Thursday, December 30, 2021

John le Carré, 1931-2020

 David John Moore Cornwall, best known as John le Carré, worked for both MI5 and MI6 before the success of “The Spy Who Came in From the Cold” led him to quite the service and write full timeé . I have followed him since I acquired the George Smiley trilogy from Book of the Month Club a long time ago. His final novel, Silverview, has just been added to my collection. I shall miss him but will likely reread all of them in future.

His style is antithetical to Ian Fleming. No flashy stuff, little action, women as professionals or love objects, not sex symbols. The plots are intellectually gripping and will not let you go. I always have to smile. The hair on the back of your neck stands up as the tension and terror mount but no one is “doing’ anything. The protagonists usually but not always escape with their lives, but the plot rarely ends satisfactorily as the corruption of, money, politics and the system tend to confound the situation. A bitter cynicism pervades many of his later books.

I have read, and own with my son, all his books but one. (The Naïve and Sentimental Lover as after reading a third of it and finding it did not appear to be a spy novel, nor have a plot of any kind, I pitched it). Several of his books have been made into movies beginning with The Spy Who Came in From the Cold, starring Richard Burton. Tinker, Taylor, Soldier, Spy and Smiley’s people have been made into superb miniseries by BBC, starring Alex Guinness as George Smiley. Several others of his novels have also been made into BBC miniseries which I will attempt to acquire.

George Smiley and related novels

·         Call for the Dead (1961)

·         A Murder of Quality (1962)

·         The Spy Who Came In from the Cold (1963)

·         The Looking Glass War (1965)

·         Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1974)

·         The Honourable Schoolboy (1977)

·         Smiley's People (1979)

·         The Russia House (1989)

·         The Secret Pilgrim (1990)

·         The Night Manager (1993)

·         A Legacy of Spies (2017)



·         The Naïve and Sentimental Lover (1971)

·         A Perfect Spy (1986)



·         A Small Town in Germany (1968)

·         The Little Drummer Girl (1983)

·         Our Game (1995)

·         The Tailor of Panama (1996)

·         Single & Single (1999)

·         The Constant Gardener (2001)

·         Absolute Friends (2003)

·         The Mission Song (2006)

·         A Most Wanted Man (2008)

·         Our Kind of Traitor (2010)

·         A Delicate Truth (2013)

·         Agent Running in the Field (2019)

·         Silverview (October 2021)


Sunday, December 26, 2021

Christmas Day at our House

 We'll see how this goes. Internet has been FUBAR for the past few days. Likely weather related as we are wireless and reception is not always the best. Lots of snow this past few days and much more last night. Now that it is winter, Lucky has moved into the back porch which makes Tanya happy as it is easier to spoil him. He loves the deep snow and when Tanya shoveled the walks this morning and threw snow on him he was very happy. He took his ball outside and played hide and seek with it in the snow and remembered to take it back inside. Amazing as he has a 5 second attention span.

Winter Wonderland

Lucky debating whether to go out or not

My printer packed it in or I should say, I gave up on it. Two years without printing seized up the pores in the print head and there was no way to clean it completely. Bought a Canon PIXMA G4311. With replaceable print heads and refillable ink tanks. Took me a while to set it up as wireless. Not simple. Setting it up for Tanya in Russian will be another challenge. Bad enough that my dog is smarter than me but now the printer is too. 

Talker to my brother on the farm Christmas Eve. Rather listened. He has no one to talk to other than himself and his 6 cats and Lassie, his Collie. He has no TV until he hooks up his satellite dish as he was analogue. But he visits a great deal. He has a friend about two hours away, another loner like himself. His friend has two TVs, one set on YouTube and one on Fox. He records lots of stuff for my brother to watch on a playback projector. Nuff said. 

Dec 23rd was our 15th anniversary, so we had the immediate family over for supper last night Dec 25th. Celebrate "Catholic" Christmas and our anniversary at the same time. Tanya cooked all week and I helped where I could or was allowed. We had enough food for an army and only six adults. Masha did not come home from Kyiv, she will be home for New Years. Dasha eats like a bird, a very small bird, so she hardly counts.

