27 August 2016

Some Thoughts on Books I read in 2016 - Part 1

Literally me as I write this post
With the year heading towards its final season, I think it's time for me to collect my thoughts on the books I've been reading this year so I don't completely forget what it is I actually learned from them. This will be part 1 of 4 (maybe 5?) series of posts about my thoughts on books of 2016. As these posts are getting longer and longer, I'm starting to think simply doing smaller chunks regular history/politics posts would be better.


Tang China in Multi-polar Asia: A History of Diplomacy and War
The Tang dynasty is undeniably a golden age in Chinese history, both culturally and militarily. But because historians often heap so much praise upon the heights reached by the Tang, a newcomer could easily misconstrue the 7th-9th centuries in Asia as a time during which China was the uncontested superpower calling all the shots. Historian Wang Zhenping offers a great corrective through his book, Tang China in Multi-polar Asia, which, as the title implies, stresses the multi-polar nature of Asia by examining how China's foes responded to her. The book has a section devoted to the narrative histories of wars waged by Tang against her major foes (steppe nomads, Korean states, Nanzhao, Tibet) as well as sections to explain how Tang foreign policy was debated, formed, and executed. While the author is more prioritized with demonstrating the active agency of Tang's neighbours to demonstrate his thesis, I was more concerned with why Tang foreign policy succeeded or failed as I read about her wars. But before I can talk about that, let me get everyone on the same page by giving a brief overview of the 3 major conflicts Tang was involved in (I'll leave the Tibetan conflict out because I don't want to summarize the whole book).
Don't take these borders too literally
War against Turkic Khaganates:
As the Sui dynasty begins to be torn apart by separatists, the Eastern Turkic Khaganate looked with glee at the unfolding chaos. Just as powerful Chinese empires backed various nomadic tribes to keep the steppe divided, the Turks now returned the favour by backing various Chinese separatists. One separatist was Li Shimin, who became a vassal to the Khagan and used bribes and promises of territorial concessions to get Turkish military support. But as Li Shimin defeated his Chinese  rivals, minor separatist leaders chose to join him rather than fight him. Before long, he captured the Sui imperial capital, Chang'an, and titled himself Emperor Gaozu of Tang (Gaozu literally means supreme forefather, which is why you often see dynasty founders like Liu Bang referred to as such). The Turks, worried by their vassal's snowballing power, made periodic raids and even once marched their army right up to the outskirts of Chang'an itself. Tang thus adopted a policy of subservience to buy peace while it focused on completing the task of unifying China and building up a mobile light cavalry force that could compete with the steppe nomads.
Conquest of Tarim Basin. Same strategy used by Han against the Xiongnu
By the time Tang was ready to deal aggressively with the Turks, the Eastern Turkic Khaganate was showing signs of internal division. By allying nomadic tribes also dissatisfied with their Turkish overlords and building up key forts in frontier regions to serve as springboards for military campaigns into the steppe, the Tang and their nomadic allies launched a campaign that successfully captured the Khagan, putting an end to the Eastern Turkic Khaganate. A similar strategy was then implemented against the Western Turkic Khaganate which had expanded its sphere of influence into the oasis states of the Tarim basin. Tang armies first conquered the oasis states and set up the Anxi protectorate to serve as a base for further military action to the West. After securing control of the Tarim Basin, Tang armies went for the final kill and the Western Turkic Khaganate was dismantled with the capture of its last Khagan Ashina Telu. While other nomads rose in power after the demise of the Turkic Khaganates, most prominently the Uighurs, on the whole, Tang's conflicts with the Turks ended in a resounding success, allowing the Tang to project her power into Inner and Central Asia for well over a century. Too many people fail to realize just how far China was projecting her power into Central Asia. Often, when the Battle of Talas is mentioned, it's met by surprised reactions like, "Wow, the Arabs were fighting wars all the way into China!" instead of appreciating the power projection capabilities of both Islamic and Chinese empires.
Korean peninsula around 600 AD
War against Korean States:
