Assorted Musings from an Unknown Historian

Bourbon, Books, and Bemusement

Unpopular Opinions: In Defense of the Nuke

Sorry folks, I really meant to post this in time for the anniversary of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, when my wonderful, kindhearted, and sometimes misinformed friends start posting about what horrible people we are for nuking Japan.  But dinner is quietly simmering on the stove and I haven’t time to delve into my novel project, so here it is.  Removed from human empathy, here is a simple, fact based argument about why the bombings were justified.

Why did the United States drop two atomic bombs on Japan in August 1945? 

If anything was clear after Okinawa and Iwo Jima, it was that the Japanese would not give up the fight easily.  At this point their loss was inevitable; they were too short of resources, they had lost too much land to the Americans, their navy had been utterly destroyed, their people were going hungry, and the rice crop was a near failure.  However, if they were going to go down they were going to do it fighting, and they were going to be darn sure to take as many Americans with them as possible.  At Iwo Jima, 20k Japanese held off 70k Americans for six weeks.  At Okinawa, they inflicted 35% casualties upon us and their chilling Kamikaze attacks left an indelible impression.  The sheer fanatic determination of the army aside, at home they were drilling school children on how to kill soldiers with bamboo pikes.  They were also planning to use plague as a biological weapon against U.S. civilians in San Diego, California, during Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night, hoping that the plague would spread terror to the American population, and thereby dissuade America from attacking Japan. The plan was set to launch at night on September 22, 1945, but Japan surrendered five weeks earlier.[79]

The planned invasion of the Japanese home islands was estimated to be costly indeed, with casualties for Operation Olympic alone expected to  be at least as high as Okinawa, bringing the number of dead Americans to approximately 270,000 just for that island.[1]  It was assumed that Olympic and Coronet would be more difficult than the invasion of Normandy – an obvious conclusion, since the Germans were not on their home turf and therefore would not have the same urge to fight and defend as the Japanese.  Furthermore, our intelligence indicated that the Japanese were not willing to accept our offered surrender terms.  Instead they repeatedly turned to Russia for aid which they did not receive. Our troops were tired and overworked and the concept of reinforcing them with troops from Europe was not a popular one.[2]  When the Japanese responded to the Potsdam Declaration with “silent contempt” and the newspapers referred to it as a “laughable matter” we were pretty well set on the decision to bomb.[3]

Were Hiroshima and Nagasaki legitimate military targets? 

I wrote two paragraphs on this question and then deleted them in the name of simplicity, because I can answer this question in one sentence: they were as legitimate as any of the other 67 Japanese cities we roasted.[4]

How are we defining “legitimate military targets?”  If we define as legitimate anything that could have a chance of ending the war, which was the purpose of the nukes, then yes, these two cities were legitimate military targets.  If we look at the fact that we had already firebombed approximately 70 of Japan’s cities to meet this end, then Hiroshima and Nagasaki were as legitimate as any of those other 70 cities.  If we take into account that at the time, Fat Man and Little Boy were considered by many in the military (and even by the Japanese up until Bikini) to be just really big bombs, then the two aren’t necessarily very different from the other cities we roasted – we just changed our methods.  Which of our readings had the bit about how the bombs were nothing more than artillery, and whichever side had the best artillery won?  Do I think it’s cool that we went after two cities of civilians?  Nope.  But we had already done that 70 times before, so why stop with these two?

We don’t fuss over the nuclear bombings of Japan because of the number of casualties; Tokyo alone was deadlier.  It’s the shock and awe factor of the type of weapon we used, and the ways in which it changed the world.

Were there any viable alternatives that might have brought Japan to surrender?

General Arnold believed we could have bombed them into surrender.[5]   However, lets rewind and take a quick peek at the bombing campaign against the Japanese.

Air war in general and particularly bombing had a huge learning curve to get over.  The statistics you get from the accuracies of WWII “precision” bombing always make the term seem rather ironic.  As such, the initial strategic bombing of Japanese targets was not exactly effective.

The concept of bombing civilian populations had once been considered highly taboo.  However, these romantic and chivalrous notions soon faded as early as the Battle of Britain.  The bombing of civilian populations during the Second World War was actually started by accident.  Hitler had forbidden such bombings  in August of 1940.  Then one night a Luftwaffe pilot got lost while flying raids on airfields over England, mistakenly bombing an airfield on the outskirts of London when the target was actually elsewhere – at least that was Air Marshall Hugh Dowding’s interpretation of the event. [8]  Churchill didn’t care if it was an accident or not.  He retaliated, and Hitler responded in kind, and it went from there, with America eventually joining in.  Our bombing of Japanese civilian populations was made easy thanks to Pearl Harbor, atrocities in China, and American propaganda.  The somewhat whimsical fire-balloon campaign also encouraged us, in which the Japanese launched nearly ten thousand balloons loaded with incendiaries into the jet stream.  The idea was to (rather passively on their part) wreck fiery havoc on North American cities and forests; however, only three hundred of these balloons were spotted and/or shot down, and only six people died in the single instance in which one of these actually managed to start a fire.

The bombing of Japan was made possible by the creation of the B-29 Super Fortresses in 1943.[9]  Never actually employed against the Germans, Spector repeatedly maintains that our strategic bombing raids against Japan were rather ineffective and had little impact on the Japanese war machine.[10]  He lists many reasons for this – the few sorties we flew were not often aimed at the home islands (needed more air strips for one, hence Philippines, Iwo, etc), their raids on Manchuria were pointless because Japan had already been cut off from her supplies there, later raids on Japanese aircraft facilities were hopelessly inaccurate, and many of the planes went down or remained grounded due to bugs and flaws.  The success of the bombing campaign came in when we decided to employ incendiaries against Japanese cities – perfect targets for such things due to all those elegant paper walls.

