Japan Meets the U.S. Navy – Round 1


On July 8, 1853, a group of four American warships under the command of Commodore Matthew Perry (brother of the War of 1812 hero Oliver H. Perry), steamed into Edo (Tokyo) Harbor.  Perry had a letter signed by President Millard Fillmore demanding that Japan open up channels of trade (including access to “coaling stations” for our steamships).  Perry spent days at anchor firing cannons and parading hundreds of Marines doing drills on shore. He was finally allowed to the make a presentation to the ruling Shogunate.  He presented the letter and promised he would return shortly for a reply.  Perry returned on February 13, 1854 in a task force of 10 warships and 1600 men.  After weeks of negotiations, Perry and the Japanese Shogunate signed the Treaty of Kanagawa, in which all American demands were agreed-to.  Before leaving Japanese waters, Perry went to the Ryukyu Islands (not yet part of Japan) and got his “compact between the United States and the Ryukyu Kingdom” signed on July 11, 1854.

Eighty eight years before Pearl Harbor.

We’ll continue to look at some of the highlights of U.S. / Japan interactions leading up to the Day that will live on in Infamy.  Fascinating stuff – as the events of just-before WWI, just-after WWI and the years leading up the WWII are all part of the fabric of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Japan attacks Pearl Harbor – Why?


As I have said before, history is a l-o-n-g,  s-l-o-w  b-u-r-n.  I’m quite certain that when news broke out on that Sunday morning in December, most Americans were shocked and stunned.  The news was presented as “a sneak attack,” an “unprovoked act” and the like.  Well, that is certainly one way to look at it.  Like the attacks of 9-11, it was a singularly horrible and shocking event.  But whether we like it or not, as with all “acts of history,” there is context to be reckoned with  –  the great fabric of history is woven from many, many threads.  Some of the threads are short and colorful, most are long strands, covering the back of the whole tapestry.  Bland strings, holding the whole thing together.

The lead-ups to WWII are most of the threads of the WWI tapestry (the Great War to End all Wars), with a few colorful bits thrown in.  In order to “understand” the Second World War, we must look at the 1920’s and 1930’s in America.  Why America?  Because that’s where we live.  America played a part in both Wars, and there is a rich historical tapestry to look at.  The 20’s and 30’s were fascinating!  The Roarin’ 20’s. Prohibition. Isolationism. A decade long drought. The global stock market crash.  Changes in Presidents and policies.  These are just a few of the threads that connect the World Wars.  Over the next several posts, we’ll take a peek at a few of these things.

Having said that, I’m going to immediately ignore it all and start the conversation with an event that happened in 1898 in Cuba.  During the night of February 15, 1898, the brand-new battleship, USS Maine, anchored in the Havana Harbor, suddenly blew up and sank, taking 3/4’s of her crew down to the bottom with her.

Wreckage of USS Maine, 1898 (wikipedia) Does this remind you of Pearl Harbor?

Introducing a concept:  “yellow journalism”


Yellow journalism was a style of newspaper reporting that emphasized sensationalism over facts. During its heyday in the late 19th century it was one of many factors that helped push the United States and Spain into war in Cuba and the Philippines, leading to the acquisition of overseas territory by the United States.

The “yellow press,” lead by saber-rattlers William Hearst (San Francisco) and Joseph Pulitzer (New York) (yes, THAT Pulitzer  –  ironic, no?) pushed that Spain was responsible for detonating a mine under the ship.  They lead campaigns (Remember the Maine, and such) to egg us on into a war with Spain. There never was direct evidence of a bomb; studies over time have concluded it was most likely gas from the coal burners that ignited and touched off the armaments stored in the ship.  The upshot is, under the guise of supporting Cuban Independence and the “Spanish sinking of the Maine,” we declared War on Spain less than a month later (April 25, 1898). Four months later, Spain and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Paris, which granted Independence to Cuba, and awarded Guam and Puerto Rico to the U.S.  Spain agreed to sell us the Philippines for $20 million . . Some threads in the tapestry.

(Ahem . . .) history is FULL of ironies.  Fifty years later, how did we feel about Castro and Guevara and their quest for Cuban Independence???

More peeks at the WHY of Pearl Harbor to come.



South China Sea


After the devastating Typhoon Cobra shredded the Task Force in late December, the ships hunkered down in Ulithi.  On December 30, the ships left Ulithi to dust up Formosa again.  Their immediate path led them to enter the South China Sea north of the Philippines.  The remains of the Japanese Fleet were reported to be at rest near CamRahn Bay.  Halsey, ever-itching for a ship-to-ship battle against the enemy, jumped at the chance.  They had enough time, since the invasion forces for Iwo Jima were en route, but still weeks away from reaching the Bonin Islands.

January 12, 1945:   This morning we are probably on our largest operation so far.  We have been heading north through the China Seas for a raid on a base the Jap fleet uses in French Indo China.  We may bombard Saigon Bay.  We will probably be in sight of land, and get a glimpse of the Asiatic continent, completing the trip across the Pacific.  It is still dark and we may not have been discovered.