Not a traditional Christmas meal by Canadian standards. We roasted two turkey thighs which we can buy cheap and that was as close as it got. Well, ok, mashed potatoes. I made the mushroom and French onion soup mix gravy.  Tanya made a crab salad which she converted into appetizers by wrapping it in thin slices of cucumber held together with a toothpick.  Red caviar on crackers. There was smoked salted Norwegian salmon, a full side fillet. Don't ask. 

Cold sliced roast pork loin. Cabbage rolls, голубцы, golubtsy in Russian and голубці, holubtsi in Ukrainian. I learned that one cabbage roll is golubets in Russian. Who knew, like who eats one cabbage roll. And kholodets, like head cheese, made from an old hen and four pigs knuckles boiled to death and let set in the cold. Eaten with hot mustard. I love it. We made beef liver pate cutlets. Ground beef liver and onions, add eggs and flour and fry into thin patties. Eat cold or hot with condiment of your choice. I love it. 

When Tanya and Masha were in Spain in mid December, she brought back Spanish ham, Spanish sausage, Spanish 'cheddar', and Spanish 'parmesan'.  If you have never eaten Spanish ham, you are in for a treat of a lifetime. It is dry cured and you slice it THIN. The really good stuff was 95 Euros per kg. That is not what Tanya bought but heavenly none-the-less. The sausage was also dry cured. All four items were to die for. 

The green salad was just a token gesture

Desert was two cakes, one traditional and one chocolate that Tanya made by combining two recipes. She will do that one again, for sure. We made chocolate muskrat houses cookies aka haystacks, (my aka 'feedlot specials'). They are the best ever. 

Tanya's chocolate cake

Dinner is eaten over a long period of time. Once everyone has had a good feed, it is time to visit over the dirty plates and eat more from time to time, eventually getting around to desert. Andrey had to work that night so he ate quickly, went into the bedroom and slept for two hours. I cleaned up what I could and went to my computer. Dasha played with the cats. They love her which is good as they usually don't like visitors. The four women talked. And drank. A 0.7 litre bottle of white wine split two ways. A 0.5 litre bottle of Finlandia vodka split mostly two ways as Andrey and I drank very little (for once). 

Baba Natasha did the dishes for which I was grateful and we packed up enough food for the three families, Natasha, Lina, and Andrey and Tanya, for at least two or three more meals. And we'll be eating well this week too. For breakfast I had crab salad, kholodets and chocolate cake.

As Tanya said, once a year, we can and need to do this. 

I hope all my readers had a good Christmas or a quite day at home with lots of naps or both. I wish you all a happy and safe new year as we try to move on from 2020 and 2021.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Somebody tell Putin to FOAD

 Started this on Thursday, had no energy nor ambition as we have had no sunshine for over 6 weeks. Also more stuff was coming down the pike and all I wanted to write was obscenities. 

Russia has been piling troops and tanks along the Ukrainian border since last spring and has been adding to them to the point that it looks like war. All Putin needs now is an excuse. Even if he has to dress Russian prisoners as Ukrainian soldiers and stage his own. USA, EU, and NATO have recognized the risk. Since Ukraine is not a NATO member, they cannot commit troops but they have warned Russia that they will come down much harder with economic sanctions than they have, including kicking Russia off SWIFT which hamstrings their ability to trade. Russia has developed its own version of SWIFT for just such an occasion but only 16 countries have signed onto it, including Belarus just recently.

Putin has now drafted two legal documents, one to be signed by NATO and one by USA, that essentially pulls NATO back to pre 1997 borders and leaves the former Warsaw Pact countries of Central and Eastern Europe (as well as Central Asia) defenseless and at the mercy of Russia, i.e. Yalta 2.0. At Yalta 1.0, Stalin promised Churchill and Roosevelt that these countries would remain independent and free to chose their own governments and future. We know have that worked out. America, NATO, and Ukraine responded that ain't going to happen and if Russia escalated its invasion of Ukraine (they invaded in 2014) NATO would move more troops to the eastern borders of it member states. 

