By Alex Calvo

Introduction: two letters from Japanese PM Zenko Suzuki released

The latest batch of papers released by the Margaret Thatcher Foundation includes two letters from her then Japanese counterpart, PM  Zenko Suzuki, dated 12[1] and 24[2] April 2013. They make interesting reading, illustrating the Japanese position in the conflict[3]. While hoping that diplomacy would succeed, Tokyo was firm in rejecting the invasion.

Even before the first enemy troops landed in the Falklands, Great Britain began to work on the diplomatic front in order to secure an Argentine withdrawal or, should that not take place, achieve the greatest possible degree of international support for subsequent military operations. The result was UNSC Resolution 502. At that moment, Japan was one of the members of the UN Security Council and voted in favour. Tokyo did not impose economic sanctions on Argentina, however.

Japan and the Falklands:  First in a three-part series. The texts of both letters reflect Tokyo’s official position, made more interesting by the fact that Japan at that time held a seat at the UN Security Council. We shall examine the first one today, the anniversary of the invasion, and the second one at the next instalment in this series. Since their content reflects Japan’s national interests and her legal and constitutional approach to the use of armed force, we could also ask ourselves whether 30 years later Tokyo’s position and potential actions would be the same. Some things have changed. Among them, Japan has relaxed her embargo on weapons sales and signed a defence industry cooperation agreement with Great Britain. In addition, Tokyo is re-examining whether collective defence may be compatible with her constitution, and just a few weeks ago Prime Minister Abe publicly referred to the Falklands War in a speech before the Diet. Abe said that Japan’s national interests “lie in making the seas, which are the foundation of our nation’s existence, completely open, free and peaceful” and next quoted from Baroness Thatcher’s memoirs[4], where she had written that Britain was defending the fundamental principle that “international law should prevail over the use of force”[5]. We shall examine this question in the third and last part of this series[6].

12 April letter : Invasion rejected and hopes for diplomacy. In his letter[7], PM Suzuki thanks Thatcher for her “detailed message concerning the Falklands Islands issue” and notes that he has been following the situation “with grave concern … since military action was taken by the Argentine armed forces”. This last bit is significant because it makes it clear that, for the Japanese Government, the origin of the crisis lies in the invasion, with responsibility squarely on the shoulders of the Junta. This point is reinforced by the assertion that “The Government of Japan considers that the use of force by Argentina violates the basic principles of peaceful settlement of conflicts and non-use of force of the United Nations Charter and that such action can never be accepted. We strongly hope that the withdrawal of the Argentine forces will be promptly realized and that this dispute peacefully settled through diplomatic negotiations.” Again, this is highly significant at least on two counts. First of all, because it once again makes it clear where the origin of the crisis lies, adding that an invasion “can never be accepted”. Second, because although it calls for negotiations, it does not link them to the Argentine withdrawal, which must be “promptly realized”.

Thus Japan admits that there is an underlying sovereignty dispute and calls for diplomatic negotiations, while choosing not to support either British or Argentine views on sovereignty, but at the same time not linking the two issues. That is, Tokyo does not expect the withdrawal of the invaders to be linked to, or subject to, negotiations. This is an important departure from what Buenos Aires had been expecting all along, which was to force sovereignty negotiations from a position of strength once her forces had taken the Islands. The Argentine Foreign Minister Costa Mendez said: “in the diplomatic circumstances the peaceful and bloodless occupation of the islands[8] would make the Argentine will to negotiate the solution of the underlying conflict evident. This occupation would make it possible for us to negotiate once and for all the underlying dispute. It would also induce the international community, the interested parties and even the United States of America to pay more attention to the reasons for the dispute, its character and the need for a rapid solution. The United Nations would not be able to procrastinate if faced with a military action and would have to discuss it at the highest possible levels”[9]. This Argentine goal clearly failed as concerns Japan.

Suzuki explains that these views were the “basic standpoint” which led Tokyo to “immediately” support UNSC Resolution 502 and to “clearly” explain “our position both domestically and internationally”. Furthermore, Suzuki reveals that Japan had contacted Argentina directly to explain her position “on various occasions”. The last such contact had taken place on the same day that the letter was sent, 12 April, with “the Minister for Foreign Affairs, in conformity with my wishes” telling “the Argentine Ambassador”:

1.- “We deeply regret the use of force by Argentina and urge that its forces withdraw in compliance with the Security Council Resolution”, and

2.- “The Government of Japan places high expectations on good offices by the United States and hopes that Argentina will respond positively … and will try to reach a peaceful settlement through diplomatic negotiations”

Again we can see how, while Japan supported diplomacy, she made it clear that withdrawal had to take place first. This may not have been explicitly stated, but the structure of the letter, and the fact that withdrawal was always mentioned first, left no doubt about it.

Next, the Japanese Prime Minister turns his attention to the implementation of UNSC Resolution 502 and the concrete steps demanded by his British counterpart. After noting that “The basic idea of the Japanese Government is that measures to secure the implementation of the Security Council resolution adopted on April 3 should primarily be sought within the framework of the United Nations in accordance with its Charter”, Suzuki adds that his country is “certainly prepared to make efforts for the improvement of the situation by diplomatic and other means outside the United Nations, too”. We can thus see how Japan, a country not usually noted for her diplomatic activism, seems however ready to contribute to efforts to convince Buenos Aires to withdraw before the British task force reaches the Falklands. At the same time, though, this passage seems to refer to the trade embargo sought by London, which the EEC had agreed to[10] and which the US would end up imposing once Secretary of State Haig’s “shuttle diplomacy” had failed, but which Japan was reluctant to impose.

This is furthermore doubly-qualified, with Prime Minister Suzuki cautioning that “Such efforts should be naturally exerted in such a manner as not incompatible

with the existing international obligations” and that Japan should also act bearing in mind “what we judge for ourselves to be the long term interests of the Free World”. The first of these two limits comes as no surprise, although we may speculate on its exact meaning. Is Suzuki simply referring to international law in general, to Japan’s post-war renunciation of “war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” in Article 9 of her Constitution[11], or to bilateral legal obligations? The fact that he writes “international obligations” seems to point out at international law, but in a way the shadow of Article 9 pervades the whole text. It is also likely that Suzuki was referring to trade agreements with Argentine, which in his view may have limited the scope for sanctions. This was a bone of contention between London and Tokyo, with PM Thatcher pressing Japan to impose and publicly declare a trade embargo on Argentina[12], and the Japanese authorities reluctant to go that far[13].