The first fire-bombing raid on Tokyo was the most destructive bombing raid in history. After all, if one isn’t concerned about damaging civilians then you don’t necessarily need to hit that factory… you just need to hit *near* it and wait for the fire to spread.  “Precision” bombing was soon nixed for area attacks with fire.  From there, we burnt out the major Japanese cities, gutting on average 40% of their urban area and disrupting their industry by destroying factories, killing workers, and/or rendering them homeless. [11]

While the fire bombings were effective in slowing the Japanese war machine and inflicting casualties, misery, and privations on the population, it was not a decisive weapon.  In spite of the damage the Japanese government refused to surrender, and, as we had repeatedly discovered, Douhet was wrong and bombing civilians did not cause them to revolt.  Even though the Tokyo fire bombing killed more people than both nukes combined, it was the A-bomb, and not the earlier strategic bombing, that was decisive, shocking the Japanese into admitting defeat.

[1] Ronald Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan (New York: Vintage Books, 1985), 543.

[2] Spector, 544.

[3] John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 (New York: The Modern Library, 2003),774.


[5] Toland, 774.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Richard B Frank. Why Truman Dropped the Bomb, The Weekly Standard,  (Washington: Aug 8, 2005). Vol. 10, Iss. 44; pg. 20, 5 pgs

[8] Michael Korda, With Wings Like Eagles: The Untold Story of the Battle of Britain, (New York: Harper Perennial, 2010), 197.

[9] Ronald Spector, Eagle Against the Sun: The American War with Japan (New York: Vintage Books, 1985), 489.

[10] Spector, 491, 503.

[11] Spector, 505.

School Shootings: The Heart of the Issue

I have thus far been silent on the tragedy in Florida, for no other reason than lacking the time to sit down and write the post I have been intending.  But my Facebook feed continues to be monopolized by the ensuing debates with my friends weighing in on all sides.  The main debate of course centers around the Second Amendment and now the question of arming teachers has also been brought to the fore.

What I find interesting is that a key element of these shootings has been left out: school security.  I’ve been in education for thirteen years now and I can tell you that WE AS A SCHOOL SYSTEM ARE NOT DOING ENOUGH TO PROTECT OUR STUDENTS.

School security is a joke. The following is a summary of the security I have witnessed in the three different schools I have worked in over the past thirteen years.

Exhibit A:  Metal Detectors.

Sure, there are metal detectors and the kids have to walk through them every morning.  Theoretically bags are searched and theoretically pockets are checked.  But security at morning intake is hasty and cursory and performed not by trained professionals but instead by school staff such as teachers and counselors.  Hundreds of children need to be searched and filtered into the building as quickly as possible and therefore the searches are hasty and sloppy at best.  A weapon could easily be carefully concealed inside of a book bag and overlooked.  The bags don’t go through the metal detectors at all.  They are merely opened and glanced at.  If they have a lot of stuff in them, no one bothers to dig through; there just isn’t time for that.

But clear backpacks would certainly help mitigate this problem, right?  Sure.  Except not all schools require clear backpacks.  Two of the three schools I’ve worked in didn’t.  If the district requires then then it isn’t being enforced from campus to campus.

The metal detectors aren’t much good anyway.  Half they time they malfunction and/or their sirens are disregarded.  When this happens, students are NOT patted down.  They are told to empty their pockets.  It is my opinion that the metal detectors do more to provide the illusion of security than to ensure ACTUAL security, and at best only serve to discourage the notion of bringing a weapon in.  But a sufficiently observant and determined student could easily get around the system.

After morning intake the metal detectors are unplugged and put away.  Here is when the school is most vulnerable: anyone coming in during the school day is not subjected to any sort of search.  The doors around here are locked and you have to ring the bell and get buzzed in by the office.  But there’s no questions asked – the button is pushed and voila, you’re in.

This is precisely how Nicholas Cruz wrecked the havoc he did.  He walked in with a duffel bag and a book bag filled.  Where were the metal detectors?  Where were the security guards?  Where were the questions and searches?

Exhibit B: Security guards and district police officers

This school district has their own police force.  Each school in this district is assigned an armed district officer and also has sundry unarmed security guards and hall monitors.

Now, some of the officers that work for the district are fine examples of policemen who take their jobs seriously.  They are truly there to serve and protect our students and staff.

Others…. not so much.

Let me give you two troubling examples of the “underachievers” from one of my schools.  Officer Amy (not her real name) was so inept with her firearm that one of my friends (also a district officer) witnessed her attempting to load the bullets into her clip BACKWARDS while at the firing range.

Officer Ned (also not his real name) never bothered with his kevlar at work.  Said it was hot and uncomfortable.  There was one terrifying occasion at that school in which he was, in fact, faced with an active shooter.  Maybe I’ll post that story later.  When the gunshots went off and we went into lock down, it was not him, the officer on duty, that ran in the direction of the bullets.  No, it was an off duty officer who also worked as teacher.  He left his students with another teacher and dashed to his car, where he kept his weapon.  Without his kevlar or any other form of protection he was on scene, ready to kill or die to protect our students.  When “Ned” finally showed up, it had become apparent there was no real threat – not to our campus, at least. He laughingly admitted to the teacher that he heard the shots and was in “no hurry” to get there.

Coward.  Disgrace.

But even when a school IS blessed with an officer worthy of the badge, that’s still only one officer for campuses that are quite large.  Adding to the problem, the officers are sometimes called off campus for a variety of reasons, leaving us utterly without armed protection.  Even with hardworking security guards and hall monitors, support simply can’t be everywhere at once.  If that were the case, then teachers and administrators would never be called upon to break up fights ourselves.

The simple fact is that proper school security would make both of the aforementioned debates irrelevant.  That simple fact is that every single one of the shootings all the way back to Columbine could have been PREVENTED or at very least mitigated if the schools had proper security.  More police officers on campus.  An armed guard posted at the door at all times.  No one gets in without a thorough search.  PERIOD.  When 9/11 happened we went so bonkers over airport security that we even have to take our shoes off and endure nekked xray imagining.  But shooting after shooting has occurred in our schools and all we do is descend into the same unproductive arguments over the Second Amendment.

Guys, the solution to this is so much simpler than a Constitutional Amendment or trying to turn teachers into cops or soldiers.  We need REAL security in our schools.

