North Korea vs United States: Everyone should read their history

The history of the Korean peninsula dates back thousands of years. The history of South Korea an North Korea stems back to the aftermath of W.W.2. when only Soviet Union and the United States had troops to disarm the Japanese forces on the peninsula. In the rapidly deteroriating post-W.W.2. geopolitical climate war time friends had become cold war rivals. The geopolitical climate had changed much for the worse and everyone needed to be careful.

It is highly improbable that North Korea will risk any further than it already has, the security of its regime. I am talking about a regime that has gone to extreme lengths to suppress its opponents. People in North Korea understand the phrase “Yodok Prison Camp” or Kwan-li-so No. 15″ in the same way Germans and understood the phrase “Prinz Albrechtstrasse” during the era of Hitler – a person enters and is generally never seen or heard from again.

The North Korean regime is unique not only in its sheer ruthlessness – Kim Jong Un – had a relative, General Jang Song Thaek executed with anti aircraft fire, even though he was a relative – it is not in the least bit afraid to violate international law. This it might be said is also done with a degree of callousness that suggests only a regime change or some sort of assassination attempt would put Kim Jong Un out of business.

So how does that affect the international situation with North Korea?

Before we look at the options for knocking off the North Korean regime, we need to remember a couple of things:

  1. China has said to North Korea and the U.S. respectively that if North Korea attacks the U.S., China will stay out of the conflict. It has also said – which should concern the bellicose U.S President Donald Trump – that it will not ignore a U.S. attack on North Korea

    Effectively this is a warning to both sides China is not in it for either side, though it definitely prefers a non-democratic state on its land border.

  2. China invaded North Korea in October 1950 to stop the North Korean regime as it was then from being rolled by the United Nations operation. Whilst China is quite irritated by Pyongyang’s refusal to give up nuclear weapons, it will not ever compromise the security of its own one party state, and if that means invading a second time – Korean history for the last several hundred years is littered with Chinese invasions – no one should be surprised.

Will Pyongyang give up its nuclear weapons. I think we know the answer to that very well. Kim Jong Un has seen United Nations sanctions at work and no one wants to challenge him directly. Having a suiperpower in its corner helps Kim immensely even if China is growing impatient with the regime in North Korea. Kim does not seem to be put off in the least by U.S. warnings. On the contrary, one might try to argue he is saying “Bring it on!”

I think the message going into the weekend and beyond as we watch the latest round of sabre rattling is that signs of impatience, frustration and the potential for an accidental missile discharge is not so unlikely as to give them no further consideration.Kim Jong Un is so far up the proverbial creek without a paddle that the only thing for him to do is go further. He will not admit defeat and always look for a way to blame other countries for something that is very much a break down of north Koreans ability to do the job their Dear Kimmy requires.

We need to be careful. North Korea is easily provoked. It would not take much to accidentally trigger an international incident where one side or the other open fire prematurely. The problem is once the shooting starts, where will it stop?

Appreciating our war time history


A name of a Belgian town, and New Zealand’s bloodiest battle in World War One.

In a country where so much was given in two world wars, the Battle of Passchendaele was more than another dreadful, relatively static battle in World War 1. It was about a little nation half a world away from New Zealand and a battle in 1917 that cost hundreds of thousands of lives.

We never said Gallipoli was great and just campaign for New Zealanders to be involved in – it was not, and many lives were lost. It was not and yet all of these years later there is a substantial and long lasting respect between Australia, New Zealand and Turkey. Not only that but Turks, New Zealanders and Australians show a general respect for each other’s forces many could learn from.

Today is history from another war, and I think it is appropriate that it be announced.

There is much to be annoyed about with America on the world stage these days. But two naval battles in May 1942 at the Battle of the Coral Sea and June 1942 at the Battle of Midway, were the difference between Australia being invaded and New Zealand being put in bomber range.

It started with a surprise American bombing raid on Japan in April 1942 where U.S.S. Yorktown sailed 16 B-25’s within bomber range of Japan. The Japanese Combined Fleet Commander Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto was sufficiently by the raid as to figure out how to put Japan beyond bomber range. That meant attacking Midway.

