It was a typically American viewpoint

Friday, October 23rd, 2020

MacArthur felt he could not sit still, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and let his troops be tied up for the winter:

The CCF plan might be to make Korea a permanent running sore, and to tie up more than a hundred thousand U.S. ground troops indefinitely. With winter already howling down out of one of the coldest spots on earth, he had to retreat or attack. He attacked.


“I believe that with my air power, now unrestricted so far as Korea is concerned…I can deny reinforcements coming across the Yalu in sufficient strength to prevent the destruction of those forces now arrayed against me in North Korea.”


“The giant U.N. pincer moves according to schedule today. The air forces, in full strength, completely interdicted the rear areas, and an air reconnaissance behind the enemy line, and along the entire length of the Yalu River border, showed little sign of hostile military activity.”


Whatever the weaknesses of his ground forces, whatever their difficult and exposed positions, U.N. mastery of the skies was complete, and air would be the decisive arm. It was a typically American viewpoint.

Air patrolling over the mountains revealed what it had always revealed

Wednesday, October 21st, 2020

In late October, 1950, the South Koreans started capturing enemy soldiers who didn’t speak Korean, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), and assumed these were Chinese volunteers:

Chinese troops were deliberately misschooled on their own order of battle, so that, captured, they might tell weird tales. There were clashes between Americans and Chinese “volunteers” in odd places — obviously to draw American attention from where the Chinese planned to strike.


Air patrolling over the mountains revealed what it had always revealed — nothing. Only heavy, aggressive ground patrolling into the hills could have revealed that the main bodies of two massive Chinese army groups lurked in those deep valleys and forlorn villages, and this action the U.N. never attempted.

In the frightful terrain such patrolling was dangerous. It could not be supported by wheels, and where wheels could not go, neither could sizable units of Americans. And in such horrendous terrain a vast army could be — and was — hidden in a very small area, observing perfect camouflage discipline, waiting.


As the month progressed, however, FECOM came more and more to the conclusion that there were Chinese troops in Korea. Their numbers were placed at between 40,000 and 70,000. Whether “volunteers,” as the Chinese Government claimed, or otherwise, the big question remained as to what they were doing in Korea.

There seemed to be three possibilities, all of which were suggested:

  1. The Chinese had come over in limited fashion to help the NKPA hold a base south of the Yalu;
  2. They had entered as a show of force to bluff the U.N. into halting south of the river;
  3. At the worst, they were a screening force to cover the advance of the main Chinese armies.

No one, either in FECOM or the two commands in Korea, suggested that the CCF were already in Korea in massive force.

No ambitious second-year ROTC cadet would have dared quote him seriously

Monday, October 19th, 2020

Half contemptuously, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), American military men spoke of the “elusive” Lin Piao and the “poet” Mao Tse-Tung:

Mao Tse-tung, Premier of China, had already revealed to the world how his Communist armies operated — how they flowed from place to place, fighting when fighting was profitable, biding their time when it was not. What Mao Tse-tung had written was instructive, and intensely practical for a war in Asia — but because the Chinese wrote in poetic language, not in the military terminology popular in the West, no ambitious second-year ROTC cadet would have dared quote him seriously.

After November 1950, many men would grudgingly learn that the thought behind words is more important than the phrases in which the thought is couched. The time would come when every leader in the world would read the writings of the Chinese Communists — for it was barely possible that the war they waged was not so anachronistic as Americans believed. Quite possibly, it was the pattern of all future land wars.

In November 1950, then, one army, in open array, loudly proclaiming its every move to the world, marched against a phantom foe. For the CCF, all that month, was a ghost; now you saw it, now you didn’t. It marched by night, under a foggy moon; it sideslipped into the mountains in front of the advancing U.N., and lurked, biding its time.

When he was ready, the “elusive” Lin Piao would let the Americans find him.