The Sui dynasty had badly blooded its nose against Koguryŏ, a kingdom that ruled over the Northern half of the Korean peninsula and Southern Manchuria with its capital at P’yŏngyang (yes, I'm using diacritics because romanized Korean without it is fucking garbage. Who the fuck thought vowel clusters like "eo" or "eu" were a good idea?). Emperor Taizong (2nd Tang emperor), emboldened by his victory over the Eastern Turkic Khaganate, abandoned his father's policy of normalizing friendly relations, and adopted an increasingly hostile and irredentist stance (parts of Northern Korea had been administered as Chinese commanderies during the Han dynasty). A military coup in Koguryŏ as well as the periodic wars between Koguryŏ and Silla served as a convenient casus belli for Taizhong to legitimize a massive military campaign, which met the same difficulties as the Sui armies. Namely, supplies couldn't be sustained long enough to successfully besiege Koguryŏ's formidable mountain forts. After the failure of the 1st campaign and a 2nd campaign aborted by Taizong's death, Tang was in need of a strategy change, and Silla's diplomatic finesse offered a solution. A Tang-Silla alliance would first destroy Paekche, and then press Koguryŏ from all sides. With Silla's support, Tang armies could be sailed across the Yellow Sea and adequately supported in Southern Korea. In spite of Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Japan's best efforts (Japan was a long-time ally of Paekche), the new strategy worked and Paekche fell in 660, followed by Koguryŏ in 668.
Korean peninsula in early 8th century
When the war concluded, however, Tang stabbed their ally in the back by breaking her promise to give Paekche lands and Koguryŏ lands South of P’yŏngyang to Silla. An Eastern protectorate (Andong) was instead established in the Korean peninsula so Tang could retain control of her new conquests. However, the enormous costs in sustaining a military occupation in Korea couldn't be continued for much longer as Tibet developed into a power capable of challenging Tang control of Central Asia. As some Tang troops were transferred from the Far East to the  Far West, Silla, having always viewed Tang as an enemy of an enemy rather than a friend, supported rebel activity in the Andong protectorate before openly declaring war in the 670s. By the close of the 670s, Tang lost all control of the Korean peninsula to Silla, and by the end of the 7th century, even Southern Manchuria was lost to the Koguryŏ-successor state of Parhae. In short, Tang's aspirations in Korea and Manchuria were an utter failure. It spent vast amount of resources and manpower only to abandon all its gains and withdraw in a few decades. While one could argue that it was a minor success as the Eastern frontier did not pose a threat for the remainder of the dynasty since both Silla and Parhae normalized relations with Tang before long, I'll point out that was ALREADY the same situation when the Tang dynasty was first founded. There's little reason to believe that Koguryŏ, exhausted from defending against the massive Sui invasions and more focused on periodic conflicts with Paekche and Silla, would have gone on to aggressively attack Tang (unless Tang was facing severe internal conflict, of course).
War against Nanzhao:
China exercised either little to no control of Yunnan for most of its history until the Yuan and later dynasties, when control slowly increased along with more and more Han migrants (hence why Mandarin is the majority language there today unlike other parts of Southern China). In the Han dynasty, Emperor Wu had launched a campaign to turn Yunnan (then ruled by the Dian kingdom) to officially incorporate it into Yizhou but let the Dian king continue his rule as the king of a tributary state. Dissolution in the post-Han era allowed Yunnan to escape Chinese control so that by the time of the Tang, Yunnan was outside of the empire and ruled by various tribes. The Tang adopted a policy of loose control through the occasional display of force and legitimizing loyal tribal leaders with fancy Chinese titles so they'll attack other unruly tribes. Divide and rule. You know, typical strategy of empires when dealing with remote regions ruled by decentralized tribes, like what the Brits did in Arabia.
Nanzhao, centered in modern-day Yunnan province
But as Tibet became a powerful threat, Chinese control over Yunnan began to fracture at the start of the 8th century. Thus, instead of the previous divide and rule policy which supported many different tribes, Tang decided to firmly back one horse: Nanzhao. With good leadership and Tang support, Nanzhao quickly managed to conquer its rival tribes and unify Yunnan by the late 740s... And then the real trouble begins. Nanzhao develops greater aspirations and it isn't too long before territorial conflicts with Tang leads to an anti-Tang stance and an alliance with Tibet. Wars ensue, resulting in major gains by the Tibet-Nanzhao alliance. But Nanzhao, as the weaker partner in the alliance, grows resentful in due time of burdensome policies imposed by Tibet, and does another 180 by allying with the Tang again. So the Tang-Nanzhao alliance then reduce the Tibetan threat before Tang-Nanzhao tensions resurface and the two are back to war again. The war initially begins as periodic border skirmishes and raids, but develops into an intense, major war by the mid-9th century. Stalemate and war exhaustion leads to reconciliation by the close of the 9th century but it wouldn't be too long before both Nanzhao and Tang collapse from internal unrest in the early 10th century. Song dynasty historians would later remark in the New Book of Tang that "The fall [of Tang China] was due [to
the rise of] Nanzhao" and "The Tang fell at the hands of [rebel leader] Huang Chao, but the trouble started in Guilin [where disgruntled troops were stationed to cope with Nanzhao's military pressure]." Those quotes should make it pretty obvious whether Tang's foreign policy in the Southwest was successful or not.