At Coral Sea a Japanese task force was made to turn back from attacking Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea, where a staging area for an attack on Australia would have been established. The day before the carrier I.J.N. Shoho was sunk, as was U.S.S. Lexington. Another carrier U.S.S. Yorktown was damaged. Although the honours were not quite even, it was an American victory and a chance to hone their skills at naval warfare involving the use of aircraft carriers. Admiral Yamamoto was not deterred. He had said:

“I shall run wild for six month’s to a year after which I can guarantee nothing”.

75 years ago today 4 June 2017, Admiral Yamamoto’s stunning foresight became reality.

An air raid on the island of Midway was meant to knock out anti aircraft batteries, enemy installations and support facilities in preparation for attack. The air raid failed, and the Japanese pilot in command requested a second strike (more on that later) 5,000 troops in troop carriers had been sent to Midway. This was going to be their chance to participate in history.

Whilst the Japanese were attacking Midway, a squabble had broken out between the key Japanese commanders at two levels. At the top, Admiral Yamamoto’s Chief of Staff Captain Kuroshima knew of a cancelled Japanese reconnaissance mission to Pearl Harbor, but never passed news of the cancellation on. He refused to lift secrecy and tell the commander of the attacking task force the reconnaissance mission had been scrubbed. The second squabble was in the fleet commanded by Vice Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, responsible for attacking Midway. His chief of air operations Commander Genda believed the American fleet  was in the area, but Vice Admiral Nagumo’s Chief of Staff, Rear Admiral Kusaka did not. Commander Genda wanted to bring a second wave of planes on deck with torpedoes in case the Americans did were spotted by reconnaissance. Admiral Kusaka believed faulty intelligence that had first said the Americans were still in the Coral Sea where they had defeated the Japanese a month earlier, and also believed that even if the Japanese had left that there was no way they could have gotten to Midway.

Admiral Nagumo initially ordered the second wave to brought on deck, then halted. When it resumed precious time had been lost. The aircraft that had bombed Midway were returning and the decks needed to be cleared for them to land, so more time was lost.

The squabble was to prove disastrous for Japan. But the squabble was also about whether or not America even knew what was happening. They did. Everything. They were not fooled by a diversion attack on the Aleutian Islands on 3 June 1942. It was also about American naval brilliance, and how America transited the crippled U.S.S. Yorktown in from the Coral Sea, did as much repair work in as they could in 72 and managed to send her to Midway.

U.S.S. Enterprise and Hornet had set off under Admiral Jack Fletcher heading for Midway. Rear Admiral Raymond Spruance followed in the U.S.S. Yorktown a few days later.

So, imagine the shock on Nagumo’s face when the air raid alarm pointed to an American attack on 04 June 1942. American torpedo bombers had found the four Japanese fleet carriers supporting the attack on Midway. It was shot down completely and only one American pilot survived. But less than an hour later another attack happened. Same result, but with a massive difference. The attack had drawn the Japanese fighter cover down to sea level. High off in the distance with no enemy fighters between them and the four Japanese carriers were squadrons of dive bombers. And their flight decks were stacked with bombs and torpedoes.

In the space of 15 minutes on 04 June 1942, the Japanese went from being only a couple of months away from potentially doing what Yamamoto did not think was possible, and winning the war, to a decisive American victory from which there was no Japanese recovery possible. In those 15 minutes three Japanese fleet carriers I.J.N. Akagi, Kaga and Soryu were crippled beyond repair and either sank or were scuttled. I.J.N. Hiryu was crippled later the same day and was scuttled.

U.S.S. Yorktown was attacked twice. After the first attack the Americans managed to get her underway again. After the second attack there was no hope and she had to be abandoned. A Japanese submarine finished her off two days later.

Today is the 75th Anniversary of that.

You can say all you want about America. But on this day, 75 years later, with a copy of the the Japanese invasion plans for New Zealand understood to be in Te Papa, I would like you to join me in saying three words and three words only:


I will come back to Passchendaele in late July.

Japan five years after 11 March 2011

Like Christchurch a few weeks earlier in 2011, five years ago today Japan was rocked by its most destructive earthquake ever. At a whopping magnitude 9.0 it was one of the biggest earthquakes ever recorded on modern instruments. It’s three-five minutes of full on shaking and the tsunami that followed have created some of the most powerful – and disturbing  earthquake and tsunami footage ever recorded. And just as New Zealand did after the Christchurch earthquake Japan screamed for help. Five years later the debris has been cleared and most people are in new homes.  But how much has Japan really learnt from this earthquake?