We must point out, however, that the logic of Article 9 cannot be seen in isolation. Could Japan have renounced war without enjoying the armed protection of another power? It is rather doubtful. Thus, while the 1951 US-Japan Security Treaty and its 1960 successor were strongly contested by many voices who saw them as basically incompatible with Article 9, and remain to some extent controversial to this day, it is difficult to see how the latter may have survived without them. Furthermore, although never formally amended, the official interpretation of this constitutional provision has undergone repeated reinterpretations[14], and this has provided the legal and constitutional basis for what we often refer to as Japan’s “normalization as a military power”[15].

In a way the Falklands War was not a first for Japan, since the Korean War had also been fought under a UN Resolution and with full Japanese logistical support. It was thus a precedent on which Japanese leaders could draw to support the UK diplomatically without fear of contravening their own constitution. There was, however, a major difference between Korea and the Falklands: in the latter, the aggressor was also a US ally. This is what may have prompted PM Suzuki to refer to “the long term interests of the Free World”. The Junta overestimated Argentina’s worth to the US[16] and the Free World in general, and this together with their faulty view of British resolve[17] ultimately led to their miscalculation. However, although the Argentines had an inflated view of their country’s importance, it was still true that it was in everybody’s best interest to contain the fallout from the war. In this sense, the Japanese may have already been thinking of Buenos Aires’ post-war rehabilitation.

The next issue dealt with in the letter is that of the arms embargo on Argentina. At that time, Japan was following a strict policy of not exporting weapons, which Suzuki refers to, saying that his country “pursues the policy of abstaining from exporting arms to foreign countries”, adding that “This policy is being applied strictly to Argentina”.

Finally, the Japanese prime minister explains that “Bearing these considerations in mind, we stated to the Argentine side in our representations of April 12 that if the present crisis is prolonged, it is feared that the confidence of the Government and people of Japan in that country’s future might be undermined and that the smooth development of relations between the two countries might be impeded, especially in the economic field”. In the absence of military aid for Great Britain, which would have contravened the ban on collective security seen as resulting from Article 9, Tokyo may thus have been applying economic pressure, going beyond the UN embargo. The letter concludes with the “hope that for these and other reasons the Argentine side will endeavour for an early solution of the current situation” and a promise that “We shall continue to see that the Argentine side is reminded of it”.

Conclusions. Japan, a fellow maritime democracy, provided strong diplomatic support to the United Kingdom and one of the key votes at the United Nations Security Council allowing Resolution 502 to be passed. The letter we have examined highlights how, as a matter of principle, Tokyo opposed the use of force to settle international disputes and did not fall into the Argentine trap of linking a withdrawal to negotiations, as Buenos Aires sought. The Japanese not only voted against aggression in New York but also engaged diplomatically the Argentines, hoping to help convince them to withdraw their occupation forces before the Task Force came into contact with them. This was in addition to supporting US Secretary of State Haig’s “shuttle diplomacy”. However, Tokyo did not comply with British demands for a trade embargo, although some economic pressure was brought to bear.

In his 12 April letter, PM Suzuki was careful to outline some limits to what Japan may do. These came from Tokyo’s domestic legislation (first and foremost Article 9 of her Constitution), interpretation of international law and role of the UN, bilateral trade agreements with Buenos Aires, and perceived need to keep Argentina in the Free World camp. In the next instalment of this series we will examine his 24 April letter, concluding with a third part examining how Japan’s continued “normalization” and the evolving scenario in East Asia may be prompting changes in Tokyo’s position in the event of renewed hostilities in the South Atlantic.

Alex Calvo is a student at Birmingham University’s MA in British WWII Studies

[1] “Falklands: Prime Minister Suzuki of Japan letter to MT (Argentine invasion of the Falklands) [Japan applying pressure on Argentina] [released 2013]”, Churchill Archive Centre, Thatcher MSS: THCR 3/1/20 f64 (T70/82), 12 April 1982, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, available at http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/5B93E112A45044FA9D022AA3368AD0EC.pdf <accessed on 1 April 2013>

[2] “Falklands: Prime Minister Suzuki of Japan message to MT (sanctions against Argentina) [Suzuki to pressure Japanese business not to “unduly take advantage” of EC and other measures to ban Argentine imports] [released 2013]”, Churchill Archive Centre, THCR 3/1/20 f111 (T85A/82), 24 April 1982, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, available at http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/D7E483EAB20C4878A6D9123AE07B17D9.pdf <accessed on 1 April 2013>

[3] A third letter, dated 5 November 1982 and not discussed in this series, refers to Tokyo’s views on post-war reconciliation. “Prime Minister Suzuki of Japan message to MT (Japan will vote in favour of proposed Argentine UN Resolution on future negotiations over Falklands sovereignty) [released 2013]”, Churchill Archive Centre, THCR 3/1/26 Part 1 f34 (T210/82), 5 November 1982, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, available at http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/7B9C219FF5944D869F6491EC79432175.pdf <accessed on 1 April 2013>

[4] “Japan uses Baroness Thatcher and Falkland Islands as inspiration”, Daily Telegraph, 28 February 2013, http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/southamerica/falklandislands/9899206/Japan-uses-Baroness-Thatcher-and-Falkland-Islands-as-inspiration.html

[5] “Much was at stake: what we were fighting for eight thousand miles away in the South Atlantic was not only the territory and the people of the Falklands, important though they were. We were defending our honour as a nation, and principles of fundamental importance to the whole world – above all, that aggression should never succeed and that international law should prevail over the use of force” M. Thatcher, The Downing Street Years, (London: HarperCollins, 1993), p. 173

[6] These articles are not designed to provide an in-depth comprehensive treatment of Japanese policy during the Falklands War, but rather to illustrate some of its most significant aspects. It is important to bear in mind that the two letters examined are only a sample of the diplomatic correspondence between London and Tokyo those days.