Jake Sullivan, President Biden’s national security adviser said, while the Russians had a list of security concerns, so did the United States and its European allies, and that Washington was willing to negotiate on that basis. . . “We’ve had a dialogue with Russia on European security issues for the last 20 years,” “We had it with the Soviet Union for decades before that.” That process “has sometimes produced progress, sometimes produced deadlock,” and noted that the United States planned “to put on the table our concern with Russian activities that we believe harm our interests and values.” “It’s very difficult to see agreements getting consummated, if we’re continuing to see an escalatory cycle.” Essentially, there are things that are non-starters but there are things we can talk about. 

Reminds me of an ambassador who defined the difference between a Lady and a Diplomat. If a Lady says no, she means maybe, if she says maybe she means yes and if she says yes, she is no Lady. If a Diplomat says yes, he means maybe, if he says maybe he means no and if he says no, he is no Diplomat.

NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said:  “We are clear that any dialogue with Russia must take into account NATO’s concerns about Russia’s actions, be based on key principles and documents on European security, and take place in consultation with NATO’s European partners such as Ukraine,. . We reaffirm our support for Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. NATO’s relations with Ukraine are a matter only for Ukraine and 30 NATO allies,”

“We will always respond in a determined way to any deterioration of our security environment, including by strengthening our collective defense posture as necessary. NATO will take all necessary measures to ensure the security and defense of all NATO Allies. Any further aggression against Ukraine would have massive consequences and would carry a high price… We support the right of all countries to decide their future and foreign policy free from outside interference. NATO’s relationship with Ukraine is a matter only for Ukraine and the 30 NATO Allies. We firmly reject any attempts to divide Allied security.”

Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson Oleh Nikolenko said, “It is the reversal of the escalation and the ending of Russia’s international armed conflict that is the best guarantee of security on the continent,” “The same position is shared by the North Atlantic Alliance itself, which is confirmed, in particular, in its statement of 16 December 2021. The same applies to the exclusive sovereign right of Ukraine to independently determine the development of relations with foreign states at the bilateral level, including in the field of military cooperation,” 

“We urge Russia… to return immediately and unconditionally to the constructive agenda and to start implementing the Minsk Agreements and the Normandy Leaders’ Agreements now, in particular the agreed conclusions of the 2019 Normandy Quarter summit. It is first of all strict adherence to the ceasefire, further draw away of forces, continuation of the demining process, implementation of the political aspects of the Agreed Conclusions of the Paris Summit, opening and ensuring the proper functioning of new checkpoints on the contact line, holding the next stages of mutual release of POWs and exchange of their lists.”

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov warned the U.S. and NATO against ignoring its recent proposal for a security agreement, in which Moscow seeks to roll back many of the security advances NATO has made in Eastern Europe, while tacitly dangling the threat of further military incursion into Ukraine. Urging that it be considered “with the utmost seriousness,” Ryabkov also pointed out that the draft should not be considered a menu of options from which some could be selected, and others rejected. He stressed that the Kremlin’s draft is a “package” that must be dealt with in its entirety. Putin’s proposal comes with a Jan. 14 deadline can be considered an ultimatum.

Michael Anthony McFaul is an American academic and diplomat who served as the United States Ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. He is @McFaul on Twitter. He posted the following (thanks, Ostap)

Putin is not threatened by NATO expansion. Mighty Russia is not threatened by NATO expansion. NATO has never and will never attack Russia. Putin has reinvented this so-called threat to justify his latest coercive diplomacy... and maybe escalated military intervention in Ukraine.

Now that Putin has published his ideas for a new European security agreement, let me propose some additional articles to the draft agreement.

Article 1. Russia agrees to withdraw its forces from Moldova and restore full sovereignty to this European country.

Article 2. Russia agrees to withdraw its forces from Georgia, renounce recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries and restore the full sovereignty of Georgia.

Article 3. Russia agrees to withdraw its forces from Ukraine, return Crimea to Ukraine, stop supporting separatist forces in Ukraine, and restore the full sovereignty of this European country.

Article 4. Russia's agrees to withdraw Iskandar missiles from Kaliningrad.

Article 5. Recognizing the importance of defending both individual and state security, Russia agrees to stop assassination operations against anyone residing Europe, be it the UK, Germany, or Russia.