Prepare for the worst, enjoy the present

Sunday, October 18th, 2020

Fortitude Ranch — “prepare for the worst, enjoy the present” — describes itself as “a survival community equipped to survive any type of disaster and long-term loss of law and order, managed by full time staff,” and plans to activate for the first time over fears of violence following the presidential election on Nov. 3:

“This will be the first time we have opened for a collapse disaster, though it may end up not being so,” said Miller in an emailed statement. “We consider the risk of violence that could escalate in irrational, unpredictable ways into widespread loss of law and order is real.”

Fortitude Ranch set up its first camp in West Virginia in 2015 and has two more in Colorado. For an annual fee of around $1,000, members can vacation at camps in good times, and use them as a refuge in the event of a societal collapse. Members are required to own either a rifle or shotgun to defend the communities. The company does not disclose membership numbers.

If they did not act upon the field of battle as Western generals did, it was because they did not command a Western army

Saturday, October 17th, 2020

By the middle of November, 1950, approximately 180,000 Chinese waited in front of the Eighth Army, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), while 120,000 lurked in the mountains surrounding Changjin Reservoir on X Corps’ flank:

While China broadcast to the world that Chinese “volunteers” would enter the Korean fighting, under Kim Il Sung, the leaders of the CCF never relinquished control of their forces.

And it would have been considerable news to the 300,000 Chinese soldiers massed in the cold valleys of Korea to learn that they had volunteered. Many of them did not even know in what part of the world they waited.

Lin Piao, and the major leaders of the Chinese Communist Forces, were not simple peasant leaders. The vast majority of the CCF generals were graduates of Whampoa Military Academy or of Russian schools. They had studied Clausewitz and Jomini and the battles of Cannae and Tannenberg as thoroughly as any West Pointer, and they had been engaged in war for all their adult lives. But if they did not act upon the field of battle as Western generals did, it was because they did not command a Western army.

The hordes of the Red Army were tough and battle-hardened, but they could not read or write. They had no radios, nor did they have much telephone equipment. They had no air force, or any massive artillery. They were weak in motor transport. Their arms were a miscellany of United States, Japanese, and Russian equipment. They had very few of the things a European or Western army required for war.


They had three immense advantages: their own minds, trained to war in the vast reaches of the Middle Kingdom, which instinctively thought in terms of fluid maneuver, without regard to battle lines: the hardihood and sturdy legs of their peasant troops, who could travel long miles on very little; and the enemy’s complete lack of belief in their own existence.


Americans believed it incredible that any army of significant size could cross the Yalu and deploy in Korea without observation by their air forces. Daily American aircraft flew over all North Korea; and no armies were ever sighted.

Each night, between nine and three, the Chinese troops covered eighteen miles:

When light came, every man, every gun, every animal, was hidden from sight. In the deep valleys, in the thick forests, in the miserable villages huddled on the forlorn plateaus, the Chinese rested by day.


It was not only cunning and hardihood, but this perfect march and bivouac discipline that caused U.N. aircraft to fly over the CCF hundreds of times without ever once seeing anything suspicious. Even aerial photography revealed nothing.

It was a feat that Xenophon’s hoplites, marching back from Persia to the sea, could have performed. Julius Caesar’s hard legions could have done it, and more — the Roman manuals stated that the usual day’s march for a legion was twenty miles, to be covered in five hours.

It is extremely doubtful if any modern Western army, bred to wheels, could have matched it. It was almost impossible for Western generals, even those who knew of Xenophon and Caesar, to credit it.

Only peasants have any political importance

Thursday, October 15th, 2020

From the first, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Communists understood that in a nation almost wholly peasant, only peasants have any political importance:

Within two years, they won not only the war but the peasants’ minds. For the peasants would not understand, until too late, that the Communists wanted not justice for them, but to overthrow the entire fabric of Chinese life.

The popular morality of what the Communist Chinese have done will probably be judged only in the light of whether or not they made China a great power, and only the future will tell that. If they fail, history will condemn them for the enormous suffering they inflicted upon their land; if they succeed, their own history will largely regard them as heroes, even as Soviet history regards Peter the Great of Russia as a hero, or as the French revolutionists or the Irish Sinn Fein, who resorted to naked force and political murder, are looked upon favorably by millions of their countrymen.