[7] “Falklands: Prime Minister Suzuki of Japan letter to MT (Argentine invasion of the Falklands) [Japan applying pressure on Argentina] [released 2013]”, Churchill Archive Centre, Thatcher MSS: THCR 3/1/20 f64 (T70/82), 12 April 1982, Margaret Thatcher Foundation, available at http://www.margaretthatcher.org/document/5B93E112A45044FA9D022AA3368AD0EC.pdf <accessed on 1 April 2013>

[8] “It is precisely to avoid such an scenario that Governor Sir Rex Hunt made sure the invading forces landing on South Georgia and the Falklands were met with force, so that Buenos Aires could not achieve its ideal outcome, a bloodless invasion. This would have made it much more difficult for the British Government to overcome both domestic and allied and international reluctance to the deployment of a task force. While careful to avoid prolonged combats which would have endangered both the limited forces at his disposal and the civilian population entrusted to him, Sir Rex Hunt started preparing the ground for the liberation of the Falklands right since the opening salvos of the war. He knew that if the Junta managed to grab them in a seemingly peaceful manner, it would be much more difficult for Great Britain to make her case in fora like the United Nations and before friends and allies. This was precisely the Argentine plan” A. Calvo,    “The third dimension of warfare and tactical stability in the Senkaku Islands”, Birmingham “on War”: The blog of the postgraduate students at the Centre for War Studies, University of Birmingham,  09 January 2013, Birmingham University, available at http://warstudies.wordpress.com/2013/01/09/the-third-dimension-of-warfare-and-tactical-stability-in-the-senkaku-islands/

[9] Lawrence FREEDMAN and Virginia GAMBA-STONEHOUSE, Signals of War: the Falklands Conflict of 1982, (London: Faber and Faber, 1990), p. 81

[10] Although the degree to which it was implemented varied according to the member state concerned.

[11] An English-language version can be found at “The Constitution of Japan”, website of the Prime Minister of Japan and his Cabinet, available at http://www.kantei.go.jp/foreign/constitution_and_government_of_japan/constitution_e.html < accessed on 1 April 2013>

[12] This demand appears in earlier correspondence between the two prime ministers.

[13] This was openly admitted by the Japanese authorities themselves, as clear from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ summary of  major diplomatic efforts that year, which reads “The EC member countries prohibited the export of weapons and other munitions to Argentina and placed a total ban on imports from that country. However, Japan imposed no economic sanctions, such as an import ban on Argentina. But Japan made clear its policy of doing nothing to unduly exploit the EC’s import ban to Japan’s economic advantage. The Government of Japan thus guided the business circles to pay due attention not to unduly take advantage of the measures to ban imports from Argentina taken by the EC members and other countries for the benefit of the economic interests of Japan.” “Diplomatic Bluebook 1983. CHAPTER THREE: MAJOR DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS MADE BY JAPAN DURING 1982”, website of the Foreign Affairs Ministry of Japan, available at http://www.mofa.go.jp/policy/other/bluebook/1983/1983-3-1.htm < accessed on 1 April 2013>

[14] “The Government’s View on Article 9 of the Constitution” can be consulted in “Fundamental Concepts of National Defense: I. Constitution of Japan and Right of Self-Defense”, website of the Japanese Ministry of Defense, available at http://www.mod.go.jp/e/d_act/d_policy/dp01.html < accessed on 1 April 2013>

[15] For an in-depth view of its different aspects, see C. W. Hugues, Japan’s Remilitarisation, Adelphi Papers, Issue 403, (London: Routledge, 2009)

[16] “The Argentines saw the lifting of the Carter embargo as a victory for their hard-nosed line on Human Rights, but their obsessions led them to overrate their importance to US policy makers: not in Central America, where their role was indeed valued, but in the South Atlantic, where it was not. They based their self-delusion on the war across the South Atlantic in Angola, where some 36,000 Cuban troops, acting as proxies for the Soviet Union, maintained an avowedly Marxist-Leninist government in the face of two groups of insurgents backed respectively by South Africa and the USA. Soviet objectives were to gain preferential access to Angolan natural resources and to create a base from which their naval forces could threaten the Western jugular: the sea route for oil tankers from the Persian Gulf. The Argentines and South Africans alike convinced themselves that the USA needed their help to counter this threat, whereas the view from Washington was that their bases at the British islands of Ascension in the Atlantic and Diego García in the Indian Ocean were more than sufficient, and that the US Navy could protect the sea lanes without additional shore facilities. The Cape Route was indeed a vital US geopolitical concern, but the Argentines failed to realize that they counted for less than a couple of little British islands in the equation” H. Bicheno, Razor’s Edge. The Unofficial History of the Falklands War, (London: Phoenix, 2007), p. 77.

[17] “there can be little doubt that the Argentines would not have invaded the Falklands if Washington had warned them it would back Britain militarily. The main reason Washington did not is because, since the British had not themselves made it clear they would fight, there was no reason for the Americans to commit themselves in advance” H. Bicheno, Razor’s Edge. The Unofficial History of the Falklands War, (London: Phoenix, 2007), p. 74 and “Reagan made the US position clear to Galtieri in their private pre-invasion conversation. If the FCO/State combine had not so thoroughly muddled the waters, he would have followed this with a public declaration. What Reagan was not prepared to do was come out openly and unequivocally on the British side while there was the slightest chance they were bluffing and might cut a deal at the last minute. Thus as well as creating the preconditions for the original Argentine miscalculation, US and British diplomats ensured the matter would be settled in blood by misleading Reagan about Thatcher’s resolve” H. Bicheno, Razor’s Edge. The Unofficial History of the Falklands War, (London: Phoenix, 2007), p. 80.


America, Race and the Great War

This extended article discusses the extent to which views on race affected the fighting capacity and effectiveness of the American Army during World War One. It argues somewhat controversially that the contemporary racist views of white Americans had little effect on the fighting ability of the army.

The Harlem Hellfighters - Black soldiers from World War One

The Harlem Hellfighters – Black soldiers from World War One

American experiences during the First World War were limited by their late entry in to the war; their contributions came on a weakened enemy that was on the back foot. Nonetheless views upon race played an important role in how the United States fought; it can be seen at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. The natural discourse for a western liberal would be to assume that this would have a profoundly negative impact on the effectiveness of an army. Yet when one looks at the combat effectiveness of the racially segregated troops there appears to be little difference. This poses the question as to how far did racist views impact on how well troops of different ethnicity fought?