THIS is what the debate needs to be centered on.  Because until we’re properly protecting our students – like we protect our airports and our city halls and even our concerts and cultural events – then no Constitutional amendment or assault weapons ban will make our kids any safer than they are now.  Bad guys will always be able to get guns.  And if they can’t get guns then they’ll make pipe bombs or god knows what else, and they will continue to get into our schools and kill our children.



Why do we keep trying to “Blackwash” the Egyptians?

So a forensic rendering of Queen Nefertiti has been unveiled, and some folks are absolutely flipping out.


That’s just a for instance. Or click here to check out this rant from The Root.

Ya’ll, I’m frankly baffled by the gaps in education I see on social media and even among my intelligent, educated friends.

Kids, the Egyptians WERE NOT BLACK. African?  Absolutely!  But NOT ALL AFRICANS are Black either.

Neither of course were the Egyptians WHITE. The answer here is C: none of the above.  Sorry, Black America and White America – neither of ya’ll get to claim these folks, if that’s what you’re after.  But I don’t really see the point in writing a big long post when the evidence can prove my point for me.

Check out what you get when you Google up “Average Egyptian Woman”


Or, better yet, check out these recent DNA tests done on Egyptian mummies.

From the Washington Post

From Science Daily

From CNN

From The Verge

To hastily summarize the above, DNA test reveal that the ancient Egyptians were essentially Middle Easterners, with almost no genetics from Sub-Saharan (Black) Africa. In fact, modern day Egyptians (like the ladies googled above) are actually MORE black than their monument-building ancestors, with the average modern Egyptian possessing  up to 20% genetic material from their Southern neighbors.

It’s just the science, ya’ll.




Anime and WWII: The Connection

Japan’s actions during and the Second World War are well known, as is the following American occupation and the ways in which the Japanese economy and government was deconstructed and rebuilt. The effects of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been studied extensively, from medical effects to economics to how Japan transformed from a militarily aggressive country into a nation of peacekeepers. But something that has not received much attention or scholarship is how experiences of the Second World War and the bombs have been lodged in the historical memory of the country, and the ways in which it has reshaped Japanese identity and psyche. Japanese society had been devastated by the war, their pride shattered by their surrender, their souls shaken by the horror of America’s new super weapon.  Even their conception of their own history was altered, divided into “before” and “after.”[1] From the ashes of their great cities, the Japanese had to learn how to redefine themselves based upon the difficult lessons they had learned. Who were they now, the vanquished, the conquered, the nuked? Who would they be once the occupying Americans left their shores and turned their new government over to them? Key to the rebirth of a new, post-war national identity is the extraordinarily popular phenomena of Japanese cartoons, better known as anime. “Japan’s experiences during the Pacific War have had a profound effect on its animated culture as well as its national identity.”[2] In a country which considers the bombs taboo, which does not teach the war in their classrooms, which refuses to acknowledge or accept responsibility for certain actions, one must look further than textbooks if one wishes to understand the true Japanese perspective on things.[3] The historical memory of the Pacific War and the response to being the only victims of nuclear weapons have been preserved and explored in the medium of Japanese comics and animation.

Cartoons, regarded in America strictly as children’s entertainment, may seem an odd topic for scholarly study. However, in Japanese culture, these cartoons are so much more than just a way to distract the kids while attempting to cook dinner or have a quiet moment to ones’ self. Anime appeals to a wide demographic in Japan, from the youngest children to grown adults. When taken as a whole, anime reflects the evolving ideals of particular Japanese age groups as they grow and mature.[4] Universities in both Japan and America have even begun to offer courses in anime for just that reason: the brightly colored cartoons reveal much about Japanese culture and society.[5] Even in America anime has a wide following, its fans ranging in age from early teens to fully grown, intelligent, educated adults. This is because, unlike American cartoons with their formulaic plots and clear, simple delineation between good and evil, anime deals with complex themes and features fully-developed characters with depth and complicated motives.

Given that the Japanese written language has evolved from pictograms, telling stories through the medium of pictures is, for them, quite natural.  Perhaps this is why comics, known as manga, make up the largest portion of the Japanese publishing industry and animated features account for half of Japanese box office revenues.[6]  Hayao Miyazaki’s animated feature Princess Mononoke is the highest grossing Japanese film of all time.[7]  It is for all these reasons that anime must be taken seriously as a window into the Japanese psyche.

World War II as Seen Through Animated Eyes

Anime developed from manga, which in turn developed from the early 19th century wood block prints of Katsushika Hokusai. Other artists added captions to his images to express themselves in ways that had been forbidden by the government.[8]  Manga and anime have carried on this tradition, their artists frequently using vivid characters and engaging story lines to convey opinions which otherwise might be considered too taboo, political, or controversial for polite conversation. In Japan, the war and especially the bombs have long remained a painful topic.  Like the way anger over the American Civil War is often passed down through generations of Southern families, or rage over slavery is passed from parent to child in African-Americans, the deep psychological wounds from the Pacific War have been passed from survivors to their descendants.[9] These scars, and the issues causing them, are frequently expressed symbolically in the popular medium of anime, leading to the repetition of particular themes across the genres.

Using the cover of science fiction or fantasy, anime often portrays the events of World War II and explores Japanese feelings about them.[10]  A study of anime over the past sixty years reveals not only these feelings, but how they have evolved.  Immediate post-war manga, from which anime developed, focused primarily on heroics and dedication, skating over the issues of loss, surrender, and the bombs. Even today anime generally avoids overt mention of these painful topics, yet as time has passed more and more animators have chosen to tackle the issues head-on. This growing boldness can be seen as indicative of Japan’s returning confidence as the nation has become reestablished as a world power.[11] Yet even today, most anime only deals with the war and the bombs in terms of symbols, leading to recurring themes that can be traced across the genre.

[1] S.T Cartledge, “Rebuilding Neo-Tokyo: The Search for Normality in the Apocalypse of Akira,”, (accessed May 5, 2014).

[2] Jack Singleton, “Japanese Animation, the Pacific War, and the Atomic Bomb,”, (accessed May 5, 2014).

[3] Shelia Fling, “Psychological Impact of Hiroshima/Nagasaki Bombings: Photograph and Film Teaching Materials,” (speech, San Marcos, Texas, June 24-27, 2003).