Article 6. Russia reaffirms its commitment to agreements already signed including the Helsinki Final Act, the Paris Charter, the 1994 Budapest Memorandum.

I have more to add. But that's enough to get the negotiations rolling.

I like how he thinks. Wonder if anyone will take notice. I guess we'll have a Merry Christmas but whether we have a Happy New Year remains to be seen.

Friday, December 10, 2021

I have nothing to say and will prove it at length.

One of my long time Facebook friends posted this a couple days ago: Tell me about your most interesting scar. The comments range from funny to scary to sad. Several emergency life-saving surgeries, one wild seagull peck on the cheek instead of intended eyeball. All stuff like that. I'm covered in scars big and small all with a backstory. Most a result of my own stupidity. 

One over my right eye was a result of looking down a pipe plugged with ice at 100 PSI when the ice let go. My Hardex lens deflected the ice or it might have killed me, certainly blinded me in that eye. Yes, I am dumb enough to look down the barrel of a cocked shotgun to see if it is loaded. Dad got me to emergency in under 20 minutes (not his first trip with me). The nurse asked, "How did you do that?" "I bit myself." "how can you bite yourself in the forehead?". "I stood on a chair." She was going to let me bleed to death after that. 

Have you noticed that the Omicron variant of Covid-19 (pronounced o·muh·kron) has spawned an entire cottage industry of media types with articles, podcasts, blogs, and videos? I was getting 10 or 12 a day in my in-box or on my FB news feed. They didn't know anything about it and still don't know much but they had to write something as everyone else was doing it. The politicians were quick to punish Botswana and South Africa for identifying it by banning everyone from sub-Sahara Africa. This in spite of the fact it may not have originated there and had already spread to several countries. 

Pfizer says those with booster shots show better resistance and that a fourth shot may be necessary. The Anti-vaxxers are all over that as a conspiracy to sell more vaccines, of course. Omicron supposedly picked up some genes from a common cold virus, a Corona virus, and could account for its ease of spreading and (possibly) milder manifestations. Imagine if Omicron picks up some genes from the neonatal calf diarrhea virus which is also a Corona virus. If you cough you can thread the eye of a needle at 10 paces. 

The Russian military buildup on the Ukrainian border is also getting a huge amount of media coverage. The numbers are hard to verify as everyone has a different set. One set says about 125,000 troops with hospitals, kitchens, etc. to last a month, and 100,000 reservists to hold the over run territory. Pundits are falling all over themselves to guess, "Will he or won't he?" Personally I am scared but that is just me. I can paint a scenario that will give you nightmares, if Putin says, F**k it" and goes for broke. If he crosses the border, he has nothing to lose by going all the way, including the Baltics and Poland. NATO cannot stop a blitzkrieg type attack until after the fact. Throw in a couple of nucs on Warsaw and Talinn to discourage escalation unless it is full out nuclear war. We pessimists are never disappointed. If we are wrong we are happy and if we are right, we told you so.

The Republicans are solidly on Putin's side. He has bought and paid for most of the politicians and people like Tucker Carlson. And as one commenter on a WaPO article said, "Oh, heck. If one is any kind of Republican, what's not to respect, even love & admire, about Big Bad Daddy Vladdy Putin? He's White, a racist, is cruel to gays, is an authoritarian's authoritarian who couldn't care less about the welfare of his citizenry, and he despises democracy. Vlad the Poisoner is a law unto himself, and he actively supports his nation's Christian church establishment while suppressing the others, is supremely greedy, is the boss of bosses in his crime syndicate, and often and shamelessly knocks off his opponents. Some think he may even be the richest man in the world. Most admirable, no? Just the Republicans' kinda guy."

From Euromaidan Press

Thursday, December 2, 2021

Bonya and Lucky

 There are so many things to rant about, the criminal negligence of the BC government being one. But there are enough rants in my inbox and news feed that I do not want to add to them, rather go for something that brings at least a small amount of relief from it all. This is the ongoing story of the friendship between Bonya and Lucky.