Part of the reason why race is perceived as to have a significant view upon how the blacks fought and therefore how America as a whole fought is due to the obscuring of the truth. The successes of black soldiers were side-lined, whilst their failures were highlighted. This has led to a discourse that ascribes race as a significant factor in its impact upon fighting. This article will focus upon the relationship between white and black Americans both at home and abroad. It will consider how white views impacted upon the tactical, operational and strategic use of black troops.

W. E. B. Du bois

W. E. B Du Bois

David Kennedy asserts that the majority of white Americans were loathsome of blacks “The average white person…whether buck private or general, didn’t want Negro soldiers.”  The strength of this sentiment meant that the American army would remain rigidly segregated along racial lines. David Levering Lewis points to a quote by W.E.B Du Bois that articulates the problem this caused; “The racial distinctions… present a formidable barrier to the existence of that feeling of comradeship which is essential to mutual confidence and esprit de corps.”

At the tactical level this attitude hindered black troops because they were predominantly led by officers who were “disproportionately recruited from white southerners.”  The fighting effectiveness at the tactical level was further compounded by the poor training black troops were given. An example of this was the lack of arrangements to train the all-black Ninety-Second division together; rather they were trained at seven widely separated camps. Moreover, they were not trained how to use artillery or machine guns on the premise that they were beyond the mental capabilities of blacks. Mistakes like this demonstrate the incompetence American leadership showed in dealing with the ‘black problem’.

W.E.B Du Bois could not decide whether the leadership were simply racists, incompetent, or both. He points to how the Ninety-Second’s black officer numbers dropped from 82 to 58 per-cent as they were “battered by a hailstorm of arbitrary transfers and courts-marshal.”  This led him to the conclusion that American officers fought more valiantly against Negroes that they did against the Germans.”  This may sound extreme but there is some reasoning that some whites disliked blacks far more than they disliked German militarism. To put as much effort in to fighting their own establishment rather than the enemy would surely have had a detrimental effect.

American leadership’s issues with balancing the need for black troops whilst also having to placate white people’s issues with the raising of these troops impacted on American operational and strategic planning. A prime example of this can be seen with the case of the Fifteenth New York Infantry at Spartanburg. John Hope Franklin and Alfred A. Moss, JR have outlined the options and their consequences available to the War Department after conflict broke out between black soldiers and white civilians in the area:

It could keep the regiment at Camp Wadsworth and face a violent eruption; it could remove the regiment to another camp, thereby conveying the impression that any community that exerted sufficient pressure could force the War Department to remove undesirable soldiers from their midst; or it could order the regiment overseas.

The decision was taken to send them overseas. From this we can see how conflicts about race gave American leadership problems that could have strategic impacts at home and therefore also abroad. The decision to send the regiment overseas calmed white fears, but must have tempted many blacks to believe that “the penalty for insisting upon full equality in the United States was a sentence to face, for a full season, the onslaught of German armies”

Another way that views on race at home influenced American prosecution of the war can be seen in the issues surrounding lynching. Ernest Allen, Jr describes the how these attacks caused disaffection and outcry from Afro-American communities;

Black public outcry against lynching, bordering on what some authorities considered to be “unpatriotic” expression in a time of war… which might well hinder prosecution of U.S. war aims overseas… the Afro-American press was nevertheless quite given to providing front-page coverage to these almost daily atrocities committed against black such stories.

The consequence of this was that the leadership “recognized that a rapid deterioration of race relations could harm civilian and military morale and that special measures to avoid deterioration might be needed.”  In the end it forced President Wilson in to making a strong statement against Lynching and mob violence. The fact that it this reached the level of the president shows how important an issue it was becoming and how it could affect the prosecution of the war.

To accuse race of being the main determinant of American strategy is to fall in to the lure of cultural determinism. Race evidently played a role, however, to assert that its role was fundamental to how America fought ignores the elements of realism within American leadership. Several points will be discussed to counter the culturally determinist approach; the directing of resources to the best suited place, the involvement of blacks in nearly all aspects of the army, and their role on the home front. However, as will be shown despite these realist tendencies race influenced the American army even when it was trying to be somewhat ‘colour-blind’

White Southerners strongly opposed the presence of Black regiments training in their regions, this sometimes boiled over in to violence, as already seen with the Spartanburg incident. Yet whilst in that case the government appeared to bend to White Southerners pressure, there was an element of realism within the army that realised that it would be necessary to have black soldiers in the South. According to Franklin and Moss “blacks were being sent to the camp, North or South, that best served the interests of the prosecution of the war.”   Thus the notion that American leadership was blinded by their racial ideology is undercut by the pragmatism that can be seen in some of their decision making. Nonetheless, the very fact that issues like this had to be dealt with shows how the racialist views distracted the authorities from focusing on pure military matters in order to deal with politico-racial issues, Franklin and Moss agree,

Henry Johnson, the first African American to be awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, in WW I. He has also been posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor.

Henry Johnson, the first African American to be awarded the Croix de Guerre by the French, in WW I. He has also been posthumously nominated for the Medal of Honor.

“This arrangement worked such a hardship upon the administration of the army’s program…”

A related point that has suggested is that despite their segregation black soldiers served in almost every branch of the army, from cavalry to chaplains to labour battalions. In whatever branch they were placed they were effective. The most decorated of these were these were those who served under the French, who desperate for manpower pounced upon them. The 369th United States Infantry spent 191 days in the trenches and earned the name “Hell Fighters” by the Germans. In addition the entire regiment was awarded the Croix de Guerre for their efforts at Maison-en-Champagne.

Heroic actions tended to be overlooked by the military establishment, who sought to praise white soldiers and highlight black failures. This was despite the many failings of American White troops, Kennedy describes how “American gunners were ill-trained to provide the close support of a creeping barrage, and hence tended to favour long-range fire of dubious effect. Loose discipline further hampered the American attack, as small bodies of troops scattered themselves about, under no apparent control.”