Whew, that was a quite a lot to get through in my "brief" summary. Onto my actual opinions then. When assessing the Tang foreign policy, it's odd to note that dealings with the steppe nomads, the perennial threat to imperial Chinese dynasties, was handled rather well while dealings with more conventional agrarian, sedentary states like Silla, Nanzhao, or Tibet were handled so poorly. A key question to consider is "Why did divide and rule work in the steppes but not in the Korean peninsula?" To answer that, we should first note the differences in general organization between nomadic confederations and sedentary states. For the Turkic Khaganates, the Khagan's role was critical. Their confederations were a mix of all sorts of tribes that more often than not resented each other but only put up with each other as long as a Khagan maintained a high level of prestige with military successes and imposing light burdens to subordinate tribes. In short, the Khagan was more of a primus inter pares keeping a house of cards in place rather than an absolute emperor ruling from a secure power base. While this may seem like a weakness, it was also a strength that lent to steppe nomads' resilience as defeating one ruling tribe didn't equate to conquering the steppe any more than hitting one mole wins you a game of whack-a-mole. In this context, Tang policy to decapitate the head (i.e. capturing the Khagans of Eastern and Western Khaganates) and using divide and rule (i.e. befriending the Uighurs to put down other threats) to dominate the body was effective.

But in the context of the Korean peninsula, China was dealing with relatively centralized sedentary states which had stably ruled for several centuries. Koguryŏ, Paekche, and Silla were all allegedly founded in the late 1st century BC, a date that many modern historians discredit but most would agree the transition from tribal chiefdoms and confederations into statehood had taken place by the late 2nd century/early 3rd century. This fostered not nationalism in the modern sense, but perhaps an ethno-nationalism of sorts that would feed resentment towards Chinese rule. And because Tang, instead of going for a loose control approach as in the steppes, attempted a direct approach via long-term military occupation and the establishment of the Andong protectorate, endemic hostility from the natives was guaranteed. Moreover, while allying with Silla had been a wise move to apply pressure to Koguryŏ from the North as well as the South, giving them the middle-finger by ignoring their territorial claims was a foolish move as Silla support was critical in supplying the Tang armies all the way out in the Korean peninsula. The misadventures in Korea was a series of one bad mistake after another. On paper, it probably looked simple to a rich and powerful empire like Tang. "Let's make an alliance with one of the Korean states to gobble up the other two, then finish off the remaining one. Piece of mooncake!" The initial conquest might be glorious for military history fans like me, but it's what comes after that's truly critical. The long and sordid history of empires shows this time and time again. The very best empires are ones that managed to consolidate their gains, not the ones who made the largest gains.
Finally, the issue of Nanzhao... You know, it's just too easy to fool yourself into thinking you have god-like powers when you're the biggest and most powerful empire. You start thinking that small-time players are simply puppets without agency. It'd only be too easy to get them to do your bidding. And I think that attitude is what best sums up the Nanzaho fiasco. The Emperor and his policy-makers were so concerned with containing Tibet that they never seemed to have seriously stopped to think that maybe deliberately aiding the creation of a unified state right next to Sichuan where it'd be hard to send armies to due to the tropical climate wasn't the best idea. Kinda reminds you of good ol' Brzezinski, don't it? For those who don't recognize that name, he was the National Security Advisor during Jimmy Carter's US presidency. Here's a quote by him from an interview.
Brzezinski: Yes. According to the official version of history, CIA aid to the Mujahiddin began during 1980, that is to say, after the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan on December 24, 1979. But the reality, closely guarded until now, is completely otherwise: Indeed, it was July 3, 1979 that President Carter signed the first directive for secret aid to the opponents of the pro-Soviet regime in Kabul. And that very day, I wrote a note to the president in which I explained to him that in my opinion this aid was going to induce a Soviet military intervention[emphasis added throughout].
Q: Despite this risk, you were an advocate of this covert action. But perhaps you yourself desired this Soviet entry into the war and looked for a way to provoke it?
B: It wasn’t quite like that. We didn’t push the Russians to intervene, but we knowingly increased the probability that they would.
Q : When the Soviets justified their intervention by asserting that they intended to fight against secret US involvement in Afghanistan , nobody believed them . However, there was an element of truth in this. You don’t regret any of this today?
B: Regret what? That secret operation was an excellent idea. It had the effect of drawing the Russians into the Afghan trap and you want me to regret it? The day that the Soviets officially crossed the border, I wrote to President Carter, essentially: “We now have the opportunity of giving to the USSR its Vietnam war." Indeed, for almost 10 years, Moscow had to carry on a war that was unsustainable for the regime , a conflict that bought about the demoralization and finally the breakup of the Soviet empire.
Q: And neither do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, which has given arms and advice to future terrorists?
B : What is more important in world history? The Taliban or the collapse of the Soviet empire? Some agitated Moslems or the liberation of Central Europe and the end of the cold war?
That interview says it all, don't it? I acknowledge hindsight is 20/20 and I'm not gonna be some contrarian hipster that argues the Soviet Union wasn't so bad. I simply want to point out just how attractive the illusion of control is for the people up at the top. Even as I write this post, Shillary and the US establishment has a love-affair of funding colour revolutions and can't quite give up the idea of funding "moderate" Syrian rebels. The same kind of oh-so-tolerant moderates who go around yelling, "Christians to Beirut, Alawites to the grave!" and beheading children. Sometimes, the itty bitty kitty one rears can grow up to be a tiger, as Wang Zhenping puts it in Tang China in Multi-polar Asia, a lesson that we still seem to haven't learned.

