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Selling War and its Brutality: Battle of the Bismarck Sea

This is an allied propaganda video made of the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Basically here is what happened (March 1943):

Over the course of the battle, aircraft of the U.S. Fifth Air Force and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) attacked a Japanese convoy that was carrying troops to Lae, New Guinea. Most of the task force was destroyed, and Japanese troop losses were heavy.

The Japanese convoy was a result of a Japanese Imperial General Headquarters decision in December 1942 to reinforce their position in the South West Pacific. A plan was devised to move some 6,900 troops from Rabaul directly to Lae. The plan was understood to be risky, because Allied air power in the area was strong, but it was decided to proceed because otherwise the troops would have to march through inhospitable swamp, mountain and jungle terrain without roads.

The battle was a disaster for the Japanese; 3000 of the 7000 or so troops were killed and only 1200 made it to their destination; the rest were returned. The troop transports that made it to the destination were so badly damaged, they had to be beached.
Note: the video claimed that 15000 Japanese were killed; there weren’t that many being transported to begin with.

Still, only the imagination can conceive of the hell-on-earth it was to be on the transports; they were hit by heavy bombs (think: humans being blown apart or just atomized), burned by the burning ship (nowhere to go!) or cut to pieces by machine gun and 20 mm cannon fire:

Garrett Middlebrook, a co-pilot in one of the B-25s, described the ferocity of the strafing attacks:

They went in and hit this troop ship. What I saw looked like little sticks, maybe a foot long or something like that, or splinters flying up off the deck of ship; they’d fly all around … and twist crazily in the air and fall out in the water. Then I realized what I was watching were human beings. I was watching hundreds of those Japanese just blown off the deck by those machine guns. They just splintered around the air like sticks in a whirlwind and they’d fall in the water.[53]

Again, horror beyond belief; but that was war. What this battle was a bit more known for is what happened the following day:

On 4 March, another 1,000 or so survivors were adrift on rafts.[51] On the evenings of 3–5 March, PT boats and planes attacked Japanese rescue vessels, as well as the survivors from the sunken vessels on life rafts and swimming or floating in the sea. This was later justified on the grounds that rescued servicemen would have been rapidly landed at their military destination and promptly returned to active service.[55] While many of the Allied aircrew accepted these attacks as being necessary, others were sickened.[56]

One justification I’ve heard for the attacks on the survivors was that this was in retaliation for the Japanese shooting at parachuting pilots and strafing of survivors.

But the quoted section makes sense to me. Think of it this way: this group of people is going to try to kill you. But you catch them when they are helpless…but they are not surrendering; they are going to regroup and, once regrouped, attack you. Do you “give them a sporting chance” or do you end the threat as soon as you can? I thought so.

War sucks….this is why I get angry when some people cheer war or see it as some sort of game. But yes, I can understand some being sickened too.

Now to the point of this post: of course, this theater of the war had a racial dimension to it; it grates on our present day ears. But watch the very end when they show footage of the strafing of lifeboats and rescue boats; they make a point of saying “no surrender was offered so no quarter was given”; there appears to be a need to justify the actions to the audience.

I noticed something similar when I saw a video of P-51’s strafing the Japanese mainland during B-29 raids; they showed a strafing attack on a beached fishing boat and the fishermen running out of the way. Had the axis powers done that, we would have screamed “war crimes”.

Note: yes, I know; we can ask Nanking about how humane the Japanese military was. But that isn’t the point of my post; the point was how the narrators sold the actions of the war to their audience.

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May 25, 2013 Posted by | history, world events | , , | Leave a comment

4’th of July: some common misconceptions about the American Revolution.

This Smithsonian article by John Ferling is pretty interesting. Upshot: history is too complicated to be summed up into small soundbites.

July 4, 2012 Posted by | history | Leave a comment