Two opposing hypothesis are possible; it could imply that the black troops fought better under the French because they were more accommodating and tolerant of them. It could alternatively demonstrate the superiority of French organization and leadership in ensuring that their troops fought more efficiently, due to their greater experience. Perhaps most probable is that it was a combination of both, improved morale and better leadership would likely cause any unit to fight better. By looking at how black troops fought when divorced from the main body of the American army it is possible to see how views on race combined with ineptitude affected how well the American army could fight.

Regardless of their views, the White leaders realised how important the black workforce were in providing the resources necessary for war. The mass migration of Afro-Americans from the south to industrial centres in the north meant that it was necessary for more conciliatory tones to be made by the leadership to ensure that the industrial effort did not falter. To help ensure this Emmett J. Scott was employed as a special assistant for Negro affairs. His employment demonstrates how the White authorities recognised that some concessions would be necessary in order to prevent mass dissent in black communities. This is further affirmed through the close liaising between W.E.B Du Bois and Joel Elias Spingarn, Mark Ellis has argued that it was the relationship between these two that led to one of Du Bois most famous pieces “Close Ranks” which calls for black people to support the war “Let us, while this war lasts, forget our special grievances and close our ranks shoulder to shoulder with our own white fellow citizens and the allied nations that are fighting for democracy…”  A cynic might suggest that the closeness of their relationship and his progressive ideals were to lead to him “being stripped of domestic duties and assigned once again to the theatre of war.”  Evidently, the authorities would only let realism on a short leash; ideology played a significant role in conditioning their thinking.

In summary it appears that race shaped America’s prosecution of the war in ways that were detrimental at the tactical, operational and strategic levels. At the tactical and operational levels came issues of how and where to train black soldiers. At the strategic level was how to employ these troops, which was compounded by issues with where and what their training was. To argue that race was the main factor in determining American strategy is misguided, general  incompetence due to lack of training, experience and failure to listen to their allies lay at the core of the issue. The reason for this is that the history of the America’s actions during World War One is littered with examples of incompetence and failures, when discussing American success at Saint-Mihiel one French officer commented “[T]he most unfortunate part of an otherwise successful operation…was that it confirmed the American High Command in an exaggerated estimate of the efficiency of the American military machine—and of their ability to control it.”  White soldiers were no better than their black counterparts. Thus trying to discern how race effected the prosecution of the war becomes more difficult. If white officers were as incompetent with white troops as they were with the blacks they disliked, it suggests that it was not their views on their racial superiority that led to the Americans fighting the war as they did but rather other factors.

Some Further Reading

J. Franklin & A. Moss, From Slavery to Freedom: A History of African Americans.

D. Kennedy, Over Here: The First World War and American Society.

D. Lewis, W.E.B Du Bois: A Biography of a Race: 1868 – 1919.

J. Ross, J. E. Springarn and the Rise of the NAACP, 1911-1939.

E. Allen, “Close Ranks”: Major Joel E. Spingarn and the Tow Soul of Dr W.E.B Du Bois,

M. Ellis, “Closing Ranks” and “Seeking Honors”: W. E. B. Du Bois in World War I.

W.E.B Du Bois, Close ranks, http://www.udel.edu/History/suisman/206_08-Fall/Online-readings/dubois.pdf

Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell… Homosexuals and the military.

This week Charlotte Bignell looks at the relationship between homosexuals and the armed forces.


The unique experience of war and gender-segregated military conditions have emerged in the studies of homosexuality as being some of the greatest opportunities for homosexuality to flourish, as researched by John D’Emilio and Allan Bérubé.  Militaries tend to have strong connections with their history, which may make them lean toward conservatism; this has led some critics to suggest that the US military’s views on homosexuality are archaic and backwards. This essay will focus mostly on the experiences of male homosexuals in the US military since the beginning of World War Two. In addition, the historiography on Britain by Emma Vickers and World War One by Margot Canaday will also be explored briefly to provide a wider picture and demonstrate the scope for future academia. Whilst the essay focus may just represent one aspect of gay military history, it raises interesting ideas about the leader of the Western World’s military being outdated and out of touch with mainstream society; homosexuality has been legalised in America for some time and is arguably widely accepted, yet the military ban on homosexuals was lifted only in 2011. The topic’s contemporary relevance makes the emerging history significant as earlier experiences may been seen to have shaped today’s society and the progression over recent times can be tracked to an extent, particularly with the interesting links between scholarship. The theory of World War Two as the trigger of modern homosexuality, the impacts of the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ campaign, the importance of oral histories and the issues that arose because of the Vietnam War will all need further research to illustrate the ways in which it is significant that studies of homosexuality in the history of the military have emerged.

War has been described as a unique experience; one reason for this is because of the sense of detachment from reality. For example, individuals were only surrounded by members of the same-sex for long periods of time and had to confront death daily. Such circumstances make it is possible to see why homosexual opportunities are seized and bonds are formed which are unlikely to be possible in ‘normal life’. The intimacy, closeness and comradeship are felt by both gay and straight men which obviously poses difficulties with defining homosexuals in the military. Homosexual activity may not necessarily equate to the participant being gay; the prevalence of intimate contact and affection when threatened with death is not an uncommon practice. Leon Podles notes that “in our society, men aren’t supposed to show that kind of affection except under such stress as this.”  It is important for history to look at this unique topic as it has such a precise focus, perhaps unlike previous gay histories, but also because it holds a wide range of consequences and outcomes in the military and the greater society too.

The work of Bérubé has focused on the significance of World War Two as a nationwide ‘coming out’ experience for gay Americans and for many, their military experiences during this time became “the foundation upon which they built a post-war life.”  This counteracts the thoughts of many scholars who have placed emphasis on the Stonewall Riots in New York in 1969 as the trigger of the modern gay identity. The construction of urban gay communities in the 1940s owes much to the experiences of World War Two; homosexuals had had a taste of freedom and did not want to return to normal life or succumb to the post-war pressure of practising heterosexual and conventional family norms.  The urban gay centres of the US we know today, such as San Francisco, New York and Los Angeles all have strong links to the experiences of gay men in the war, who were consciously realising their own identity and searching for a like-minded community.


