier that was slowly dying of hunger. Those poor guys were woefully undersupplied. Here’s the count-down:

Can still stand? Thirty days to live;

Can still sit up? Three weeks to live;

Cannot sit up anymore? One week to live;

Urinating while lying down? Three days to live;

No longer able to speak? Two days to live;

Has stopped blinking? Tomorrow is it, pal.

By December, 1942 there were 30,000 Japanese troops on Guadalcanal, and the supply situation was critical. Of the 30,000, there were about 4,000 that could be considered combat-effective. By the time of the evacuation in late January, 1943, there were only 10,500 to be evacuated from the island.

So that, ladies and gentlemen, is what happens when push comes overpoweringly to shove. Take heart! Our little dramas with our Ayn Randian overlords and our new, exciting president are but a pale echo of the real problems that can overtake us in life. When I read about these historically factual adventures I feel a certain blissful calm come over me. Maybe, I think, things are not so bad after all.

Incidentally, those sailors who died did so in more sudden ways that ranged from spectacular to horrific. They were, by turns, blown up, burned up, impaled by bits of their own ships, drowned, and eaten by sharks.

So look for the good! Hey honey! What’s for dinner! 

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