It was a march without parallel in history

Tuesday, October 13th, 2020

One reason why the U.N. didn’t recognize that China would enter the war in Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), is that China had had no success in war for a long, long time:

For more generations than men could count, soldiers in the Middle Kingdom had ranked low in the orders of society, far down the scale from the scholar and the poet. And for more generations than men could count, China had had no skill or success in war. For more than a hundred years, Chinese military forces had…


On 1 August 1927 the newly formed Communist Party of China began the fight against Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang. This date is still carried on CCF battle flags as the date of the Communist Army’s founding.

For decades the battle raged across China. In 1934, when it seemed that the Nationalist Army had the CCF ringed, approximately 100,000 CCF soldiers retreated north for Kiangsi Province into Shensi, to far Yenan. It was a march without parallel in history, and one almost without parallel for hardships.

One year later, after crossing 6,000 miles, eighteen mountain ranges, twenty-four rivers, and twelve provinces, 20,000 survivors under a general named Lin Piao made juncture with other Communist forces in Yenan.

During the actual time of march, Lin Piao’s forces had averaged twenty-four miles per day, on foot.

In Shensi Province, far removed from the Nationalists and the eyes of the world, the Communist Chinese began to rebuild their base of power. They began to wage guerrilla warfare against the Nationalists.

They were led by men who were now hardened soldiers, men who wanted above all else for China to be again a great power, and who felt that Marxism held out the only hope for its accomplishment.

The vast areas of China were still feudal; there had never been any true capitalism except that administered by foreigners in the coastal cities. And the pattern of Sinic culture had frozen five thousand years earlier.

The new Communist military leaders understood clearly that the pattern of Chinese culture must be thoroughly broken before China could again assume authority in the world. With cunning, courage, and great skill, aided by a centuries-old tradition of corruption that lay across China like a gray shadow, they began to break it.

Whatever happened the fault was Washington’s

Sunday, October 11th, 2020

Early in September, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), Chinese forces began the long march from the south, where they had been deployed against Taiwan, to the mountains along the Yalu.

Chou En-lai told the Indian ambassador, “If the United States, or United Nations forces cross the 38th parallel, the Chinese People’s Republic will send troops to aid the People’s Republic of Korea. We shall not take this action, however, if only South Korean troops cross the border.” This message was passed along but was seen as diplomatic blackmail:

The Chinese had at least 38 divisions in 9 field armies garrisoned in Manchuria north of the Yalu. Of these, 24 divisions were disposed along the border in position to intervene. This estimate of CCF strength was reasonably accurate.


Willoughby’s analysis described the open failure of the North Koreans to rebuild their forces, and suggested that this indicated the CCF and Soviets had decided against further investment in a losing cause.


FECOM was at best a collective agency, not an evaluative one for matters of international policy; if Washington permitted FECOM both to collect and to make decisions, then whatever happened the fault was Washington’s.


And above all else, it was the terrain and a complete failure of Intelligence that brought disaster. Marching north, the U.N. trumpeted to the world its composition, its battle plan, and even the hour of its execution.

Without effort, the enemy knew everything there was to know about the U.N. forces.

The U.N., in turn, never knew the enemy existed — until it was much too late.

The Americans had tacitly accepted war at secondhand with the Communist center of power

Friday, October 9th, 2020

The punishment the U.N. and its agent, the United States, proposed to visit upon the Communist world was greater than the Communist world was willing to accept, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War):

Just as the United States had not been able to stand idly by in June as a friendly dependency was overwhelmed, in October the men of Peiping and the Kremlin felt they could not permit the forcible separation of North Korea from their own sphere.