To address the theory of D’Emilio and look at why the US experience of World War Two led to the acknowledgement of gay identity and the formation of homosexual communities, the policy of homosexual screening at the draft boards needs to be explored. Bérubé developed on from D’Emilio’s earlier work on homosexuality in the history of the military by using oral histories, this demonstrates the significance of this topic as there is area for scope and the ability to expand on the scholarship. Bérubé’s oral methodology has gained considerable praise and has proved to be of huge significance to the subject because of the value of first-hand accounts which belong to a generation soon to die out; its aim is for the history not to be lost. With the increasing authority of psychiatrists in the armed forces, the homosexual screening process became mandatory for those wishing to enter the US army. By simply asking blunt questions about one’s sexual orientation, it was necessary for men to face their own sexual status which they may have not done previously in their lives.  Looking at World War Two as a time where conscious homosexual identity emerged is significant to the history of the military as it represents a turning point in the lives of many Americans and thus in post-war life, where urban gay communities increased dramatically.

The use of psychiatry in identifying homosexuals in the US military supported the notion of homosexuality as some form of mental illness. This had been a long-standing view of psychoanalysts, such as Sigmund Freud and sexologists, such as Magnus Hirschfield, but its application in military draft policy raises serious morality issues about one’s patriotism and not being accepted or wanted to represent and fight for one’s country. This will be discussed later when focusing on Vietnam and the work of Justin David Suran.

It is important to observe that the US military did address homosexuality in World War One, but did not have the resources to implement the sophisticated screening and surveillance as they did in World War Two.   Margot Canaday focuses on the dramatic change from the traditional law of sodomy as a punishable offence in the military to World War Two where the homosexual status became punishable and a reason for discharge or not recruiting in the first place.   This demonstrates significance in the emergence of studies of homosexuality in the military as it has the ability to track the transformation of the U.S over time into a more sexually conscious and sexually aware society. The change in punishment in the law from acts to status illustrates the wider society’s progression to ideas about acknowledging what you are with names and labels. The historiography suggests that to be a homosexual in World War One would have been easier than in World War Two because of the ability to go undetected and avoid trouble with the officers, compared to World War Two were homosexuals were actively sought out.

Relating back to the significance of oral histories in the study of homosexuality in the military, Vickers, who was researching homosexuality in the British Armed Forces in World War One, appeared to cause great insult to some veterans she wished to discuss the subject with. John Clarke was outraged with the claim that any of his fellow soldiers in the war may have been homosexual, as it was illegal and “un-British” . She was accused of disrespecting the sacredness of war and those who died for their country. With the abundance of research and evidence that many homosexuals did serve in the British Armed Forces in World War One and elsewhere, these accusations are likely to represent the continuance of heterosexual tradition and sexual stigma within the military. The apparent dishonour of claiming homosexuals served in the military relates back to the morality issues surrounding one’s patriotism and right to die for one’s country. The outdated beliefs of some military officials have significance to current debate, particularly relating to the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ (DADT) policy. The continuance of social stigma toward homosexuals in the military is demonstrated by a retired Army chaplain, Ron Crews’ notion that DADT is a radical sexual experiment threatening the US military.

In order to identify ways in which the emergence of homosexuality in the history of the military has been significant, the contemporary relevance of the DADT policy and Bérubé’s scholarly influence cannot be ignored. DADT, implemented under President Bill Clinton in 1993 as a compromise with traditional military leaders, barred openly homosexual men and women from military service. To some, this may have appeared to be a success for the homosexual community; they were being allowed to serve in the military, as long as they didn’t discuss their sexual orientation or engage in any homosexual activity. Yet, DADT raised many issues and, it could be argued, was an even greater hindrance to the gay movement than previous policies. The experiences of gay servicemen were not improved and by essentially being forced to remain in the closet, there would have been great “costs to the individual’s identity and sense of human value.”  Joseph Rocha, who served in the US Navy from 2004 to 2007, spoke of the daily fear and anxiety of being discovered but also the grave unhappiness of lying about one’s true identity; “in order to be protected by DADT, it would require such a level of deceit and deception and such a removal of everything that is beautiful in your life – of relationships, of meaning, of friendships…that’s not human.”  Derek Burks finds that DADT serves only to highlight homosexuality undesirably in the military environment which is already characterised by heterosexuality and conservative gender norms.  This augments homosexual victimisation and diminishes the feeling of safety and confidence in one’s troop, resulting in an absence of victim reports and help seeking.  The general consensus of Steve Estes’ interviewees was that DADT “changing nothing or even made matters worse.”  The repeal of the policy and the emergence of these histories allowed gay servicemen the long-awaited feeling of acceptance and the ability to be open about one’s sexual identity without fear of discharge and the end of their military career.

By bringing homosexuality into the political sphere, DADT highlighted the outdated tradition of military law. The US military were backwards compared to US society. The implementation of this policy saw a resurgence of gay political activity, similar to the 1970s gay liberation movements. It is significant that the history of homosexuality in the military has emerged because, as seen here, it ties in with other aspects of social life, such as political protest. Another important aspect to consider is the credibility of the scholarship of homosexuality on this topic, highlighted by Bérubé’s work becoming part of contemporary debate in the 1990s. Being considered an expert on the topic, he himself was caught up in the political storm of DADT and was consulted on the issues of it.

Gay anti-Vietnam War protest and the conflicting pro-war stance of the Mattachine Society in the 1960s and 1970s is another area which highlights the significance of political links with homosexuality and the military. Suran studies the Vietnam War’s considerable impact on the lives of homosexual men and women, and criticises the other historiography of this subject for missing the conflict’s unique relevance to homosexuals and the gay rights movement of the era.  The Vietnam draft, like World War Two, forced many men to come to terms with their sexual identity because of the US Army’s screening process. Yet, times had moved on since World War Two with homosexual issues discussed more openly in the wider public and with the emergence of the gay liberation movement, homosexuality’s political connections were amplified. The US military’s controversial involvement in Vietnam spurred a split in the gay movement between gay veterans and gay activists. The Mattachine Society, which emerged post-World War Two, was a homophile organisation which sought to improve the rights of homosexuals. They were keen to assert their ability to conform to the conventional norms of society and exist as loyal, hard-working citizens. This led to pro-war attitudes among homophiles as it may have been a perfect opportunity to fit in with society and essentially prove their honour and devotion to their country. At the opposite end of the spectrum were younger, radical gay activists who were entirely opposed to conforming to the heterosexual, capitalist means behind fighting in Vietnam; they wanted no part in the masculine dominance and oppression of war.