We have three cats which I blogged about one year ago. Bonya, Tigritsa, and Vovo. We also have one dog, Lucky, who is now about 27 months old and whose beginnings I have blogged about here Getting Lucky, and here Further Adventures of Lucky. Lots of pictures on these blogs.

The cats have good reason to fear dogs as our dog Volk, who died of congestive heart failure at age 13 last January, was a cat killer. Yet Bonya took to Lucky right off. I wrote this about him.

Bonya has a soft heart. When our German Shepherd showed up last October as a wee starving sick puppy, Bonya worried about him and would check on him every hour or two. Once Lucky got well and went into the dog yard with Volk, Bonya would still worry. He goes with Tanya (only outside the fence) when she takes the dogs their food to make sure Lucky is OK. Lucky looks for him too. They touch noses through the fence and Lucky even brought his toys to show Bonya. 

The paternalistic friendship continues. Bonya is a bit afraid of Lucky because he is so big and aggressive though he just wants to play. If they are in the house yard together, Bonya will not run from him but will only put up with so much sniffing and pushing. One day he put the run on Lucky which made me laugh.

Bonya goes with us morning and night when we go to feed Lucky. He sits outside the fence and watches, then wanders off. He will also stroll along the fence in the abandoned lot next door from time to time. I was out playing ball with Lucky when it was almost dark and Bonya came along, ducked under the brush pile next door, watched us for half an hour, then came over to the fence for a kiss through the bars.

Black and white dot is Lucky under the brush pile

Visiting in Lucky's room while sheltering from the rain 

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Happy Thanksgiving to my American Readers

 Happy American Thanksgiving. May you be safe from Covid 19 and Republican Relatives.

When our grandparents and parents were still living, our families used to gather a few times each year, Easter, Canadian Thanksgiving, and Christmas. But as the older generations passed away and we scattered around the globe, it is rare that the cousins or second cousins get together. The older generations were the glue that held us together. I miss the good times when we were young.

What? No mashed potatoes? Criminal

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Pascal's Wager and My Take on Religion and Morality

The existence of a philosophical argument known as Pascal's wager came to my attention about 20 odd years ago when a Christian colleague was addressing a group of Ukrainian young people in an English Club. These are semi-formal groups who gather to practice their English.

Blaise Pascal (1623–1662) was a seventeenth-century French philosopher, theologian, mathematician, and physicist. Pascal's wager posits that human beings wager with their lives that God either exists or does not. You can read all to gory details here in Wikipedia  

My colleague explained it this way. As we cannot prove that God exists or does not exist (though there are still some idiots arguing about it) then we should live as though he exists. If we are right, we go to Heaven, and if we are wrong, we lose nothing. If we live as though God does not exist, and we are right we lose nothing, and if we are wrong, we go to Hell. 

I tucked that away in the back of my mind and mulled it over for a lot of years. It felt to simplistic and too much like threatening people into believing in something they may not necessarily embrace.

It finally dawned on me that whether God exists or not, has no bearing on how I live my life. Religion draws its morality from people, not the other way around. Atheists and agnostics are no less moral than religious and in too many cases much more so. We do not have far to look today to find a myriad of examples of believers of all stripes acting in ways highly inconsistent with the teachings of their professed religion. 

 Plato took a run at it 2000 years ago, arguing that if the gods approve of some actions it must be because those actions are good, in which case it cannot be the gods' approval that makes them good. More recently, Albert Einstein wrote in 1930 that "A man's ethical behavior should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death."

This article puts it rather nicely. Religion does not determine your morality.

Many Christians don’t believe in magic, but even the ones who do, don’t think they should kill those who use it, even though one could interpret passages in the Bible to be suggesting exactly that. . .

There is a moral behaviour advocated by the Bible that gets rejected by most people. Why? Because they think it’s morally wrong.

They ignore that part of the moral teachings of the Bible. Instead, they tend to accept those moral teachings of the Bible that feel right to them. This happens all the time, and a good thing too. . .

We see that people can choose religious beliefs, churches and even whole religions based on the morality that they already have. And this is the morality that atheists have too. . .

Experimental evidence suggests that people’s opinion of what God thinks is right and wrong tracks what they believe is right and wrong, not the other way around. 