If the U.S.S.R.’s stance were different from America’s, if it could not cease pushing, probing, and risking, it was because Soviet foreign policy was aggressive and expansionist. Communist ideology was far more than a tool to such expansion. It remained a taskmaster forcing the Soviets to it. Unless, with time, Communist ideology could be diluted, or diverted from the narrow precepts of Lenin, there could never be any true peace between Communists and the West. Westerners, tending to be pragmatic and liberal in viewpoint, often miscounted the driving reality of Communist dogmatism.

Russians, determined to oppose the American action in Korea, saw clearly that a confrontation of American troops with Russian, a direct clash, must inevitably escalate into general war, whether the governments wanted it or not. But the West had accepted Soviet arms in the hands of a satellite people; even though they had been drawn into the bloodletting themselves, the Americans had tacitly accepted war at secondhand with the Communist center of power. To substitute another Communist people, the Chinese, for the North Koreans, was not to change materially the tenuous…

The Communist leaders, desperate to save both their face and North Korea, felt that if new forces were hurled into the Korean cockpit, so long as the move did not seem to be a direct confrontation of the major powers, the conflict could still be limited to the peninsula.

And on the peninsula they felt they still might win.

Equally important, Red China was ready and spoiling for war.

The Chinese Communists, newly come to power, were driven by that dynamic puritanism that accompanies all great revolutions. Like the French in 1793, they not only desired conflict with the “evil” surrounding them; they needed it. Their hold on the millions of the sprawling Middle Kingdom was far from consolidated, and a controlled, limited war would consolidate it as nothing else could do.


Just as the northern states of the American Union have overlooked and forgotten their occupation and reconstruction of the southern states, the West has dismissed the painful humiliations repeatedly visited upon the ancient Sinic culture in the past hundred years.

No one, civilian or military, disagreed with MacArthur’s view

Wednesday, October 7th, 2020

Just as the Korean War was turning into a sort of American fox hunt, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), President Truman flew halfway across the Pacific to discuss the final phases of the action with his patrician proconsul of American power in the East, Douglas MacArthur:

There was very little talk about the fighting. It was taken for granted that the conflict was almost over and that now the main concern was the rehabilitation of Korea, north and south, most of which lay in ruins.


Then the talk came around to a different matter. “What,” asked Harry Truman, “are the chances for Chinese or Soviet intervention?”

Sonorously, MacArthur replied, “Very little.”

He went on to say that had they interfered during the first or second months it would have been decisive. “But we are no longer fearful of their intervention. We longer stand with hat in hand.”

He mentioned that the Chinese had 300,000 men in Manchuria, of which not more than 200,000 were along the Yalu River. Of these, not more than 60,000 could be got across.

“The Chinese have no air force. If the Chinese try to get down to P’yongyang there will be the greatest slaughter.”

No one, civilian or military, disagreed with MacArthur’s view.


General MacArthur was operating on purely military assumptions that the Chinese did not have the ability to intervene. And one of these assumptions was that, if the Chinese dared oppose the righteous march of U.N. forces, the United States would retaliate with all its righteous wrath and fury — that American air would strike at China, interdict its long and painfully vulnerable supply lines across Manchuria, destroy the fledgling industry of which the Chinese were so proud.

He firmly believed such a fear would deter the Chinese from action. He firmly believed, also, that upon a Chinese move, America would cry havoc and loose the dogs of war. China, even with its millions, could not hope to gain by general war with the West.

These things he believed, but did not mention.

Quiet, modest Omar Bradley, with one of the best military brains in the business, was thinking of the massive Soviet divisions — at least 175 in the Satellite countries alone — positioned in Europe. To him, all-out war with China would be war with the wrong enemy, at the wrong place, at the wrong time. The United States had to bear the load in Asia, true, but its vital interest lay in Europe, and its greatest danger in Soviet Russia.