At 0900 hours we were within range of eight inch gunfire.  We formed a surface task force of battleships and cruisers, the carriers stayed out of range.  The carriers launched a big strike.  We were disappointed, because the planes reported the Jap fleet was not in CamRahn Bay.  They continued to launch strikes all day.  Later on in the day we left 38.2 and returned to our own task force.  We also have with us two war correspondents, we picked up two days ago. Tomorrow we expect to fuel, one hundred and fifty miles closer than we did the day before.  During the night we had several sub contacts and destroyers were dropping depth charges.   Frank Studenski

carrier planes bomb Hong Kong, Jan 15, 1945


1957 Reunion


Diane Balsam, daughter of Joe Pulaski, mailed this to me.  It’s the Boston’s 1957 reunion, held in the Hotel Bradford in Boston.  The ship had been reclassified a guided-missile cruiser on Jan 4, 1952, and recommissioned on Nov 1, 1955.  I scanned the 4 pages and the cover letter and turned it into a pdf file.  For technology reasons way beyond my little brain, I cannot embed the pdf file, but I can embed a link to it.

click on this link for the whole document:


Thanks, Diane, for sharing this with us.  Happy New Year.

PS.  readers of the Baked Beans books should recognize Lt. Walter Logan, aka Lem Suggs and his talking blues.



There’s an old adage: history is written by the winner(s). While that may be true of battles and warfare, it completely misses the mark about history itself.

History (dictionary.com): noun

  1. Branch of knowledge dealing with past events; 2. Continuous, systematic narrative of past events as relating to a particular people, country, period, person, etc., usually written as a chronological account; 3. Aggregate of past events.

As such, history is not a simple, one-size-fits-all politically or culturally expedient view of the world. It is, in fact, a systematic narrative of past events, with comprehensive understanding of all contributing aspects to that story. Passage of time is a necessary component of history. How can we understand history or historical events unless sufficient time has passed? Context is essential to understanding history.

Another old adage: Those who do not understand history are doomed to repeat it.  History, if we allow it, speaks to human nature; a really wide-angle view of the history of mankind reveals cyclical behaviors that haven’t changed much over the millennia.

I’ve been thinking about Walls lately, for obvious reasons. I will not engage in the politics of our current events in this forum, but I’d like to take a quick look at two historically important and well-known walls. There is no detailed written account of why either of these wall was built. History fills in the gaps of “why,” once we look at context.

HADRIAN’S WALL:  Construction began around A.D. 120, under Emperor Hadrian.  It was 80 (Roman) miles long, stretching coast to coast (east to west) “to separate the Romans from the barbarians.” Theories of why it was built include military fortification as well as checkpoints for trade and taxation. Hadrian died in 138, and the new emperor began construction of a new wall (Antoine Wall) a hundred miles north in the vicinity of Edinburg and the Forth of Fifth. It was 40 (Roman) miles and was heavily fortified against those pesky Northern Tribes. Unable to conquer the Celts, Antoine Wall was abandoned and garrisons fell back and Rome refortified Hadrian’s Wall.  By 410, Rome abandoned Britain.  Sections of the wall still stand today. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1987.   After 3 centuries, the Romans were gone. The walls failed to “keep the barbarians out.”  Whole sections of stones from Hadrian’s Wall were plundered during the 18th century to build military roads to quash insurrections. England still stands, much of the wall still stands.

THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA: Construction of what was to become the Great Wall started as early as the 7th century B.C.E. It was added to, modified and shored up throughout Chinese history, reaching its current state by the early 1600’s. “Apart from defense, other purposes of the Great Wall have included border controls, allowing the imposition of duties on goods transported along the Silk Road, regulation or encouragement of trade and the control of immigration and emigration. . .    The Great Wall helped defend the empire against the Manchu invasions that began around 1600. Even after the loss of all of Liaodong, the Ming army held the heavily fortified Shanhai Pass, preventing the Manchus from conquering the Chinese heartland. The Manchus were finally able to cross the Great Wall in 1644, after Beijing had already fallen to Li Zicheng‘s rebels. Before this time, the Manchus had crossed the Great Wall multiple times to raid, but this time it was for conquest. The gates at Shanhai Pass were opened on May 25 by the commanding Ming general, Wu Sangui, who formed an alliance with the Manchus, hoping to use the Manchus to expel the rebels from Beijing.[35] The Manchus quickly seized Beijing, and eventually defeated both the rebel-founded Shun dynasty and the remaining Ming resistance, establishing the Qing dynasty rule over all of China.[36] Wikipedia.

Two and a half millennia later, sections of the Great Wall (also a World heritage Site) still stand. China still stands, it’s history modified of course by centuries of invasions. Like Hadrian’s its dual purpose was military and taxation, as well as controlling immigration and emigration.

Walls are interesting things. If you’re on the outside looking in, they keep you out. If you’re on the inside looking out, they keep you in.