Thursday, November 11, 2021

Chinese Simmentals and Canadian Sarcasm

 Scanning photos from the 1990s before I had a digital camera brought back a great many memories of adventures in various parts of the world. Many in China as that was where I made several trips as part of trade missions or as technical support for a genetics export company.

This one trip took me back into the mountains SW of Beijing to see a cattle herd that had been bred up to Simmental for so many generations they were, for all intents and purposes, purebred. The village and pasture land were located on a high plateau and the road into the place was typically bad. Rough, unpaved, in many places mountain on one side and a drop off on the other. Driving over it in daylight was an adventure in itself.

We set off in the morning, four of us, in a Toyota Land Cruiser SUV: Livestock specialist and senior bureaucrat, livestock specialist and interpreter, driver, and livestock specialist and Canadian. We got there in mid-late afternoon. The village bureaucrats met us and we toured the cattle herd. It had the makings of a good herd but was very much on the thin side. 

Too often in my travels I have seen breeders with big productive animals that forgot they need better quality feed in order to take advantage of their genetics. As one goes from goats to sheep to beef cattle to dairy cattle the quality and quantity of feed requirements goes up.

The buyers sure loved the calves though. Once they hit the feedlot and compensatory growth kicked in, those calves made money. Trucking the calves back down the mountain was not a job I would look forward to.

By the time we were done touring it was getting dark and of course we had to sit down to a banquet. It was getting late and starting to rain. The village mayor suggested we had better stay the night and go back in the morning. Now I have stayed in guest houses in villages but none this small and I could well imagine what it would be like. There was also a community outhouse which was impossible to get up wind of and which likely went with the guest house accommodations.

My Chinese counterparts were visible horrified at the thought of staying the night, so I thought I would help. I came down hard on the side of the mayor  and was all in favour of staying the night. We kept this discussion going for some time and my group was really having a hard time of it, trying to be polite. I kept a straight face though how, I have no idea.

Finally we just up and left. On that road, in the rain. No idea when we got back to Beijing as I curled up in the back seat and went to sleep. If we were going off the road into a canyon, I did not want to know about it.

Some days I am just plain evil.

L-R: driver, interpreter, me, senior bureaucrat

Sunday, November 7, 2021

Grocery prices again

 We do not got to town any more than absolutely necessary. And for the past two weeks, Tanya has been cleaning the house one room per day like it has never been cleaned before. I fetch and carry and have Pledge-ed allegiance to anything that looked like wood. Friday she finished and Saturday we went for groceries. Critters and hoomans were out of everything. Good time for me to learn Ukrainian words for items and check out what we are paying in CAD. USD is for other readers.

The cats get Whiskas and a small amount of meat morning and night as a 'treat'. Lucky gets dry dog food at night and rice and meat in the morning. Chicken livers is one of his favourites. I'm going to make pork and beans and chili. The government invested in the poultry and pork industry to ensure there was affordable protein for the masses. Beef is catch as catch can and usually from retired dairy cows. The beef roast we bought has ZERO fat and will be ground for chili. I'll have to add oil to fry it. Bread is highly subsidized. According to the Kyiv Post, 60% of the population is below the official poverty line so government keeps basics affordable.

Sometimes our supermarket brings in luxury items which do not always sell. There was a 750 g T-bone steak, well marbled but black as your boot, marked down 33%. I bought it for $12 CAD. Cheaper than going to a restaurant in the big city.

Here is the list of items we bought and prices in UAH, CAD, USD. Click on it to make it readable

Thursday, November 4, 2021

The Nomonhan War 1939

And now for something completely different 😀😀😀.

In 1995, while traveling through the Hulunbuir Grasslands of Inner Mongolia, my friend Hao Te and his son took me to the site of a small war on the border with Mongolia that played a decisive part in a much bigger war. Unless you are Russian or Japanese you will likely have never heard of Nomonhan. I certainly had not but filled that gap with John Colvin’s book by that title. Out of print but available on AbeBooks.