Oh, and one minor note before I move on to the next book. On page 84 and 90, the author made an error concerning Sŏngdŏk's gender. He seems to have confused King Sŏngdŏk (reigned 702-737) for Queen Sŏndŏk (reigned 632-647). Maybe I oughta email the guy but then again, I'm just a nobody.
The Wars for Asia, 1911-1949
It seems that in the Cold War, the Soviet contribution to the Allied victory in WW2 was de-emphasized in favour of a US stronk view, which has been restored in the post cold-war era to the point that it's quite easy to find edgy teenagers in the West stating that the Soviets pretty much won the war alone with minimal help from the US or UK. And while the ongoing vilification of Russia by the Western MSM has yet to make us re-forget this once forgotten ally, there is actually another WW2 ally that, to this day, remains forgotten: China. Consider this fact pointed out by historian Sarah Paine in this book:
Although it is also true that the United States did defeat the Imperial Japanese Navy without Chinese assistance, it never fought more than a fraction of the Imperial Japanese Army. At the end of the war, Japan still had nearly one-third of its total armed forces deployed in Manchuria and China, or 1.8 million men, while another 2 million men defended Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, the nucleus of the prewar Japanese empire. This left about 1 million men facing the United States. Thus, China played a crucial role in keeping nearly 1.8 million Japanese soldiers fully occupied and far away from U.S. forces. The theaters where U.S. fighting concentrated had comparatively small numbers of Japanese troops, 100,000 in the Philippines and 186,100 in the Central Pacific. Japan remained fundamentally a land power with its armies concentrated at home or on the Asian mainland. 
For most of the Pacific Ocean war, China pinned down more Japanese land forces than did any other theater. From 1941 to 1942, Japan deployed about 60 percent of its army to China. This fell to 44 percent in 1943, and to 31 percent for the final two years when Japan redeployed its forces initially to the South Pacific and then to the home islands. Deployments in the South Pacific rose from 21 percent of the army in 1942, to 32 percent in 1943, and to 40 percent in 1944, when the home islands came under attack and Japanese forces in the Pacific could no longer alter the course of the war because so much of the navy and merchant marine lay at the bottom and could not easily resupply or redeploy the army. Likewise most of Japan’s army expenditures focused on China and Manchuria – 77 percent in 1941 and falling to 68 percent in 1945.
Now I can just imagine Eurocentric WW2 fans shouting, "Come on, we all know the IJA was a piece of shit made up of poorly trained, poorly equipped, and poorly fed nips. The fact that lots of chinks got slaughtered by the IJA goes to show, if anything, just how terrible the chinks were!" But Paine's argument is not based on the quality of Chinese troops. She is rightly pointing out that China played a relatively similar role as the Soviets did in facing their respective Axis foes. As Stalin once quipped, "Quantity has a quality all its own." Just imagine what might have happened if Japan, instead of spending two-thirds of its army expenditures and a third of its troops to dick around in the Chinese bog, used it instead on their navy and air force to fight the US? While I don't think Japan would have won even had that happened, think of how much harder the war would've been for the Allies.