[4] Frank Robert Fuller, “The Atomic Bomb: Reflections in Japanese Manga and Anime,” (PhD diss., Clark Atlanta University, 2012), 16.

[5] Ibid., 70.

[6] Ibid., 7.

[7] Susan J Napier, Anime: from Akira to Howl’s Moving Castle (New York: MacMillan, 2005), 232.

[8] Fuller, 7.

[9]  “Nuclear Weapons Taboo,” TV Tropes, (accessed May 5, 2014).



Responsibility vs Victimhood

Responsibility vs Victimhood

A common thread is that of responsibility and victimhood. Animes which portray these themes are doing more than trying to moralize; they are often a commentary on Japan’s own role in the war. Rather than acknowledge the role Japan played in starting WWII, the crimes she committed, her reckless decision to involve the United States, and the hand she had in encouraging the use of nuclear weapons against her own people, all too often the government downplays their responsibility in the whole mess. For instance, as recently as February 2014, a government official denied the atrocities perpetrated at the Nanking Massacre.[1] Japan tends to focuses instead on the horrors and hardships they faced, particularly in regards to the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, in an attempt to absolve them of their own guilt by making them a nation of victims.

“It has been proven that I’m not responsible… I’m the victim,” states one of the characters in Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent. In this series about a boy on skates with a baseball bat who commits random hit-and-run assaults, Kon sharply criticizes his government’s refusal to accept responsibility for the war.[2] “Shounen Bat” does not make his attacks randomly; he comes when people have gotten themselves cornered and are desperate for a way out. As the series progresses, the two investigating detectives discover that each of the “victims” were seeking to avoid responsibility for their own poor choices, and we actually relieved to be victimized because they felt it absolved them of their guilt. There were some in Japan who saw the Hiroshima bombing as the “golden opportunity” for Japan to get out of the mess she had created and surrender.  After all, who can defend against such a terrible weapon?[3] Shounen Bat becomes a sought-after folk-hero, the answer to all one’s guilt and troubles, and by the end of the series he has grown from a small boy, to a monster, to a great black sludge that swallows and destroys Tokyo. He is only defeated when one of the characters finally accepts responsibility and apologizes. Death gives way to rebirth, and Tokyo rebuilds in two years, leaving the viewer with the hope that they’ve learned from their mistakes.[4]

While international society is becoming more and more engulfed by a culture of victimhood, Kon’s message is not a general criticism – carefully planned visuals make it clear that he is referring specifically to WWII. For instance, the opening sequence of the series features mushroom clouds, and he cleverly hid an image of a saluting Hitler within one character’s toy collection. The last line of the series reiterates his point; one of the detectives looks over the ruins of Tokyo and comments, “It’s just like right after the war ended!”[5]


“The lost children are a giant mushroom cloud in the sky,” say the lyrics which accompany this image from the opening sequence of Paranoia Agent. Kon is not being subtle here: he wants his audience to know exactly what his message is about.

Grave of the Fireflies is one of the scarce films which deal with the war directly.  Grave seeks to deflect responsibility entirely by using the story of two war orphans to evoke sympathy and demonstrate that Japan, too, suffered. Their mother killed in the firebombing of Kobe, their father off to sea and presumably dead, 14-year-old Sieta and his little sister Setsuko find themselves homeless and starving to death.[6] The issues of the war are ignored entirely and the viewer sees only how American actions hurt the most innocent of individuals. A victim’s history, Grave seems to idealize victimhood on the pretext that it gives depth to the Japanese soul.[7]

Another of the rare war features, Barefoot Gen takes a different tack. This anime, adapted from an actual memoir, shows the bombing of Hiroshima in gruesome detail, an animated vision of hell. But while it does acknowledge the suffering of the victims in a manner that could give even the most stalwart nightmares, it does not point the finger at the United States. Instead, the disgruntled father figure criticizes the Japanese government for their actions and questions their late surrender. The memoir’s writer, Keiji Nakazawa, began writing about the bomb because he felt that his people had neither confronted certain issues nor accepted their responsibility for the events which brought the bomb upon them.[8] But while the suffering in the film is intense, Barefoot Gen ends on a note of hope and rebirth as our main character realizes that his hair has begun to grow back.[9] Like his hair, and the new flower his father has plucked from the ruins of the city, Japan too will experience her own rebirth from the ashes of Hiroshima.

[1] Shannon Tiezzi, “NHK Governor: Nanjing Massacre ‘Never Happened,’” The Diplomat, (accessed February 7, 2014).

[2] Paranoia Agent, dir. by Satoshi Kon, (2004; Tokyo: Madhouse Studios, 2005), DVD.

[3] John Toland, The Rising Sun: The Decline and Fall of the Japanese Empire, 1936-1945 (New York: The Modern Library, 2003), 792.

[4] Paranoia Agent.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Grave of the Fireflies, dir. by Isao Takahata, (1988; Tokyo: Studio Ghibli, 2012), Blu-Ray.

[7] Napier, 229.

[8] Alan Gleason, “Keiji Nakazawa,” The Comics Journal 256 (2002), (accessed February 7, 2014), 1.

[9] Barefoot Gen, dir. by Mori Masaki, (1983; Tokyo: Madhouse Studios, 1992), VHS.

Technology and Science – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

Technology and Science – the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

            Many of the themes in anime are lessons or messages the older generation feels needs to be passed down to the youth of Japan. One of these lessons focuses on science and the resulting technology: the benefits, the uses, but especially the dangers of it when misused. Animes frequently warn that science and technology should never be used without thought to the consequences, or to gain power. Thus, using science to create advanced technological weapons and wage war is always presented as a very bad thing. These story lines are often, in part, criticisms aimed at America for wielding a largely untested weapon against Japan in order to force a surrender. Even today, many scholars and especially the Japanese feel that the use of the nuclear bombs was unnecessary and done more in the name of scientific experimentation rather than military necessity.