Hao Te and I on the east edge of the battle field

Hao Te's son and I at a border marker between Mongolia and Inner Mongolia

Site of a Buddhist shrine used as a Japanese command post,
 destroyed by Russian fighter bombers

The Nomonhan Incident or Khalkhin Gol War, depending on whether you are Japanese or Russian, was a series of battles fought over a stretch of grassland about 90 km long and 15-25 km wide. The Japanese, having conquered Manchuria in 1931 and set up a puppet state, Manchukuo, came up against the border of the Soviet Union and Mongolia, a Soviet satellite.

The Kwantung Army, which controlled Manchukuo, had some of the best Japanese divisions. The western region of Manchukuo was garrisoned by the relatively newly formed and least experienced 23rd Infantry Division with outdated equipment, HQ’d at Hailar, 150 km away. The Soviet and Mongolian borders were held by the 57th Special Corps, deployed from the Trans-Baikal Military District, 750 km away from their supply base but with good dirt trail roads. Mongolian troops were mainly cavalry (of course) and light artillery.

Dirt trails are remarkable good roads.

In 1939, the Japanese were already at war with China. For more on that read “Forgotten Ally; China’s World War II 1937-1945” by Rana Mitter The Kwantung Army was under orders from Tokyo NOT to do anything that would start a full-scale war with Russia as facing both China and Russia was a non-starter. However, their leaders were loose cannons, and decided that the border between Manchukuo and Mongolia should be the Khalkhin Gol (Khalkha River) a few km to the west of the actual border.

Map showing the location of the disputed area.

While 1400 to 1800 sq. km (600 to 700 sq. miles) of grasslands with a village or two thrown in, would make a nice ranch, one must question the wisdom of losing several 10s of thousands of soldiers and many hundreds of planes, tanks, trucks, aircraft, horse etc. to decide ownership. Even the Lincoln County or Wyoming Cattle Wars never got that big. However, the Kwangtung Army thought it was God’s gift to warfare and the Soviets were still suffering from the humiliation of the severe beating the Japanese navy gave them in 1904-1905. Sooo!

In May 1939, the Japanese started harassing the Soviet troops on the east side of the Khalkhin Gol or Khalkha River. In June, Stalin sent Georgy Zhukov with troops and equipment, including an aviation unit of fighter-bombers, to the area with instructions to put a stop to that nonsense. In late June, the Japanese Army Air Force, without permission from Tokyo, bombed the Soviet airbase, risking escalation. But at the end of June, the Commander of the 23rd Japanese Infantry Division got orders to clear out the “invaders” on the east side of the river.

Shtern, Choibalsaan and Zhukov at Khalkhin Gol

They opened a two-pronged encircling maneuver in early July which Zhukov beat back, nearly encircling the Japanese at one point and driving them well back of the river. The Japanese attacked in force again in late July and were forced to partially withdraw after failing to break Soviet lines. Zhukov decided enough was enough and launched a massive attack on August 20th, destroying the 23rd completely. From May to August, the Soviets lost 10,000 more men and many times more equipment than the Japanese. Since replacements were easy come by, their tactics reflected the Soviet disregard for life. In the meantime, the Soviets and Japanese signed an agreement not to attack each other.

The consequences of this small war with fewer than 50,000 casualties were immense:

  • ·         The Soviet victory encouraged Stalin to sign the 23 August Ribbentrop-Molotov Pact.
  • ·         The victory avenged the disaster at the 1905 Battle of Tsushima and restored Soviet prestige
  • ·         Zhukov burnished his credentials and returned to Moscow a hero.
  • ·         Moscow got to practice a coordinated offensive attack by motorized forces and aircraft.
  • ·         Japan saw that the Soviets would not be an easy opponent and turned south, focusing on China and the oil fields of SE Asia which eventually took them into conflict with USA.
  • ·         Stalin felt free to reduce his defensive strength facing Japan to the bare minimum during the darkest early days of World War II in 1941.

A number of references were used in writing this but the best for those who want more detail is Wikipedia

Also a new book on the subject is being released this month. The Nomonhan War 1939: Soviet-Japanese Clash at the Khalkhin Gol


Friday, October 29, 2021

Terrifying Reading for Halloween

 Scary stories come in many sizes and sources. If you are following American politics and its impact on the rest of the world, there is enough to scare the wits out of you. Here are some of the writers and journalists I follow on a platform called Substack and their articles are truly terrifying in many cases. 

