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World Wars

 

 

As a result of the Spanish-American war the US successfully took the Philippines, despite some spirited Spanish defence.  But local leaders in the Philippines sought independence. 

In their view one Colonial Power had been replaced with another, by another name.  The patriots opposed US occupation and a long drawn out, bloody war resulted, during which some six thousand US troops were killed and an estimated quarter of a million Filipinos died.  Many US liberals, like Mark Twain, were appalled. 

During the US campaign to take control of the Philippines, Pearl Harbour and Camp McKinley became a stopover for troops en-route.

Yet it was not until the Russo-Japanese War (1904-5), when the growing naval power of Japan became evident, that serious military development took place. This foreign investment at last delivered some of the economic benefits longed-for by the white business community. 

Large scale military investment began in 1908 and the first large US warship of a new Pacific Fleet entered the newly developed Pearl Harbour Naval Base in 1911.

 


Japan's growing empire - Pearl Harbour Museum

 

At the beginning of the First World War the US proclaimed neutrality.  So nine German naval vessels sought sanctuary from the Japanese Navy. 

Today it sounds odd that German warships fled the Japanese.  But nine years earlier, in 1905, Japan had virtually annihilated the Russian Pacific Fleet: sinking 34 ships, including seven battleships.  4,380 Russians died and 5,917 were taken prisoner. 117 Japanese were killed.

During the First World War the Japanese were on Britain's side. So when the US eventually entered the war in support of these allies they captured nine German ships the first day.  Nevertheless, it was becoming obvious that: 'the enemy of my enemy is my friend', and that Japanese and US territorial interests, particularly over the Philippines, would eventually clash.

The US had constructed among the world's most elaborate fortifications around Manilla Harbour and Subic Bay in the Philippines. Now the whole island of Oahu was fortified to become virtually impregnable to Japanese attack by sea.  Several forts protected possible Japanese approaches with huge 14 inch 'disappearing guns' that could destroy a ship over the horizon, taking advantage of the island's high lookouts as well as aircraft for targeting. 

Should a Japanese battleship somehow get within their visual range the big guns were protected by impregnable concrete bunkers and only appeared (popped-up) briefly to fire.  Good quality roads provided quick military access to possible landing points for tanks and field guns.  Soon primitive radar would scan the skies overhead. 

From this impregnable harbour the world's most advanced battleships could steam out to meet the Japanese should they be foolish enough to engage with the United States of America.  These great ships were anchored line astern and two abreast to protect the inner row in the event that they were attacked by air.  This was most unlikely in any case as the harbour was too shallow for a conventional submarine and too shallow for aircraft launched torpedoes.  Deck armour on the battleships was believed to be too thick for bombs to penetrate.  Land and carrier based fighter aircraft assured air superiority.

The US and Japan were not the only powers around the Pacific.  The British had a similarly 'impregnable' naval base in Singapore and Sydney Harbour too was protected by disappearing guns.  Even Darwin Harbour in Australia's far north was protected by massive shore based guns and fighter aircraft.  To the north of Australia the Dutch had the Surabaya Naval base in Java with similar defences and an allied fleet.

In each location, every-day military thinking was dominated by their pride and confidence in this technology.  Troops practiced and re-practiced using it, but also frolicked in the sun, confident in their defences and assured that security lay in eternal vigilance. No one appreciated how vulnerable they were to innovative military tactics and superior aircraft technology.

 

 

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Travel

Egypt, Syria and Jordan

 

 

 

In October 2010 we travelled to three countries in the Middle East: Egypt; Syria and Jordan. While in Egypt we took a Nile cruise, effectively an organised tour package complete with guide, but otherwise we travelled independently: by cab; rental car (in Jordan); bus; train and plane.

On the way there we had stopovers in London and Budapest to visit friends.

The impact on me was to reassert the depth, complexity and colour of this seminal part of our history and civilisation. In particular this is the cauldron in which Judaism, Christianity and Islam were created, together with much of our science, language and mathematics.

Read more: Egypt, Syria and Jordan

Fiction, Recollections & News

A Womens' view

 

Introduction

 

The following article presents a report by Jordan Baker, as part of her history assignment when she was in year 10 at North Sydney Girls’ High School.   For this assignment she interviewed her mother, grandmother and great-grandmother about their lives as girls; and the changes they had experienced; particularly in respect of the freedoms they were allowed.

Read more: A Womens' view

Opinions and Philosophy

Syria - again

 

A fortnight ago I was moved to suggest that it was possible that the alleged gas attack in Syria might not be the work of the Syrian Army.  I withdrew the posting when more convincing evidence of Army involvement became available.

Because of our visit to Syria took place just before the most recent troubles began, I have been, perhaps, more interested than most.  I wanted to know why Syria is automatically assumed to be guilty when there are some very nasty groups on the other side?

We are fed so much doctored information, spin, that it is hard to get the facts even when we are directly involved.

So to claim that I know what is actually going on in Syria is fanciful.  Assad vehemently denies responsibility; the Russians are doubtful; and the inspectors have not yet reported.  But the certainty, and aggressive language, of the Western leaders accusing Syria of this latest incident seem extraordinary - do they know something that they are not revealing publicly?

As I have explained elsewhere I have fond memories of Damascus and of Syria in general.  Damascus was the most pleasant and interesting of the cities we stayed in; lacking the extremes of poverty and wealth we saw in Cairo (and in Egypt in general) or the more western normality of Amman in Jordan. 

Read more: Syria - again

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