Yet science and technology were not to play only the villain in the history of Japan.  Following the war, Japan experienced a technological boom that transformed her into an economically relevant country and enabled her people to achieve one of the highest standards of living in the world.  “In World War II, Japan experienced the devastating power of technology in the… atomic bomb.  In post-war Japan, technology would become Japan’s savior,” thus facilitating Japan’s own cycle of death and rebirth.[1] Today, Japan’s top four exports are technology related – vehicles, machinery, electronics, and medical instruments.[2]  Japan also leads the world in industrial robotics.[3] This scientific/technological dichotomy is frequently played out on screen.  Anime is perhaps best known for its science fiction settings and its sleek, sexy technology, yet the gadgets for which the genre is famous often carry with them an underlying warning that these things must not be misused.

Few animes hammer this warning home as thoroughly as Akira, a film about the quest to reach the title super-weapon which destroys Old Tokyo at the beginning of the film. The super-weapon, it turns out, was a child who was given psionic abilities in a military experiment that soon spun out of control. The film takes place many years later. Tetsuo, a gentle teenager,  becomes mixed up with the military and is forcibly given the power of Akira.  At first Tetsuo hates his new abilities, then becomes so obsessed with them that he is literally consumed in a violent scene in which the city is again destroyed by a white light.[4] The film is more than just a warning against irresponsibly used science; it is a scathing commentary on the behavior of the war time government of both countries and especially on the international development and use of weapons of mass destruction. In the film, caricatures meant to represent science and the military carelessly proceed in their quest to develop Akira’s power, in spite of the fact that both know it cannot be controlled.  In the end it kills them both, and Tokyo is again destroyed.  One of the military’s experiments, a young girl named Kiyoko, says it well: “Don’t use your power in this way.  It’s wrong… because in the end you won’t be able to control it, and it will control you…(it is) way too big for us as we are now.”[5]

Akira’s writer, Otomo Katsuhiro, was the child of a “Hibakusha” or A-Bomb survivor.  He shared his parent’s trauma with the world through the medium of Akira, reconstructing the experience for the younger generation and using the film to preserve the pain and lessons from the bomb. From the irresponsible physicist who bears a striking resemblance to Albert Einstein to the volatile political/military situation, it is “Otomo’s way of calling on Japan and the international community to learn from World War Two and to be wary of pursuing power through science or technology…”[6] One of the most striking images of the film is the maddened Tetsuo, wearing a tattered red cape and sitting on a throne of his own construction, the very parody of power. His arm was torn off in an earlier battle and has been replaced with a prosthetic he fashioned using his abilities; now out of his control, it morphs and mutates, growing until it swallows him and the city.


Tetsuo the Tyrant. Note how his arm is beginning to grow out of his control. Behind him is all that is left of Akira – a collection of jarred specimens.

Another anime which warns of pursuing power through technology is Aldnoah Zero, a new series currently on the air. The discovery of an incredible alien weapon said to have god-like powers enables the colonists of Mars to build the powerful Vers Empire and to wage an aggressive war against Earth for the conquest of her resources. The use of the weapon in the first war- which, like the first nuclear bombs, is little understood – destroys the moon and nearly the Earth; the resulting armistice is shattered as the series begins. As Vers invades the Earth in the first episode, we see powerful weapons derived from the mysterious alien technology known as Aldnoah lay waste to our greatest cities in blasts that produce mushroom clouds. If the invaders continue to hammer Earth which such destructive technology, they will destroy it for everyone and their attempt at conquest will have been in vain.[7]

Unlike the grim warnings given through Akira and Aldnoah Zero, the western-style sci-fi series Trigun reminds us that technology – specifically nuclear power – can be used for good or bad. On the desert planet known as Gunsmoke, towns are able to survive thanks to the development of a special type of sentient power plant which, we learn, is powered by scientifically engineered humans who serve as the core, much as plutonium is the heart of nuclear power plants. Trigun’s message is delivered through the tale of a pair of brothers by the names of Vash the Stampede and Millions Knives. Vash and Knives were scientifically engineered to be the hearts of two of these power plants, but when their ship crashed on Gunsmoke they got loose and lived their lives as humans instead. Each carry the power intended for use within the plants in their “Angel Arms,” a power which, like nuclear energy, can wipe out a city entirely or help it to thrive. The brothers represent this duality. Vash, painfully aware of the terrible power of his Angel Arm, refuses to use it as a weapon. He does, however, use his abilities to save an entire city by repairing a plant on the verge of explosion. Knives, however, is a mass murderer who wishes to eradicate all life on the planet Gunsmoke. He uses his power to kill indiscriminately, just as Fat Man and Little Boy did in the summer of 1945.[8]


The two faces of technology: Vash the Stampede, and Millions Knives

[1] Mark Gilson, “A Brief History of Japanese Robophilia,” Leonardo 31, no. 5 (1998): 367, (accessed May 5, 2014).

[2] Daniel Workman, “Japan’s Top Ten Exports,” World’s Top Exports, (accessed August 2, 2014).

[3] Mike Hanlon, “Foxconn Gears Up to Build Industrial Robots – World Industrial Robot Populaton to Double,” Gizmag, (accessed August 2, 2014).

[4] Akira.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Angie Koo, “Japan’s Vision of the Future: An Essay on Akira,” Disasters and Rebuilding in Japan, (accessed May 5, 2014).

[7] Aldnoah Zero.

[8] Trigun.

Apocalypse, Death, and Rebirth in Anime

Apocalypse, Death, and Rebirth

By the time Japan surrendered in September of 1945, approximately three million of her citizens, be they soldier or civilian, had paid the ultimate price and lost their lives in the name of the emperor. Nearly seventy of her cities had been gutted by firebombing. Over two hundred thousand civilians had been killed in the nuclear bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Upon their surrender, the United States dissolved the Empire of Japan and forced the nation to accept a democratic form of government. During seven years of occupation, Japan struggled to rebuild her shattered infrastructure and devastated sense of pride and identity.  What rose from the ashes and rubble of war was a country entirely different from what it had been – Japan had died, and been reborn.  It was from this experience that anime has taken its most common and recurring theme – that of death and rebirth.

