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Book Review: Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power

Posted by Scott Holstad on January 30, 2020

Japan Rearmed: The Politics of Military PowerJapan Rearmed: The Politics of Military Power by Sheila A. Smith
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Before I say anything about this book, I need to confess I know the author (to whatever degree), highly respect her expertise on Japan (she’s the Council on Foreign Relations’ Senior Fellow for Japan), so this commentary and rating possibly may not be as reasonably objective as I try to make most of my ratings/reviews. That said, when she came out with this book recently, I was elated and dived in. It’s taken me a long time to work my way through because I have this horrible habit of reading far too many books simultaneously, which just slows everything down. And I’ve been meaning to contact her and give her some kudos for producing a great work here, but I’ve been too tied up to even keep up with people like I typically have over my life.

That said, I can hardly think of a more timely book. Particularly as it relates to the topic at hand. Millions (okay, maybe fewer, but still quite a lot) have been “China watchers” for years now and while it’s sensible, advisable, necessary, etc., to keep eyes trained on Beijing, and particularly as variables within the South China Sea become more clusterf*cked, more hostile, as the PLAN continues its progression into the India Sea, now being joined by Russia and Iran in a potential new axis of maritime adversaries, and as China has already tangled with the Philippines and Vietnam, and as India strives to become another possible regional hegemony, I think many of us in the west (understandably, perhaps) tend to lose track of some other states of import, most notably our longtime allies, at least one of whom is now feeling completely abandoned by the current US Administration and any defense agreements we’ve had since WWII (Australia), which I think is a travesty considering what a great and faithful ally Australia has been to the US over that time period, joining the US with only a couple of other states in fighting alongside us in the various “conflicts” we’ve found ourselves — unlike the vast majority of other, more “prominent” allies. Australia is so panicked that debate as been ongoing there on what to do regarding China, the Indo-Pacific region, and defense of their own country as they lack any form of serious navy, having built their defense doctrine on dependence on the USN. Which no longer looks like a sure thing, so major leaders are actually calling for the country to withdraw from the NPT and illegally go nuclear for survival’s sake! Which is a sad commentary.

Meanwhile, South Korea is facing its own challenges due to not only China, but their northern neighbors, whose leader seems cleverly insane. Plays a tough game. But the focus here is obviously the one that seems to get forgotten in all of these geopolitical games — Japan.

It’s great to see this major Asian/East Asian state that has been basically boxed into a corner it’s trying to get out of become the focus of some good new research and analysis produced and published just at the right time. Because for those caught up in the SCS BS going on daily, all too many people seem to neglect the games being placed in the ECS (East China Sea). Between China and Japan. Or more accurately, between the PLAAF/PLAN over the Senkaku Islands, or the Diaoyu Islands as the PRC insists on referring to them as, and the JCG and JASDF. And it couldn’t be any more stupid than this, but it is, and yes, it’s merely symbolic, but the fact that one state feels so aggressive about a group of small uninhabited islands that Japan legally owns, per international law and recognition, that it’s willing to take “testing” the much smaller and spreader thinned out JCG and JASDF by sending hundreds or even thousands of Chinese fishing boats into the contested waters or a larger number of aircraft buzzing the islands constantly, itching for an “opportunity” to do who knows what at the very plausible risk of a regional war that could spread once you bring contesting hegemonies into the equation … well, that’s either a sign of supreme confidence (maybe Pillsbury was right, but was too generous in his predictions of when the CCP would show its hand?), supreme stupidity if it actually is willing to risk a potential world war by hedging its bets the US won’t want to enter such a war merely because of decades-old defense commitments and treaties between the US and Japan (which is actually NOT a bad gamble on their part circa early 2020 as I write this), or typical CCP craftiness in pushing all as far as possible to get as much as possible by whatever means necessary — short of all out war. Which is my take on it at the present, but I’m willing to adjust that analysis as events transpire.

