The Garret Tree
Saturday, May 14, 2005
  Ah Pentagon, what's in a name (Operation Matador)

The Pentagon, or Centcom, or someone named the current U.S. anti-insurgency offensive on the border between Iraq and Syria "Operation Matador."

The BBC says:
The US has said its forces have cleared an area in north-west Iraq of insurgents following a week-long operation codenamed Matador.

The Americans said they had killed more than 125 rebels, for the loss of nine of their own men.
And the BBC goes on to quote a U.S. spokesman as saying:

"During Operation Matador, marines, sailors and soldiers neutralised this sanctuary, killing more than 125 insurgents, wounding many others, and detaining 39 insurgents of intelligence value," the US military said in a statement.

So what's in a name, Oh Pentagon? There was, once, another "Operation Matador" and that was Britain's plan in late 1941 for a pre-emptive strike from Malaya into Thailand to stop a Japanese landing. British intelligence correctly predicted that the main Japanese forces under the command of Lt. Gen. Yamashita Tomoyuki would land at the Thai ports of Singora and Patani and then begin a lightning offensive down the highways into Malaya.

If Britain had moved troops into Thailand and taken the ports, it might have stalled the Japanese attempt to take Southeast Asia.

But, of course, it never happened. Neither London nor Malaya Command could make up their minds what to do as the Japanese threat increased. The Foreign Office didn't want to do anything that could trigger a war with Japan or offend Thailand.

The dithering over Matador meant that the front line British troops had conflicting objectives, either defending the Malayan border or an offensive into Thailand. In early December, 1941, London finally gave the commander-in-chief, Air Marshal Sir Robert Brooke-Popham orders that he could decide to launch Matador.

Brooke-Popham's decision day was December 7, 1941 (Malaya time). The British had recieved the first indications of the Japanese invasion fleet in the Gulf of Thailand at 2 p.m. December 6, 1941 (Malaya time). If Brooke Popham ordered Matador, it would take 24 hours for the British troops to reach the Thai ports. He dithered and consulted, then at 11 p.m. on December 7, 1941, Brooke-Popham postponed Matador, told the front line troops, the III Indian Corps, to be in defensive positions but be ready to execute Matador.

At that moment off Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the USS Ward was searching for a possible Japanese submarine.

By then it was too late.

The first Japanese troops were spotted off Kota Bahru, Malaya, the third landing site at 11:45 p.m. December 7, 1941. It was 5:45 a.m. December 7, 1941, Hawaii time and the first two Japanese reconnaissance aircraft were taking off from the Japanese carriers to scout Pearl Harbor.

The first Japanese troops landed at Singora at 2 a.m. December 8, 1941, 7 a.m. in Oahu, the same moment that the U.S. Army radar truck at at Opana picked up the incoming Japanese attack force--and the men manning the radar were told it was a scheduled flight of B-17s.

Historians who study the Second World War in Southeast Asia have long debated what would have happened if Britain had authorized Matador and met the Japanese invasion force on the beaches and harbours of those two Thai cities.

So far the media reports show that the U.S. says their Matador is a success. It may be "mission accomplished" or it may not be.

But once again you have to wonder how the Pentagon choses the names for operations. After all in an alternate universe, if there had been a 1941 Operation Matador, what might have happened at Pearl Harbor?

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Friday, May 13, 2005
  Japanese Diet renames holiday to honour Hirohito

The Japundit blog is reporting that the Japanese Diet is renaming the April 29 holiday from Green Day back to its original name "Showa"
to honour Emperor Hirohito.

"Showa" was quite often the only holiday, yasume, the Japanese granted the Far East Prisoners of War.

Japan renames holiday to honour World War II Emperor

Japanudit notes that the bill says the new holiday is a day during which “thoughts should be given to the future of the nation, while reflecting on the period of Showa during which turbulent days were experienced and reconstruction (from the wreckage of war) achieved.”

and the blog adds:

Despite what people in other countries think, there are many Japanese who hold Hirohito responsible for the actions of Japan during World War II, and feel that he should have apologized not only to the countries that Japan invaded then, but to the Japanese people as well for putting them through the suffering that they also had to endure in his name.

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Sunday, May 01, 2005
  Sonkrai Update and war crimes notes

Sonkrai Update

Spent a tough couple of weeks rewriting and rewriting and rewriting the chapter about the march upcountry from Ban Pong (just outside Bangkok) to the work camps in the jungles of the Kwai. The problem was trying to keep this part of the story as accurate as possible, based on the available records. You have seven thousand men loaded into 13 trains in 13 successive days in Singapore, travel at various speeds with various stops to Ban Pong and then they begin marching or slogging or dragging their way for many more days into deeper and deeper jungle. How do you keep track of all this? In a prisoner memoir, it doesn't matter, it's one man's experience. In an academic work it's the overall picture that matters.

In a narrative, I have to have the key characters in their right places, on the right days. The problem was that some records are highly accurate and specific (a couple of officers commanding some groups kept a detailed timeline) while others gave only summaries.

As I mentioned on my research blog, I used two bits of software to try to and keep it all on track, a big timeline in an Open Office spreadsheet, and a more detailed timeline in an thought processor/outliner called Brainstorm.

Link to Software and the difficult chapter

So took the weekend off as best I could. Mind was zonked after that one. Back to work to rewriting the cholera chapter on Monday.

War crimes notes

Some in the American media and legal community have woken up and realized that there was a 1929 Geneva Convention --the one that prisoners of war had to deal with the Second World War, before the 1949 Geneva Convention which is supposed to be in effect at the moment.

I found the link on the Berkeley War Crimes Center website, an excellent resource by the way, which links to a series of stories from the Wall Street Journal by reporter Jess Bravin. The story that is publicly linked is Will Old Rulings Play a Role in Terror Cases? pointing out correctly that there were lots of cases of prisoners being kept in inhuman conditions and denied the protection of the Geneva Convention in the war against Japan, including a great number of Americans.

The other stories in Bravin's series are

Military Commissions Then and Now

What War Captives Faced in Japanese Prison Camps

Note: Not sure how long these links will remain active.

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I write in a renovated garret in my house in a part of Toronto, Canada, called "The Pocket." The blog is named for a tree can be seen outside the window of my garret.

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Name: Robin Rowland
Location: Toronto, Canada

I'm a Toronto-based writer, photographer, web producer, television producer, journalist and teacher. I'm author of five books, the latest A River Kwai Story: The Sonkrai Tribunal. The Garret tree is my blog on the writing life including my progress on my next book (which will be announced here some time in the coming months) My second blog, the Wampo, Nieke and Sonkrai follows the slow progress of my freelanced model railway based on my research on the Burma Thailand Railway (which is why it isn't updated that often) The Creative Guide to Research, based on my book published in 2000 is basically an archive of news, information and hints for both the online and the shoe-leather" researcher. (Google has taken over everything but there are still good hints there)

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