“The aggression displayed by the American military carpet-bombing Japan, along with the use of the atomic bomb…forever imbedded a never-ending obsession with doomsday themes in…anime.”[1] Many anime tales take place in post-apocalyptic worlds: indeed, “the atomic bomb trauma and the ruined, burned, and scorched city became… ‘the original experience and the original picture’ of (anime).”[2]   Yet all does not remain ash and dust; society has either rebuilt entirely or is in the process of rebuilding.  Take, for instance, the cult-hit Akira, set in the highly technocrized city of Neo Tokyo, rebuilt after old Tokyo is destroyed by a mysterious white light.[3]  Neon Genesis Evangelion, another popular series, also takes place in a newly rebuilt Tokyo.  The original Tokyo was flooded and destroyed by what is known as “The Second Impact,” which we soon learn was the violent arrival of giant “Angels,” aliens from another world which could be said to be representative of the American attackers. [4]  Aldnoah Zero also takes place in a reborn Tokyo, fifteen years after a war with the aggressive colonies on Mars nearly destroyed the Earth.[5]  Cowboy Bebop is another anime in which the world has been destroyed; the explosion of the Moon Gate rendered Earth unlivable, and humanity has abandoned it for life among the stars.[6]  In Trigun, a lone gunman wanders a desert wasteland amongst cities that have been destroyed by a mysterious weapon or are dying from lack of resources – much as Japan suffered as the war progressed.[7]    Another lone wanderer is the mysterious hunter D, who rides beneath broken highways, through forgotten oil fields, and past the ruined satellites at SETI in the strangely empty world of Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust.[8]



The list of animes which feature worlds experiencing death and rebirth stretches long; the few mentioned above are just a small sampling of the post-apocalyptic worlds which abound throughout the genre. In each of these animes, the old world has died, much as the last vestiges of the Japanese empire died with the falling of the atomic bombs.  And like Japan, each society has been rebuilt in a new and different form.  Anime is being used to emphasize Japan’s post-war hope that in spite of their devastation and whatever mistakes they have made, society can be rebuilt and reborn.  In the early post-war years, this was meant to give the desperate populace hope in the future.  The theme lingers today as an enduring reminder of what has been overcome.

[1] Fuller, 124.

[2] Jean Marie Bouissou, “Manga Goes Global,” in Proceedings of the Global Meaning of Japan Conference, Sheffield, England, 19-22 March 1998 (Paris, Centre for International Studies and Research, 1998), 22.

[3] Akira, dir. by Ohtomo Katsuhiro, (1988; Bandai Co., LTD., 2009 DVD).

[4] Neon Genesis Evangelion, dir. by Hideaki Anno (TV Tokyo, 1995-1996; Gainax, 2002 DVD).

[5] Aldnoah Zero, dir. by Ei Aoki, (ABC, 2014).

[6] Cowboy Bebop, dir. by Keiko Nobumoto, (TV Tokyo,1997-1998; Sunrise Studios, 2000 DVD).

[7] Trigun, dir. by Yasuhiro Nightow, (TV Tokyo,1998; Madhouse Studios, 2010 DVD).

[8] Vampire Hunter D: Bloodlust, dir. by Yoshiaki Kawajiri (2000; Madhouse Studios, 2002 DVD).


Clipped from some newspaper or magazine in July of 1943 and sent from the Navajo Ordnance Depot  to his own mother, I could think of no better day to share these sentimental war-time thoughts from Granddaddy Bill on the singular beauty that is a mother.

It took a sailor to find a new use for a worn out word which gives it fresh sparkle and a deeper meaning than ever before.  I thought the word glamour was through – ready to die from overwork – until I heard one of the boys at a U.S.O canteen express his approval of a solidly built matron with a good humoured smile.

“She makes me homesick but it doesn’t hurt,” he said – “she had mother glamour.”

And so she did.  You could be sure just by looking at her, that the cookie jar at home was always filled and that there were no restrictions on lifting the lid.  You felt certain that her nerves were strong enough to stand beating drums and blaring saxophones and a goodly measure of back slapping – that her rugs had often felt the contact of scuffing young feet.  You could picture her in generously proportioned, spic-and-span gingham aprons, turning innumerable pancakes on her soapstone griddle.  You could imagine her listening with flattering and unforced interest to enthusiastic youthful confidences.

Perhaps, like me, you may never before have heard the phrase, “motherglamour,” but you know exactly what that boy meant.  Mother glamour is compounded of family games and measles, of birthday cakes and Thanksgiving turkeys, of Christmas tree candles and Easter egg hunts – of homemade Halloween costumes and pack numbers sewn on cub-scout sleeves.  It is the fragrance of ginger and cinnamon, of chocolate and bubbling molasses; it is the sound of corn popping, of puppies barking, of flames snapping in a friendly fireplace; it is the color of snowy marshmallows and golden pumpkin pies.  Mother glamour – it’s synonym is home – is what soldiers dream about, all around the world.

                                                                                                                                                  –Elsa Connors


Lincoln and JFK: Coincidences and Contrivances

Everybody loves good spooky ghost stories and crazy coincidences, right?  A good mystery gives us something to talk about besides work, or the kids, or what we need to fix on the house.  It gives us a break for the mundanity of our daily grind; it allows us to escape from the nine-to-five.  It’s why when I want to relax, I’ll probably grab Poe or King instead of Keegan (forgive me, history gods).

In that vein, here is one of those wild tales of crazy coincidence.

I reckon about everyone has seen this, or some version of it, floating around on the web by now.  It’s been around for YEARS.

And it makes me absolutely friggin’ NUTS.  Not just as a historian but also as a teacher.



Allow me to extrapolate below.

Actual Coincidences

First, let’s take a look at the actual coincidences that have been blown way out of proportion.

Abraham Lincoln was elected to Congress in 1846.
John F. Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1946.

Abraham Lincoln was elected President in 1860.
John F. Kennedy was elected President in 1960.

Alright, this is true.  But given that elections happen every four years, it’s inevitable that someone along the way, numerically even numbers for (whatever) are going to line up.

There’s far more non-coincidences in their significant years: birth (1809 and 1917), death (April 1865 v November 1963), Lincoln was 56 when he died and Kennedy 46.