One may be a follower of issues, variables, geopolitical tensions, etc., throughout the greater Asian and East Asian regions, and they may be aware to some degree of what potential threat a burgeoning regional hegemony may present, but they may not possess the context Sheila provides in this book, such as how Japan has historically had its political and hence military hands tied when it came to defense spending, military building, etc., due largely to the constitution the US drew up for the country upon its surrender in 1945, and due to a combination of war guilt, the struggle to rebuild a country and economy, and to yes, abide by the constitution they now were governed by which has limited their ability and indeed desire to “go military.” And with China incessantly goading them eternally for the atrocities committed during the last century, the most famous of which was Nanking, those historically cautioning against appearing antagonistic in building up a (smallish) military for defense are now being countered by those who, like our other traditional allies in that area (such as Australia and South Korea), are getting sick and tired of Xi throwing his weight around yet fear if conflict comes, they’ll be on their own — hence the topic of the book titled “Japan Rearmed.” Frankly, there’s much more than simply what I’ve described or alluded to (and I’ve possibly even gone off track, inadvertently — a bad habit), but if I went into more, I’d be writing a book myself (another major element is merely the concept of an offensive militarized Japan with all of the possible regional implications that might entail…)! This is really one of the best books on the topic I’ve seen come along in a very long time. And again, so relevant and timely. I couldn’t urge people around the globe, let alone in the west and US, to read this more strongly than I am now, because I think it’s essential that we understanding the changing dynamics of a newly multi-polar world that’s been shifting to the east for over two decades. There are more variables than one cares to think about, but think about them one must (or should).

I feel like I didn’t do the book or the author sufficient justice in what I’ve written, but my health has sadly deteriorated to the point where I rarely write long, meaningful or in-depth book reviews like I did for many years, and I just don’t have the time and energy I once did. So my hope is the author will forgive any shortcomings in this review and will appreciate the overall spirit of support and enthusiasm I have for this book because I think it’s the best one I’ve seen published in the last several years amongst the Asian “experts” out there, no others being specifically named or mentioned at this time. Personally, there may be one or two experts out there who have very high profiles, and everyone seems to dote on every word they produce, but for my money Sheila Smith can think, research, analyze and write her way around all of them, and if this book isn’t proof, I’m not sure what would be. Most strongly recommended for those who are into international relations, Asia, East Asia, China, Japan, geopolitics, the growth of regional hegemonies, the global shift to the east, the dynamics being played out daily, etc. Literally one of the best of hundreds of books I’ve read over the past couple of years. Get a copy.

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Book Review: Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning

Posted by Scott Holstad on May 4, 2019

Losing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic PlanningLosing Military Supremacy: The Myopia of American Strategic Planning by Andrei Martyanov
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I have to admit I bought this book because the title and premise were intriguing, matching some of my own concerns about the recent, current and future state of the US military. But, wow, what a crazy scenario! I’m prepared to listen to and accept criticism regarding much about our military, particularly the state and status of many of our frontline weapons, a number of which are largely obsolete now, or have never been produced after throwing hundreds of billions away because of scope creep and countless other issues. Legitimate stuff, and some criticisms I’ve been making for years. And there are many reasons for this, which could probably fill a number of books. Fair enough.

What I did NOT like about this book was the author’s continual comparisons between US weapons and modern Russian weapons, ALWAYS gloating over Russian superiority, boasting how their navy could crush our navy like sardines, citing the fact that our most recent nuclear subs are, largely, ancient while Russia just produced eight new “state of the art” nuclear subs with “superior, world class” technology, apparently any one of which has such Superman-like powers, it could completely demolish our entire military in one shot, followed by wiping out the US with a second. Serious superiority issues, and a real attitude problem.

Okay, I lived through much of the Cold War. I’ve heard enough Commie propaganda over the decades, whether Soviet, Chinese, North Korean, Cuban, North Vietnamese, etc, AS WELL as most of the Arab hardliners like Saddam and Libya’s and Syria’s typical leaders, among many more, and the boasting, bragging and chest thumping is something that any two bit junior college analyst could identify, define, etc, and moreover, ultimately, with many of these loud mouths, some put their money where their mouth is, and some are total bullshitters, witness Saddam, most of the traditional 20th century Arab powers, the beloved Kims, etc. And, yes, the Russians, because as has been found out in most military encounters between many US advanced weapons vs Soviet advanced weapons, typically through proxies, the Soviets have usually had their asses handed to them. And their house came crumbling down, the giant threat a house of cards. So I take it with a grain of salt when a RUSSIAN analyst starts boasting about how their few new ships could take out all of America’s, for all intents and purposes, and I’d love to see the author, via Putin, try to put their money where their mouth is.