Suran criticises D’Emilio for focusing on New York and Stonewall in the history of homosexuality, where he believes greater attention is needed in San Francisco where the anti-war protest and gay rights movements were at their height. Vietnam illustrates the significance of the study of homosexuality within military history as it highlights the individuality of homosexuals and their political views resulting in a division in the gay movement. It continues to track the changes in political views and what their implications were in the military and in wider society. Suran sees the Vietnam War as an unavoidable topic when tracing the history of homosexuality because of its formative influence of gay solidarity and urban, social protest.

In conclusion, it is of considerable significance that studies of homosexuality in the history of the military have emerged because it ties in with other areas and aspects of society, such as politics, protest, medical understanding, employment law and urban life. It provides a new perspective on how to understand the importance of war. The development of military history with new areas of relevance being explored provides historians with a richer understanding of the dynamics and experience of war. The abundance of sources in the form of draft boards, legal documents, letters, oral histories and the high standing of scholarship on the topic serve to promote and exemplify why homosexuality should be included in the history of the military. Bérubé concludes that World War Two was of great significance to the history of sexuality, as well as US and world history.  The experience of the military draft boards, and later with the political gay movements of the 1960s and 1970s, homosexuality was finally gaining public acknowledgement. Whilst, this may have excelled effeminate stereotypes as associated with the screening processes, some would argue that any public representation of homosexuality was better than none at all. A final point that should be made is that armies can be used to impose their country’s will on others, in America’s case this would be liberal democracy.  Since the majority of American civilians would consider themselves liberal and with the legalisation of homosexuality in America, it could be argued that the US army should have put American values into practice earlier than 2011 in order to be fully representative of US society. Nonetheless it is significant that homosexuality has become legalised within the US military as it represents a marked progress from their archaic laws that existed prior to this.


Bérubé, Coming Out Under Fire (North Carolina, 1990)

Bérubé, ‘Marching to a Different Drummer: Lesbian and Gay GIs in World War II’, in Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, George Chauncey (eds) Hidden from History: reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (London, 1990)

D. J. Burks, ‘Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual Victimisation in the Military: An Unintended Consequence of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”?’, American Psychologist, Vol. 66, No. 7 (2011), pp.604-613

M. Canaday, The Straight State: Sexuality and Citizenship in Twentieth-Century America (Princeton, 2009), ch 2, 5

G, Chauncey, ‘Christian Brotherhood or Sexual Perversion? Homosexual Identities and the Construction of Sexual Boundaries in the World War I Era’, Martin Duberman, Martha Vicinus, George Chauncey (eds) Hidden from History: reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past (London, 1990)

J. D’Emilio, Sexual Politics, Sexual Communities (University of Chicago Press, 1983), ch 1, 2

S. Estes, ‘Ask and Tell: Gay Veterans, Identity and Oral History on a Civil Rights Frontier’, The Oral History Review, Vol. 32, No. 2 (2005), pp. 21-47

R. Jennings, A Lesbian History of Britain (Oxford, 2007), ch 6

L. Meyer, ‘Creating GI Jane: The Regulation of Sexuality and Sexual Behaviour in the Women’s Army Corps During WWII’, Feminist Studies, Vol. 18, No. 3 (1992), pp. 581-601

J. D. Suran, ‘Coming out against the War: Antimilitarism and the Politicization of Homosexuality in the Era of Vietnam’, American Quarterly, vol. 53 (2001), pp. 452-488

E. Vickers, ‘The Good Fellow: Negotiation, Remembrance and Recollection – Homosexuality in the British Armed Forces, 1939-1945’, in D. Herzog, (ed.) Brutality and Desire: War and Sexuality in Europe’s Twentieth Century (Basingstoke, 2008), pp. 109-134

L. J. Podles, review of J. Boswell, Same-Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe (New York, 1994) <Online> http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=08-02-034-b

[accessed on 24/11/2012]

C. Heath, ‘Tell: An Intimate History of Gay Men in the Military’ <Online> http://www.gq.com/news-politics/big-issues/201109/dont-ask-dont-tell-gay-soldiers-military [accessed on 23/11/2012]

R. Crews, ‘Homosexuals in the Military Demand Special Privileges’ <Online> http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2012/sep/25/homosexuals-in-the-military-demand-special-privile/ [accessed on 23/11/2012]

K. Webley, ‘Brief History of Gays in the Military’ <Online> http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1960257,00.html [accessed on 24/11/2012]

We’re back!

After a long time off, the War Studies blog is up and running again.

In the coming weeks we will have articles discussing a variety of different topics, including; Mali, homosexuality in the military, and race issues in the American Army in World War Two.

First Article will be out tomorrow.


2012 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2012 annual report for this blog.

Here’s an excerpt:

600 people reached the top of Mt. Everest in 2012. This blog got about 9,900 views in 2012. If every person who reached the top of Mt. Everest viewed this blog, it would have taken 17 years to get that many views.

Click here to see the complete report.

The problem with Assad’s aerial strategy…

Assad this week.


With attack helicopters and Russian fighter jets plummeting to the ground around Syria, it could be suggested that President Assad’s air campaign is faltering. In June, Defence IQ published an article called ‘What do Russian attack helicopters say about Syrian strategy?’ Three months on we ask: what has changed – and why?…

Three months ago Syria was denied a shipment of Russian MI-35 attack helicopters, which was a significant blow to the regime.

As suggested in the original article:

If the attack helicopters had arrived, it would have significantly increased the Syrian Arab Army’s capacity to conduct successful counter-insurgency operations, enabling it to root out rebels embedded deep within cities and providing aggressive cover to its own authorities on the ground.

The failure to obtain new hardware has meant that Assad has been relying on an increasingly decrepit armoury. A tweet from FSA leader, Riad al Assad, said:

Reports coming in saying 50% of Assad’s hind attack helicopters may be grounded due to lack of spare parts loyal pilots and poor maintenance.

This will be of concern to President Assad. His strategy has only occasionally launched air strikes from fixed-wing jets, but instead tends to rely on helicopters for air strikes in urban areas.

The most recent images of a helicopter being shot down will do nothing to inspire confidence in his strategy.