They crowded around the ugly steel monsters

Monday, October 5th, 2020

To fight the North Koreans, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), the Americans needed tanks, which they had never planned on bringing to the peninsula:

Roberson and Phelps had arrived during the bad days, when the crumbling 24th held onto the Perimeter by a nail. They would never forget their arrival into the lines of the division with the new M-46 90mm-gun tanks, shipped hastily from Detroit Arsenal. It had been hell to get the big tanks to Oakland, aboard ship, and on land again at Pusan. At Pusan there had been no port facilities to handle a 92,000-pound tank; the ship’s officers had groaned and turned pale while the ship’s winches and cargo booms strained under the extreme load. But lives, after all, were more valuable than winches, and one by one the 76 tanks had crashed down on the dock.

When the armor growled and roared up to the Naktong, men from the Taro Leaf Division ran forward to meet them, many of them openly sobbing. They crowded around the ugly steel monsters and patted them as if they had been blooded horses.

Under Lieutenant Colonel John Growden, West Point 1937, who had been with Patton, the 6th Tank soon had its baptism of fire.

To Growden came a radio flash from a leading tank: “We have sighted enemy. What are our orders?”

Growden radioed back: “Are they definitely enemy?” “Affirmative!” “Then fire—that’s why the hell we’re here!” In each and every war, Americans must learn the hard way.

ROK troops had already gone north days before

Saturday, October 3rd, 2020

The Republic of Korea, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), had never seriously intended to halt at the old border:

It is very doubtful if Syngman Rhee, who lived to reunite his country, would have obeyed a U.N. order to stop short of the parallel, any more than Abraham Lincoln would have favored an order from foreigners to stop the Grand Army of the Republic on the Potomac after Gettysburg. Rhee issued orders to his field commanders, now serving under American command, to move north north no matter what the Americans did.

Whatever the ploy and counterploy of the great powers, it was in the vital interests of the Taehan Minkuk to expand to the Yalu.

On 1 October, MacArthur demanded the surrender of North Korea. Kim Il Sung made no reply.

At noon, 7 October, American units of the Eighth Army went across the parallel at Kaesong. ROK troops had already gone north days before.


There is every indication that, just as they had not expected that the United States would intervene in Korea in June, the North Koreans did not anticipate the U.N. offensive over the parallel. The shattered Inmun Gun had not been reconstituted after its retreat, and the extensively prepared positions along the border were not heavily defended.

War could never be part of a system of checks and balances

Thursday, October 1st, 2020

Not more than 25,000 survivors of the Inmun Gun were able to retreat north of the 38th parallel, and with victory, T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War), came the determination to punish them for starting the war:

If the fighting, with its resultant death and destruction, its loss of American lives, resulted only in the return of the status quo, then almost all Americans would feel cheated.

War could never be part of a system of checks and balances; the view seemed immoral. War must always be for a cause, a transcendental purpose: it must not be to restore the Union, but to make men free; it must not be to save the balance of world power from falling into unfriendly hands, but to make the world safe for democracy; it must not be to rescue allies, but to destroy evil.

Americans have always accepted checks and balances within their own system of government, but never without, in the world. Because in the world such checks have never been achieved with votes or constitutions but with guns, and Americans have never admitted that guns may serve a moral purpose as well as votes.

They have never failed to resort to guns, however, when other mean fail.

It was inevitable that the United States should take the position that the North Korean Communist State must now be destroyed for its lawlessness and that all Korea should be united under the government of the Taehan Minkuk.

Actually, the Communist world had not broken the law, for one of the continuing tragedies of mankind is that there is no international law. The Communist world had tried to probe, a gambit, and hand been strongly checked.

And the Communists would regard an American move to punish the “law-breaker” not so much as justice but as a United States gambit of its own.

The question was not whether the American desire to reunite Korea under non-Communist rule was a proper goal for the United States, but whether the Communist world could sit by as the United States in turn ruptured the status quo ante.

The desire to join the two halves of Korea under Syngman Rhee was unquestionably proper, and in the best interests of the United Nations — if the U.N. had the power to accomplish it.

On 27 September 1950 the Joint Chiefs of Staff instructed General MacArthur as follows:

  1. His primary objective was to be the destruction of all North Korean military forces.
  2. His secondary mission was the unification of Korea under Syngman Rhee, if possible.
  3. He was to determine whether Soviet or Chinese intervention appeared likely, and to report such threat if it developed.