Which is not to say his criticism of the reductions in our military personnel, our loss of experience in crucial areas, such as nuclear, our lack of producing virtually any new world class advanced weaponry since the Cold War, at least in quantity, isn’t entirely legitimate. It’s just his snarky and frankly very odd and suspicious personal circumstances as a person and professional that make this book and it’s whole “my penis is bigger than yours” infantile attitude so damn bizarre and frustrating! He’s a Russian, was in their navy, left Russia, immigrated to America, became an American citizen and somehow found gainful, if unspecified, employment with some unnamed … US defense contractor, I believe, possibly working on US weaponry, presumably naval. Now, think about that. The US lets some Russian ex-naval vet immigrate to America, magically become a US citizen, and then let him have freaking clearance to do defense work for our damn military??? Since when does THAT happen? I haven’t heard of such things since the Manhattan Project, and those were largely German JEWISH scientists, who had everything to lose if they stayed in Germany. Of course they’re working to defeat Hitler. But this guy is working to help the US and make our military better? All the while bragging about how much our military sucks now and how fucking awesome Russia’s is??? I mean, you should read some of his claims and assertions. They’re inane! He has a warped grasp on reality, particularly when bragging about Russian military technical superiority to anything the US has got. MAYBE THAT’S BECAUSE WE’VE ALLOWED GODDAMN RUSSIAN SPIES TO COME WORK IN OUR DAMN DEFENSE INDUSTRY AND SABOTAGE OUR MILITARY!!!!!!! What I want to know is, who the hell approved this, who approved his application for citizenship, was he fully, let alone adequately debriefed when he came here, how many polygraphs has he been given, is his work audited, who’s in on it with him, what’s his REAL motive, what’s his ulterior motive, who is he REALLY working for, and yet, if he’s so damn obvious, he wouldn’t be so damn obvious now, would he? So makes you wonder if this isn’t merely IW, put on by the DoD, if the author even exists at all and we’re merely playing at information warfare and propaganda games, and so many other options and possibilities. Frankly, I’m too busy with more important obligations, but if I had the luxury of time, I’d consider doing a little digging, because it seems to me that something’s rotten in Denmark.

Ultimately though, let’s assume the author is correct in his assessment of the wasting away of US military power, which has some truth to it. Again, fair criticisms to put forth. But the antithetical, virtually rabid, boasting, gloating, stiff dick factor for Russian military technology in its alleged superiority of everything American (which is frankly horseshit, in most cases), when he’s supposed to be a US citizen working in OUR defense industry to make our military better, all the while gushing about how damn awesome Russia is and we suck??? Doesn’t that strike you as odd? WTH don’t we deport him back to Russia if he’s got such a hardon for Putin and thinks his new country is pathetic? Why did he even bother coming here? Perchance another Oswald, a US plant? Just a thought, but then I like to conjecture all types of scenarios for most things.

Ultimately, right or wrong, propaganda or truth, the book is unreadable because the author is presented as having such a one sided superiority hangup, for the side he allegedly left. Which makes many Americans ticked off enough to stop reading the book. And so, possibly, maybe the project worked for the DIA or DARPA or RAND or whomever. It stinks too much and too obviously to be legit.

Work of fiction and not recommended. Two stars for amusement and creativity, as well as intended “mystery” scenario given to the author. Sadly, a waste of time and money.

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Book Review: The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest

Posted by Scott Holstad on December 17, 2018

The Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America's Civil Religion Betrayed the National InterestThe Tragedy of U.S. Foreign Policy: How America’s Civil Religion Betrayed the National Interest by Walter A. McDougall

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I didn’t like this book. And my criticisms are probably unfair, because the author most likely accomplished what he set out to do. I think I merely misinterpreted or misunderstand the primary thrust of where the thesis was going. I had been hoping for a general history of America’s “civil religion” over the years through the present, but especially focusing on the Reagan years through the present, and I guess I expected some analysis which would frankly be somewhat critical of the present situation.