If you are not familiar with Substack, it is an American online platform that provides publishing, payment, analytics, and design infrastructure to support subscription newsletters. 

Substack—which allows writers to send digital newsletters directly to their readers and monetize their work by putting it behind a paywall—has been growing steadily ever since its launch in 2017. Substack now has more than 250,000 paying subscribers. Its top ten publishers collectively bring in $7 million in annualized revenue. While Substack takes a 10% cut of earnings and payment company Stripe takes another 3%, writers pocket the rest. 

Substack offers journalists a platform to say whatever they want, unencumbered by editors. The independent writers that join the platform own their own content, as well as their subscription lists. They also have no obligation to stay on the platform. They can leave at any time—and bring their subscribers with them. 

1. Heather Cox Richardson from Letters from an American

Heather Cox Richardson is an American historian and professor of history at Boston College, where she teaches courses on the American Civil War, the Reconstruction Era, the American West, and the Plains Indians. She previously taught history at MIT and the University of Massachusetts Amherst. HCR would be my first choice; a daily summary of important news with historical background and analysis, usually as positive and upbeat as she can make it... but not always. I am a paid subscriber but her daily articles are also available on Facebook. She is in the top 10 on Substack and justifiably so.

2. TCinLA from That's Another Fine Mess

TC (Thomas McKelvey Cleaver) has written a number of military histories of WWII, Korea, and Vietnam that expose the dark side of the politics of war. His is the only other writer I am a paid subscriber to though I think you can sign up for free but it doesn't cover all articles.

3. Thom Hartmann of The Hartmann Report

Thomas Hartmann is an American radio personality, author, former psychotherapist, businessman, and progressive political commentator. I am currently on a free subscription but is one I would pay for though @ $50 to $75 USD there is a limit.

4. Timothy Snyder from "Thinking about..."

Dr Timothy Snyder is a well known historian and author. He is currently doing a series of podcasts from his booklet "On Tyranny" and has written and lectured a great deal on Eastern and Central Europe and the Holocaust. I have an unpaid subscription to his podcasts.

5. Robert Reich

Robert Reich is an American economist, professor, author, lawyer, and political commentator. He served in the administrations of Presidents Gerald Ford and Jimmy Carter, as well as serving as the United States Secretary of Labor from 1993 to 1997 under President Bill Clinton. He strongly supports Progressive Democrats such as AOC, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren. He is on Facebook and I also have an unpaid subscription.

6. Jeet Heer from The Time of Monsters

Jeet Heer is a Canadian author, comics critic, literary critic and journalist. He is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation magazine and a former staff writer at The New Republic. About half articles and half podcasts. I have an unpaid subscription.

7. Spencer Ackerman from Forever Wars

Spencer Ackerman is an American journalist and writer. Focusing primarily on national security, he began his career at The New Republic in 2002 before writing for Wired, The Guardian and The Daily Beast. His columns tend to reflect the dark side of American politics of war. I have an unpaid subscription but would consider a paid one of necessary.

8. Greg Olear from PREVAIL by Greg Olear

Greg Olear is an American novelist, journalist, and author. His journalism includes political commentary and investigation; in 2018 he published the book Dirty Rubles: An Introduction to Trump/Russia. I have an unpaid subscription.

9. Lucian K. Truscott IV from Lucian Truscott Newsletter

Lucian King Truscott IV is an American writer and journalist. A former staff writer for The Village Voice, he is the author of several military-themed novels. I have an unpaid subscription.

10. Ruth Ben-Ghiat from Lucid

Ruth Ben-Ghiat is an American historian and cultural critic. She is a scholar on fascism and authoritarian leaders. Ben-Ghiat is Professor of History and Italian Studies at New York University. I have an unpaid subscription.

11. Diane Francis on America

Diane Francis is a US-born Canadian journalist, author and editor-at-large for the National Post newspaper since 1998. She is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington DC, specializing in Eurasia policy and political issues. She writes about power, money, tech, and white-collar crime in America. She is totally behind a paywall.