With the third instruction appeared sign of an elementary weakness in American policy — a decision by the powerful Communist nations to intervene or not to intervene was a political question, on the highest level. The indications would be apparent — or nonapparent — not on military levels but through the channels of political intercourse.


Military intelligence, quite competently, can determine the number of divisions a nation has deployed. Military men can never wholly competently decide, from military evidence alone, whether such nation will use them.

Such decision is not, and will never be, within the competence of military intelligence.

The ninja tradition is an invented tradition

Wednesday, September 30th, 2020

The ninja tradition centered on the neighboring areas of Iga and Koka is, Stephen Turnbull concludes, an invented tradition:

The ninja has become a familiar figure in popular Japanese culture as the world’s greatest exponent of secret warfare. He infiltrates castles, gathers vital intelligence, and wields a deadly knife in the dark. His easily recognizable image is that of a secret agent or assassin who dresses all in black, possesses almost magical martial powers, and is capable of extraordinary feats of daring. He sells his skills on a mercenary basis and when in action, his unique abilities include confusing his enemies by making mystical hand gestures or by sending sharp iron stars spinning towards them.

There is much popular support for the historical truth that is supposed to lie behind this familiar image. It is reminiscent of the passions displayed by the members of a religious cult, because like any cult the ninja’s loyal followers staunchly defend both his worth and his authenticity. Yet even the most devoted fans of what might be called “the ninja cult” will acknowledge that a certain amount of exaggeration has probably taken place. Similarly, only the most dogged ninja skeptic would dare to argue in an equally passionate manner that the idea is a total fabrication. The usual approach, even among scholars, is simply to accept the original ninja myth as a genuine historical phenomenon that has for centuries been greatly romanticized and, more recently, highly commercialized.

This modern exploitation of the ninja has proved highly profitable, eclipsing anything derived from Japan’s other great warrior tradition of the noble samurai, to whose example of loyalty the ninja provides a dark antithesis of secrecy and deception. The samurai have also been subject to exaggeration and commercialization in recent years, but whereas examples of the samurai tradition are to be found all over Japan, the modern ninja cult has one unusual feature in that its exploitation is concentrated in a very small area. This is the former province of Iga (now part of Mie Prefecture) and the place with which it shares a border, an area of modern Shiga Prefecture called Koka. The two places once had much in common and are often linked in the historical narratives. Nowadays Iga-Ueno City has by far the most developed ninja-related infrastructure, making it is the best place in Japan to visit a ninja house and a ninja museum, to enjoy martial arts displays, and purchase a wide range of ninja souvenirs.


All these points could apply to the development of the ninja, but if the ninja are indeed an invented martial tradition they are by no means alone, because military societies are particularly vulnerable to the creative approach. For example, the popular image of the pirate derives almost entirely from the American author and illustrator Howard Pyle (1853-1911). Pyle regarded the look of ordinary eighteenth century sailors as too dull for these romantic figures, so he added elements drawn from the Spanish folk costume of his day, especially headscarves knotted behind the head, large hooped earrings and wide trailing sashes, to a somewhat mistaken notion of authentic seafaring dress (Konstam, 2011, pp. 26-27). Nor is Japan exempt from such a process. The story of the vendetta carried out by the Forty-Seven Ronin of Ako derives almost entirely from an unashamedly fictionalized play that was staged shortly after the incident on which it was based (Turnbull, 2011, p. 5). Even the modern understanding of bushido, the virtually sacred “way of the warrior,” owes much to Bushido: The Soul of Japan, a book first published in 1900 by a Japanese Christian living in America (Nitobe, 1905). As bushido is such an important concept for defining the way of the noble samurai it is ironic indeed to consider that the cult of the underhand ninja may predate it by almost three centuries.