Now before you jump on me to tell me that that is exactly what happened in this book, let me admit that I gave up and stopped reading before I got too far in. So if the author did what I expected, it’s my own fault for giving up. However, I literally have hundreds of books here waiting to be read, and I’m in the middle of reading over 100 at the present, so I really don’t have the time or patience for authors who micromanage their topics to death, particularly when a layman’s book is being somewhat treated as an academic book. Because this was detailed freaking history starting in the 1600s, going excruciatingly slow, unbelievably boring, and to be honest, while it’s fine for historical authors to be objective and not have an agenda, on the whole, the very title of this book implied a definite agenda, one with which I’d probably agree. Yet, for the life of me, I couldn’t tell what the author felt, believed, perceived, was advocating — nothing!!! — as he proceeded to regale the reader with amazingly boring trivial shit! And trust me, I don’t claim to be the smartest person around, but I’m not entirely dumb either. For instance, I’m presently reading books in fields such as public policy, nuclear engineering, religion (especially the primary theistic ones), atheism, philosophy, history, business, blockchain technology, network engineering, espionage, biographies, science, fiction, poetry, cryptography, culture, international relations, think tanks, hardware, software development, health, machine learning, AI, electronic warfare, limited nuclear warfare, radar signal processing, management consulting, quantum mechanics & quantum computing, among other topics. Trust me — I can handle details, I can handle boredom, I can handle a lot of “difficult” material. Sometimes I want to quit reading a couple of these other book — one nuclear engineering book is killing me, and one book on microwave RF design is boring — but I rarely have any questions as to the thesis of the books, the authors’ stances or where they stand on issues, what their agendas are, etc. And while I obviously know sometimes you have to work hard to reach certain points, this damn book simply seemed pointless to me. Mere American religious and political history. Ho hum. Pretty much know those fields already. By heart. I thought this would be a little more cutting edge, and again, perhaps it is, but dammit, give me a reason to reach the point in your book where you venture into uncharted territory! Otherwise, I’ve got better, more educational, more stimulating, more challenging books to read — piles of them. So for those of you who read this book in its entirety and came away impressed, please enlighten me as to why I am mistaken in my response to the book. In any event, I can’t possibly recommend this book. I’m sure there are alternatives that do a much better job. I’m extremely disappointed. Two stars.

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Clobbering “Biblical” Gay Bashing

Posted by Scott Holstad on April 9, 2012

Clobbering “Biblical” Gay Bashing –.

This is a very long blog my girlfriend pointed me to dealing with Christianity and Biblical Hatefulness. No matter where you stand on the matter of Christianity and homosexuality, it should prove to be an interesting read. I’d encourage everyone to approach it with an open mind.

For what it’s worth, I grew up in a very strict Protestant home and was taught that homosexuality was a terrible sin. Yet, I have had gay friends since age 13, virtually all of whom I’m convinced God loves as much as he loves me. I have long struggled with my own accepting views regarding homosexuality versus the intolerance ingrained within me from an early age. It’s been difficult, as I can see both sides to some degree, I think….

This blog goes a long way toward answering some of my own questions and dilemmas and it may for anyone reading this as well. For instance, gay Christians have long argued that the notion Sodom was obliterated by God due to homosexuality is a misinterpreted viewpoint. Yet, I struggled with that. God’s (few) words on the subject seemed fairly clear to me, as much as I disliked them.

I’m going to go off subject for a moment, but it will serve as a preface to my main point. My ex was Jewish. She was vehement in her derision of Christians as posers who pick and choose what to believe or discard in the Old Testament. She asserted that God said he does not change multiple times throughout the Bible, and he does. So if that’s true, why can Christians eat shrimp and Jews can’t. Aren’t the Jews following God’s law? This has always proven difficult for me, even with Christians explaining that Jesus (and Paul, sort of…) somehow did away with the old law, and brought a new one into the world. I seemed to somehow agree with her, at times, that you can’t have it both ways, that it’s one or the other — either you follow all of God’s laws, or you follow none, as there’s no point.

Now to this blog. This blog argues a number of things, but it seems to rest its primary argument in the not-too-new notion that these people writing Leviticus 3,000+ years ago knew nothing of sexual orientation, knew only of ensuring that man’s “seed” be treated properly to propagate the Jewish race in its fight for survival. More importantly, the writer strikes right at my main issue — we DO eat shrimp these days! We no longer stone disobedient children to death. We no longer have concubines, nor are we polygamous. We cut our sideburns and beards. Clearly, then, Christianity has moved beyond these stringent laws that Leviticus and the Old Testament gave us, and if we view these as laws to be thrown out because they no longer apply, so too the infrequent mention of homosexuality as a probable sin. What kind of sense does it make to judge gay people (judge not lest ye be judged) of committing grievous sins, when everything else that was a sin back then has been thrown out the window? Am I right? It seems like a very compelling argument to me.

I just gave a brief glimpse into this blog post by Mark Sandlin. Please read it for yourselves, and consider reading the hundreds of comments too. Interesting topic. Well thought out piece, with Biblical citations, and overall, well written. After reading this, I feel like the tension I’ve long felt regarding Christianity versus homosexuality, and by default, my homosexual friends, many of whom are professing Christians, to have been diminished a great deal. This was a nice eye opener for me. Feel free to leave any comments you might have on the topic. Please be polite though. I know it’s a touchy subject for many, but no need to get worked up about it here. Thanks.

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