Kennedy spent his time between ’45 and ’60 enjoying an unbroken string of political successes while Lincoln was elected once, served just two years, and lost every other bid he made until 1860.  What about the fact that Lincoln was the first Republican, whilst JFK was a Democrat?  Lincoln was a lawyer, Kennedy a war hero.  Lincoln was killed in his second term, and Kennedy in his first.  Aside from numbers, there really aren’t too many similarities between their early political careers.

Both names contain seven letters

Big whoop.  You want seven?  Add up my birthday – January 4th, 1982.  1+4+2=7.  I was born in room no. 7 at 7am after 7 hours of labor and I weighed just 7 pounds (all true).  7 is the perfect number, the number for GOD.  It’s all an astronomical signpost meaning I’m ordained to do something great for the Lord.

Pity I’m agnostic.

My significant other has seven letters in their name (no, you don’t get their name per their request). We must fated to be together.

Give me a name and a number, and I can make it work. So can you.

Both were shot in the head.

REALLY?  If you were going to KILL someone, WHERE ELSE WOULD YOU SHOOT THEM?

Now, granted, the idiots that assassinated McKinley (1901)  and Garfield (1881) weren’t as clever as Booth or Oswald, and shot them in stupid random places (twenty years apart – coincidence?).  Garfield was shot in the back and died nearly three months later of an infection from the bullet, whereas McKinley was gut shot and took a whole week to die.  Shall we make a big coincidence of how stupid assassins still managed to kill their marks through ineptitude and poor aim?

How about the other two times which some pissed-off Southerner tried to blow Lincoln away?  Why do those get ignored?  Or the original assassination attempt upon JKF in 1960?

Both wives lost their children while living in the White House.

True, and tragic.

But what about Coolidge, Jefferson, and Adams?

Andrew Johnson, who succeeded Lincoln, was born in 1808.
Lyndon Johnson, who succeeded Kennedy, was born in 1908.

Also true.  But what about Eldbridge Gerry (1744) and Garrett Hobart (1844)?  What about John C. Calhoun (1782) and Martin van Buren (1782)?  LBJ (1908) and Nelson Rockefeller (1908)?  William Wheeler (1819) or Thomas Hendricks (also 1819)?  Teddy Roosevelt died in 1919, surely we should toss that in there for good measure.

If I really wanted to be ornery, I’d toss in the VP death dates.  Of course, nothing will ever impress me as much as Jefferson and Adams both dying on July 4th, 1826, fifty years TO THE DAY that they signed the Declaration of Independence.  Ya’ll want real, astounding coincidence?  THERE YOU GO.

Booth and Oswald were assassinated before their trials.

Eh.  Oswald was assassinated by Jack Ruby (probably on orders from the Dallas mob). He was in custody and cuffed and the whole nine yards.  Booth, on the other hand, died in a barn fire/shoot-out because he refused to surrender to the officers who had been pursuing him.  I may be alone on this, but I don’t consider getting killed while resisting arrest “assassination.”

Both were assassinated by Southerners

Really stretching it, here. First off, you have a fifty-fifty chance of being shot by a Southerner as opposed to a Northerner.  The guy who shot Garfield was from Illinois and McKinley’s assassin was from Michigan.   So… the two presidents we want to obsess over were shot by Southerners… and the two no one gives a damn about were shot by Yankees.  WOW.  Booth was from Maryland, which remained in the Union, thereby making him in the eyes of many a true Southerner not actually one of us, whereas Oswald lived a lot of places – New Orleans, Dallas, New York, and even Russia, not including the traveling he did in the Marine Corps.  Of the two, only Booth was motivated by sectional concerns – unless Oswald’s possible allegiance to the Soviet Union counts.

Both were succeeded by Southerners.

Ok, granted… but both presidents were from Northern(ish) states and needed Southerners to bring in votes.  Anyhow, I’m not entirely sure either of the VPs would have readily identified themselves as Southern.  Andrew Johnson disagreed with the secession of his state and spent his presidency doing a strange combination of punishing/protecting the South.  LBJ, meanwhile, was a Texan.  And Texas is it’s own entity entirely.

Both successors were named Johnson.

Ok let’s let just look at that name – “Johnson” literally son-of-John.  John, a stupidly common name.  Let’s see how many I have to teach between 1492 and 1877:

John Smith, John Adams, John Quincy Adams, John Rolfe, John White, John Deere, John Locke, JOHN WILKES BOOTH… that’s what I can think of after three tall glasses of Kentucky bourbon.

John is a stupidly common name in this country.  To illustrate this point, take a look at this graph.

For those of you not clicking on the link, in 1885 90,ooo boys in a million were named John.  Show me a male child from back then and tell me his name is John and forgive me if I’m not surprised.  Along the same lines, the surname “Johnson” literally means “son of John.”  According to this chart, it is the second most common surname in the US.  They’re EVERYWHERE.  I’ll bet you know a Johnson.  I know several, all unrelated.  I even have some in my family.  It’s not a particularly amazing coincidence.  It’s like being amazed that *YOU* own a Ford and *I* own a Ford. It’s not amazing – it’s a question of numbers and frequency.

Both Presidents were shot on a Friday.

C’mon, that’s a 1-in-7 chance.  McKinley was also assassinated on a Friday, but he gets no love.  Garfield, however, was shot on a Saturday.  So we can draw the conclusion that successful assassins prefer to strike on the weekends?

Speaking of, lets take a look at………………………………………………….

Failed Assassinations and Coincidences


Mulder: Be honest, Scully. Doesn’t that propane tank bear more than just a slight resemblance to a fat little white Nazi stormtrooper?

Scully: Mulder, the human mind naturally seeks meaningful patterns and configurations in things that don’t inherently have any. Given the suggestion of a particular image, you can’t help but see that shape somewhere. If that tank weren’t there you’d see it in a, in a rock or in a tree…

Mulder: Would you answer my question?

Scully: [grudgingly] Yes, it looks like a fat little white Nazi storm trooper, but that only proves my point!