It is an interesting question and one that the world would like answers to as it awaits clear answers on the extent and severity of the radiation leaking out of Fukushima reactors. The questions come as Japan prepares to charge Tokyo Electric Power Company with professional negligence and survivors and politicians look to the future.

Sadly I think the answer is more “no” than yes. Japanese society is deeply conservative and despite the earthquake and tsunami higlighting major gender differences in terms of roles Japanese women have in employment, the failure to give women proper parental leave and appropriate renumeration is holding hundreds of thousands of mothers and potential mothers to be, back. Also Japanese women do not feature in board rooms other than perhaps in a secretarial role. The failure to encourage a more level and less chauvinistic approach means board rooms lack a degree of accountability considered standard in most other western countries. At T.E.P.C.O. the lack of diversity in opinions may have contributed to their very poor response to what is no doubt the greatest crisis in their history.

However Japan can say that its population, normally seen by the world as wanting to stay out of major overseas conflicts and wary of anything with a militaristic theme, has probably never been more politically militant since before World War 2. Protests to raise awareness of T.E.P.C.O.’s responsibility and failure to play their cards straight when telling people about the radiation risk have never been bigger, more frequent or more colourful.

To Japans credit though on the whole – and certainly much better than in 1995 after the Kobe Quake – the authorities did well containing the damage from the quake, which was compounded by the tsunami and in some cases also by fire. Within a couple of weeks of the earthquake roads that irreparable in mid-March were largely operational again. Within a year most Japanese were back in new homes paid for by their insurance. To minimise the radiation in the soil around Fukushima, the Japanese authorities had teh topsoil and several centimetres below removed and bagged for disposal of.

But Japan still has much work to be done to get to the stage New Zealand and European countries such as Denmark – once considered the happiest country on the planet – have with labour laws, gender equality and employees rights. A nation whose population appears to be largely stagnant, it has been the challenge of successive Prime Ministers to improve the economic performance of Japan.

How World War 2 REALLY ended: Part Two

CONT. from Part One

It is a not well understood fact that the Japanese and Soviets maintained an uneasy peace for the duration of World War 2. The Japanese aggression in China had spooked the Soviet Union and its thrashing of the Russian fleet in the Tsushima Straits in 1905, with the subsequent occupation of Port Arthur, meant the Soviets had good reason to be wary about any further Japanese military activity in northeast Asia. When Japan joined the Rome Berlin Axis in September 1940, it was signing an agreement with two nations that a few months later would start the bloodiest and most destructive phase of World War 2 by invading the U.S.S.R. Despite two of its allies attacking the U.S.S.R., Japan did not join in, which freed up innumerable Russian military formations to fight the Germans.

When the Yalta Conference of February 1945 with Joseph Stalin, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt all in attendance, convened, the Allies the U.S.S.R. were looking toward a post war Europe. The ideological birth pangs of the Cold War were just starting to be felt with a distinct chill in the air. Stalin was trying to shore up Soviet interests and establish itself as the dominant power in the east. The Americans and the British were looking forward to a post-war Europe rid of extremism.

At Yalta, knowing an attack on Japan was going to cost a huge number of lives, the western leaders asked Stalin if he would consider joining the war against Japan. Stalin agreed to declare war three months after Germany surrendered. In April 1945, the non aggression pact between Moscow and Tokyo was scrapped. Fearing an invasion Japan began to move more forces into Manchuria.

On 8 May 1945 Germany signed the instrument of unconditional surrender. The war in Europe was over. Suddenly hundreds of thousands of Russian soldiers, airmen and marines who had been engaged in fighting the German military were disengaged. Thousands of tanks, tens of thousands of artillery pieces, rocket launchers and an unknown number of other vehicles were no longer needed in Europe. The war in the Pacific was still in progress. If Stalin was to make good his promise, he needed Russian forces ready to move when the three month grace period was up. Thus a massive migration of Russian forces to the east began.

It is well documented what happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. What is not so well known – and sometimes outright ignored – is what happened in Manchuria, starting a few hours before Nagasaki was bombed. The bombs caused consternation without doubt. The Emperor realized the end game was upon Japan – it could either surrender, or it could be bombed into the Stone Age. Still the military hardliners did not want a bar of surrender, and plans were made for an coup at the Palace to stop him surrendering the nation.