When fighting in COIN operations, losing control of the skies has historically marked the beginning of the end for many governments against insurgent forces, from Afghanistan to Libya. Whilst it would be bold to suggest that President Assad no longer has an aerial advantage, it is becoming apparent that he is losing his monopoly in aerial supremacy.

There are several explanations for why this could be, they are as follows::

The kit

The equipment that the Syrian army has is poorly maintained and out of date, thus making them prone to malfunction. For example, the MiG Jet that the regime claims crashed due to a technical fault rather than the skill or will of the enemy. Speaking of which…

The will of the enemy

The capabilities that the FSA have may be underestimated. As with any force that has employed guerrilla methods, the insurgent will find a weakness and then exploit it with any and all available resources. There is an obvious corollary between the growth and variety of the insurgent’s resources, and the vulnerabilities the enemy faces.

For the FSA, a significant boost to their armoury has been the introduction of (admittedly, crude but nonetheless dangerous) SA-7 anti-aircraft systems. These are handheld, heat-seeking SAMs developed during the cold war and are a genesis of the Stinger launchers used by American forces.

Social media

How can social media impact upon COIN aerial strategy? The answer is not obvious – Facebook can not shoot down a jet (…yet). However, what social media does provide is a platform to influence, convince and indoctrinate on a level previously impossible.

The FSA have learnt from other insurgent campaigns around the world and are using social media to shape the battlefield. Take Hezbollah for example; its media campaign has seen them even producing their own TV channel. In a similar way, the FSA are using platforms such as YouTube to broadcast anything that may be of strategic advantage, which is then amplified as it spreads to a global audience.

Therefore, regardless of whether or not you are cynical of the videos of jets and helicopters being ‘shot down’, their presence on global media platforms gives the impression that the Assad regime is weakening, whilst the FSA is becoming stronger and more capable. The impact that this has is not restricted to our living rooms, but has a direct impact on the battlefield, causing fear and doubt to spread. Logic would dictate that if a regime cannot maintain its instruments of control it will inevitably crumble. This is why presenting these instruments as inadequate is of such importance.


An alternative reason for why President Assad’s air force looks vulnerable may be because he is attempting to conserve the most valuable air warfare assets in case of a foreign intervention. If true, this decision resides in the grey space between the bold and the foolhardy. If operations in Libya are anything to go by then it is unlikely that trying to preserve some of his better, yet still old kit, will make much of a difference in preventing no-fly zones being implemented.  More than half of the planes are understood to be 30-year-old MiG-21s and MiG-23s; only 40 or so MiG-29s can be described as modern. More valuable is his ground-to-air assets that overshadow those of Gaddafi and have since caused hesitation among NATO forces where intervention is concerned. But how long can these be preserved from the rebel mob – or indeed kept in operation by a dwindling ground force?

What seems apparent from these points is that President Assad lacks the resources and the nous to implement an effective aerial COIN strategy; he and his leaders have B-grade equipment and are not using it to optimal capability. This equipment and those operating it are bending under the pressure, leading inevitably to mistakes and defections. There are certainly smarter ways to use airpower for COIN.

Many commentators agree that the Assad regime will fall eventually, with the dissection of the state now beyond the point of no return. That prediction should be taken with a degree of pessimism; with the removal of President Assad, he will of course leave behind a power vacuum. And those who fill that gap may not be as opposed to using chemical weapons as Assad has so far been.

In a recent Defence IQ article, James Farwell discusses this issue in more depth:

Potential loss of control over WMDs may pose a threat, considering the terror groups that would like to get their hands on them. Col. Riad al-As’ad, head of the opposition Free Syrian Army, says al-Qaeda is not operating in Syria. But al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has reportedly ordered followers to infiltrate the Syrian opposition. Sunni radicals associated with the Islamic State of Iraq, an umbrella group that includes al-Qaeda, have urged fighters to go to Syria. And one should not doubt al-Qaeda’s determination to acquire WMDs – Osama bin Laden once professed that acquiring chemical or nuclear weapons is “a religious duty.”

WMDs could be smuggled into Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon, the West Bank or elsewhere. In the past, Hamas, Hezbollah and Palestinian Islamic Jihad have all attempted to acquire chemical or biological weapons. In a sign of precisely how destabilizing some view this threat, Israeli officials have warned that Syria transferring chemical weapons to Hezbollah would constitute a declaration of war.

The introduction of rogue chemical weapons would indeed be a game changer, and would have a huge impact on the likelihood of a quick resolution.

The use of such weapons will not bring the war to an abrupt end, but will instead expand into a far more lethal and long-term conflict. If we take Iraq as an example; the consequences of Saddam Hussein using chemical weapons against the Kurds during the Iran-Iraq War 1980 to August 1988 are still being felt today. In fact, lest we forget, the fear that Saddam possessed WMDs was premise for invasion by US and allied forces in 2003. Arguably, the lack of evidence post-invasion of these assets has in itself limited the strategic options now available in the Syria scenario.

While Assad may be slipping from power, he is still holding cards tightly to his chest. Whether he tips his hand or the rebels call his bluff remains a waiting game

Who is the greatest military commander of all time?

Just a bit of fun to begin the academic year! Feel free to add your own ideas, or leave a comment to explain your reasoning.

If you select ‘other’, please leave a comment to tell us who you chose!

(P.S. click on the speech bubble above to view comments)

A message from the UOB History Society

Are you currently a first or second year history student? Do you enjoy meeting new people? Want something that could really improve your CV for future opportunities?

Would you consider being a History Parent?

We are looking for volunteers to be ‘parents’ to new freshers, starting in September – a student in an older year who supports their fresher ‘child’, coming on socials and generally being there to answer any questions the freshers might have.

Not only will this look great on your CV, it is an excellent way to meet new people and build relationships! Depending on numbers, each ‘parent’ will probably have more than one ‘child’, and have husbands and wives to build proper history families.

If you’re interested, please email me at PXL152@bham.ac.uk or contact the History Soc on our Facebook group


A list of countries that have visited the blog so far.


Antigua and Barbuda
Bosnia and Herzegovina
Hong Kong
Netherlands Antilles
New Zealand
Russian Federation
South Africa
Trinidad and Tobago
United Kingdom
United States