What about the numerous failed assassination attempts on US presidents?  Let’s take a look at those.  I’m only pointing out the very obvious ones in my laziness and frustration (I’m not getting a grade or a paycheck for this rant), but I’m sure anyone could find more “amazing coincidences” just in the numbers, let alone the facts.  I’ll bet someone who is sufficiently determined could even figure out how some or all of these blokes fit into the Fibonacci sequence.  Bottom line: if ye seek, ye shall find.

  • Andrew Jackson: 1835
  • Abraham Lincoln: 1861, 1864
  • William Howard Taft: 1909
  • Theodore Roosevelt: 1912
  • Herbert Hoover: 1928
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt: 1933, 1943 (Ten years apart?  COINCIDENCE)
  • Harry S. Truman: 1947. 1950
  • John F. Kennedy: 1960 (Ten years after someone tried to get Truman?)
  • Gerald Ford: 1975, 1975 (Yes, people tried and failed to kill this man two times in the same month, both times in California and both times by women.  See, THAT’S interesting.)
  • Jimmy Carter: 1979
  • Ronald Reagan: 1981
  • George H.W. Bush: 1993
  • Bill Clinton: 1994, 1994, 1994, 1996.  Of all attempts on this list, Bill has the dubious distinction of having the MOST.  Why is he then remembered as being so bloody popular?  Incidentally, one of these fools shot at him TWENTY NINE times and missed.  Surely there is some esoteric magical reason for that (actually Bill was inside and all this jackass managed to do was shoot a couple of tourists).  Or how about the psycho who prognosticated 9-11 by attempting to kill him with a Cessna flown into the White House lawn?
  • George W. Bush: 2001, 2005
  • Barack Obama: 2009, 2011, 2013
  • Donald Trump (ALREADY?  Dang, ya’ll.  Well, early birds and worms and all…)


Following now are bits of this silly legend that just aren’t true.

Both names are comprised of fifteen letters

John Fitzgerald Kennedy =21

Abraham Lincoln = 14

Look, I failed math SEVERAL times…. why I majored in history.  But even I can figure out this is just made-up.

Lincoln’s secretary, Kennedy, warned him not to go to Ford’s Theatre.
Kennedy’s secretary, Lincoln, warned him not to go to Dallas.

Ok, once again we’re just makin’ shit up.  Kennedy did have a secretary named Evelyn Lincoln, but if you can find the factual evidence that he warned him to stay out of Dallas, please email me because no one else seems to have that and you could possibly make my career.

Lincoln did not have a secretary named Kennedy.  His secretaries were named John G. Nicolay and John Hay.

John Wilkes Booth was born in 1839.
Lee Harvey Oswald was born in 1939.

REALLY?  John Wilkes Booth: Born May 10th, 1838.  Whoever wrote 1839 is GROUNDED.

Both assassins were known by their three names.

Pushing it.  Oswald went by Lee, not “Lee Harvey” and Booth was most often billed as “J. Wilkes Booth:”


Booth ran from the theater and was caught in a warehouse.
Oswald ran from a warehouse and was caught in a theater.

No.  This is twisting facts to suit your thesis.  Oswald was, in fact, in a textbook warehouse and shot Kennedy on a street.


He was later caught in this movie theater (which is actually still open, serves nice cocktails, and shows cool underground flicks):


Booth, meanwhile, shot Kennedy in a live theater and was later cornered in a BARN.

Both were particularly concerned with civil rights.

OMG don’t get me started on Lincoln and this one.  The idea that Lincoln was a proponent of civil rights and equality is one of the biggest lies ever sold to American society.  But don’t take my word for it; check out some of these quotes from an 1858 campaign speech:

I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the black and white races — that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making VOTERS or jurors of negroes, NOR OF QUALIFYING THEM HOLD OFFICE, nor to intermarry with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which I believe will forever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together there must be the position of superior and inferior, and I as much as any of her man am in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race…

Ohhhhhhhhhh there is more, and it is horrific.  But moving on – does this sound like a man particularly concerned with Civil Rights?  If you’re still not convinced, let’s take a peek at the famous Emanicipation Proclamation:

Whereas, on the twenty-second day of September, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-two, a proclamation was issued by the President of the United States, containing, among other things, the following, to wit:

“That on the first day of January, in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and sixty-three, all persons held as slaves within any State or designated part of a State, the people whereof shall then be in rebellion against the United States, shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free…

So.  Tell me.  He issues this on September 22nd, 1862, declaring that AS OF January 1st, 1863, all slaves held within rebellious states would be free.  If he issues it in September, but it doesn’t take effect until January… what does that do?

It gives the South several months warning of what will happen in January if they’re still giving Mr. Lincoln grief.  Hey!  It’s September!  If ya’ll are still acting up in January, YOU LOSE YOUR SLAVES!

The implication being that whichever slave states lay down their arms BEFORE January 1863 CAN KEEP THEIR SLAVES.  Indeed, when the Emancipation Proclamation took effect in January 1863, the slaves in the neutral border states of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, Delaware, and parts of Tennessee, West Virginia, and New Orleans were not affected.  This totaled approximately half-a-million enslaved individuals NOT freed by Lincoln’s lauded order.  Why? Because these state were either not actively rebelling or had already been subdued.

In short, the Emancipation Proclamation was not a great act for Civil Rights by a man who gave a damn – – – it was an attempt to win a war, a carrot designed to bring the South quietly back to the arms of the Union.  To hammer this particular point home, let me again use “Honest Abe’s” own words:

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or destroy slavery.  If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that.  What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because it helps save the Union…

At this point I could go hunt down the finer points of Kennedy’s Civil Rights actions to see how they line up with the myth in this video, but I feel my point has already been proven by debunking Lincoln, and as this post has already gone on longer than I intended it to we shall move on.

A month before Lincoln was assassinated he was in Monroe, Maryland.
A month before Kennedy was assassinated he was in Marilyn Monroe.

Alright, aside from the fact that this last tidbit is tacky and unbecoming of anything trying to pass itself off as fact, how about the actual fact that Monroe died long before Kennedy was assassinated?  Monroe died August 5th, 1962.  Kennedy was assassinated November 11th, 1963.


Every time someone re-posts this Kennedy-Lincoln nonsense, a historian somewhere suffers an aneurysm and dies.





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