Finally on 09 August 1945, in the pre-dawn darkness, the Soviet Union declared war on Japan. Simultaneously, the last big military offensive of the war began in Manchuria. It had the objectives of driving Japan out of China and taking control of as much of its former possessions as possible. The bigger the successful grab, the better the bargaining chip that would be had by the U.S.S.R. in dealing with the Americans. The Soviets moved fast, despite some initial difficulties. Much of Manchuria was under Soviet occupation within four days. Japan had no answer to the well oiled military machine that poured through the gaps in their lines. 40 years of occupation of northeastern China and the Korean peninsula was virtually erased in a week. Suddenly all Ketsu-Go looked woefully inadequate. Suddenly the prospect of Japan being invaded before Ketsu-Go could even be implemented was a very real prospect. And worst of all, it would be by a foreign power with their own territorial ambitions. Perhaps surrendering before this could happen would be not such a bad idea after all.

In one week the Soviets brought forward the end to a war that might have dragged on into 1946 and have cost over a million American lives, countless Japanese lives and brought untold suffering to millions of Japanese civilians on top of what they had already endured. So, really, the Americans have the Soviets to thank for saving them lives in a way that bludgeoning Japan with bombs could not. But how many people will acknowledge this?

How World War 2 REALLY ended: Part One

By 1945 Japan was a beaten nation, but not willing to admit it. American forces, despite their overwhelming superiority were still several hundred kilometres from Japan. But starting in February 1945, a chain of events that is little known and sometimes completely ignored, led to an unexpectedly abrupt ending to the Pacific War. And the event that delivered the coup de grace was not of American making.

It was Soviet.

But to understand how this came about we must first understand two things:

  • The mentality of wartime Japan
  • The deterioration in Russo-Japanese relations as World War 2 drew to a close


Nothing scared Japan more than a foreign power invading. When Japan was planning its spectacular rampage across the Pacific, Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, the Commander in Chief of the Combined Fleet famously warned that Japan had six months to year to win the war, after which American industrial power would simply overwhelm them. His strategy was to knock the American fleet out of the war from the outset and at the same time push the perimeter of Japanese occupation as far away from Japan as possible. In April 1942 a daring air raid on Japan launched from an American aircraft carrier set in motion a plan to lure the American carriers into a trap and destroy them. It was an unmitigated disaster – not only did the Americans figure out was happening, they sent four of Japans six fleet carriers to the bottom, something Japan never recovered from. The timing of this exactly six months after Japan attacked Pearl Harbour was uncanny. Japan still had a formidable navy, but its ability to wage the offensive campaign that Yamamoto decreed necessary was gone. From February 1943 the perimeter would be slowly but relentlessly pushed back towards Tokyo. By the time the war ended, Japan would be surrounded, under constant bombardment with an invasion looming.

But why was Japan scared of an invasion? To answer that, one needs to look briefly at Japans history.

For a thousand years the Japanese home islands had been spared the ravages of the continental wars in Asia and Europe. The Mongol fleet that had attempted to invade Japan in 1282 was smashed by a typhoon, which the Japanese called the Divine Wind (Kamikaze) The Japanese wartime  religion of Shinto decreed that to surrender was to commit a dishonourable act. The Japanese airman wore no parachute because if he was to retain his honour, he had to either die or return victorious. The Japanese soldiers on many islands killed themselves rather than surrendering to the Allies. So did civilians, and it is recorded that after Saipan fell in 1944 scores of Japanese civilians were seen jumping off cliffs to their deaths. Thus as the Allies closed on Japan, the fighting got more and more bitter. At the height of the naval battle in Leyte Gulf in October 1944, the Japanese introduced the kamikazes as a weapon of war, deliberately crashing planes into American warships. As 1944 drew to a close instances of the Baka human flying bomb assailing American ships were recorded. The Japanese navy, despite the lack of fuel had suicide submarines that would use the last remaining fuel to crash into Allied ships. The Ketsu-Go plan for the defence of Japan was going to involve a militia of 28 million civilians.

No. To surrender would be the most absolutely dishonourable thing that could happen.

But geopolitical circumstances were conspiring in ways to short circuit Japan’s final desperate defence that that few today fully acknowledge and the consequences of which still reverberate through northeast Asia to this very day.