I must however declare an interest. It is not uncommon to regret the excesses of one’s youth, and to have produced a book where enthusiasm sometimes overwhelmed common sense is part of my own history. In Ninja: The True Story of Japan’s Secret Warrior Cult (Turnbull, 1991) I translated the historical sources that were then available and interpreted them as I understood them at the time. However, I allowed myself to become a little overdependent on compilations of these sources, in particular the books by Sasama (1968) and Yamaguchi (1969), neither of whom makes clear the age and reliability of the material they include. In their books contemporary descriptions of secret warfare are juxtaposed with accounts that were written well after the establishment of the ninja myth and therefore liable to have been influenced by it. In this article I shall therefore re-examine the evidence with a degree of academic rigor that may have been lacking in 1991.

For the purposes of this article, I propose that if the ninja have any basis in fact the following three criteria must be satisfied:

1. A unique corpus of military techniques involving secrecy existed in Japan during the
Sengoku Period.
2. The exercise of these techniques was confined to certain skilled individuals rather
than being spread more widely within Japanese society.
3. These skilled practitioners were identified in particular with Iga and Koka, from where
they sold their services to others.


I therefore conclude that the authenticity of the Iga Koka ninja tradition fails against all three of the suggested criteria in terms of the existence of secret warfare, the elite practitioners of it, and its narrow geographical location. Undercover operations were performed throughout Japanese history but were carried out by skilled warriors who did not belong to a hereditary tradition. Iga and Koka did not have a monopoly, nor is there any evidence for a transmission from there to other provinces after 1581. In fact the opposite is true. If the presence of shinobi in an account indicates that secret warfare is taking place, then Iga and Koka are remarkable not for how many references there are to them but for how few. The ninja of Iga and Koka therefore present a classic example of an invented tradition in terms of Hobsbawm and Ranger’s definition. There is a deliberate “attempt to establish continuity with a suitable historic past” whereby ancient records have been re-interpreted and exaggerated to reinforce a highly localized understanding of a military phenomenon (Hobsbawn and Ranger 1983, p. 1). Hobsbawn and Ranger (1983) also identified the “use of ancient materials to construct invented traditions of a novel type for quite novel purposes” (p. 4). This seems to be what has happened at Shimabara.

I do not however believe that the Iga-Koka ninja myth or the modern cult that developed from it represent a total fabrication. All invented traditions have a basis in fact, no matter how tenuously the links may be made between the developed tradition and recorded history. In Iga and Koka there must have been some genuine belief in a unique local expertise that was bolstered by folk memories and old soldiers’ tales, and the best that can be said for their plagiarism of other people’s exploits is that it supports one great ninja stereotype: they were very good at stealing things! Yet even if the Iga-Koka ninja cult draws upon little more than the manipulation of folk memories and historical records, any tradition that takes shape in about 1620 and continues to the present day is worthy of more attention and respect as a cultural property than is commonly given to other aspects of the samurai tradition. As the Iga and Koka ninja tradition is older than the 47 Ronin and even predates bushido it should not be dismissed but celebrated as Japan’s oldest martial invention and, through its modern cult-like manifestation, as Japan’s greatest martial fantasy.

The enemy was confused by the slashing American movements

Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

T. R. Fehrenbach explains (in This Kind of War) how, after turning things around, the American forces, well supplied with vehicles, with many good roads in that part of Korea, were advancing faster than the enemy could flee:

General Walker’s orders for the pursuit and exploitation had instructed the divisions to forget about their flanks, to press ahead against a beaten enemy, and this tactic was paying off.


But the enemy was also confused by the slashing American movements. During the evening a North Korean truck tried to pull into the town. It was loaded with crates, and seemed to carry about twenty soldiers.

An outpost of the 38th along the road fired a single bazooka round at the truck as it approached. Then the men of the outpost cowered in the ditches as the truck disappeared with a horrendous explosion, raining fire and fragments over a wide area. The crates had been filled with ammunition.

Concerned by the terrific detonation, Peploe came out to see what had happened. Viewing the reeking crater in the road, he could find no remnants of either the truck or the men who had been upon it.