Many points surprised me over the course of this book. The first and most important was the Japanese military command. I'd always known they made a lot of bone-headed blunders in WW2, but I'd severely underestimated their sheer folly and arrogance.
The Japanese did not anticipate a dire struggle. In a cabinet meeting on 11 July, four days after the original skirmish at the Marco Polo Bridge, War Minister Sugiyama Gen recommended that only a limited number of troops – a mere five divisions – would be necessary to stabilize China. He informed Emperor Hirohito: “The incident probably can be resolved within a month.” Others in the Imperial Japanese Army predicted that three divisions, 100 million yen, and three months would allow Japan to eliminate Chiang’s army and force him to come to terms. The estimates had no connection with reality. By the end of 1937 Japan suffered 100,000 casualties. A year later, Japan was struggling to raise twenty new divisions and more than 2.5 billion yen out of a total government budget of 2.8 billion for fiscal 1937-8. And by the end of 1938 Japan had thirty-four divisions totalling 1.1 million men, and by 1941, fifty-one divisions.
 >tfw you realize the guy suggesting 5 divisions is all you need to stabilize China is the "moderate" in the room...

Part of Japan's folly was due to racialized arrogance, but a more important part was due to Japanese refusal to consider insurgency as a legitimate form of warfare. On one hand, you can't blame them too much as they noted how Prussia-senpai fought decisive battles to quickly win the Franco-Prussian War and, like many other Western military strategists, were enamored with Alfred Mahan's ideas also advocating decisive battles. Plus, WW1 had largely been centered around conventional battles too. But on the other hand, they should have known better from their colonial experiences in Korea, such as the March 1st Movement of 1919. While that may have only been a non-violent mass demonstration, the key decision makers should have been thinking, "Hmm, what if something like that were to happen again, only this time with a metric fuckton more protesters armed with guns?" For Amaterasu's sake, did they not notice the level of anti-Japanese rhetoric shared by the Chinese populace since the first Sino-Japanese war? Even if they had managed forced Chiang Kai-shek to come to terms, I highly doubt it would've achieved anything. China may have been united as a republic on paper, but in reality there was no way Chiang Kai-shek could have had enough political capital to force his people to accept a policy of appeasement forever. The possibility of an insurgency is absolutely critical when you're dealing with a hostile populace with little to no confidence in their government. What can you do when your enemy's people don't give a shit whether or not their "leader" signed a peace of paper? What can you do when the very enemies you're fighting are driven to such fanatic hatred of you that, as Hamas would put it, "love death more than you love life"? I can only imagine mass genocide as a solution to such extreme situations, which the Japanese and German armies kept around as an option, but even they couldn't kill quite fast enough before their countries collapsed.
Apparently, Yokoyama once drew a poorly received manga about the Long March.
I've yet to come across scans of it, however.
Another point I was surprised with was the performance of Mao's communists. Really, this is such a great underdog story that I can't help rooting for them while reading even as I'm aware that they'd later contribute to a famine that probably killed as many people, if not more, than the number of Chinese killed in the civil war, second Sino-Japanese war, and WW2 combined. Just think about it. They manage to just barely survive annhilation at the Nationalists' hands, make a series of epic treks over 9000km before arriving at the bumblefuck city of Yan'an with less than 7000 troops (compare that to over 100,000 Communist troops just a year before). And from Yan'an, the plucky but cunning underdogs manage to learn the ways of unconventional warfare before switching back to conventional warfare by the war's end to unify China, a goal that Nationalist China, Japan, and even Soviet Russia wanted to deny them (despite its outward support of the Chinese communists, the soviets were trying covertly to keep China weak and divided so as to be more open to Soviet influence). Fuck, I hate commies as much as any sensible person but you gotta appreciate a good underdog story when you see one, even if there's a lot of ugly truths behind the heroic myths painted by the PRC. I'm definitely planning to work my way through many books on the Chinese civil war later on.

Overall, The Wars for Asia is an amazing book. I couldn't put it down once I picked it up and blitzed through it in 2 days. Paine writes with great detail without obfuscation, and at times, with great humour as well such as here:
Matsuoka Yosuke [Japan's representative to the League of Nations] fulminated [about the Leagues' 42-1 vote to denounce Japan's occupation of Manchuria]: “Humanity crucified Jesus of Nazareth two thousand ears ago…. Japan stands ready to be crucified! But we do believe, and firmly believe, that in a very few years, world opinion will be changed and that we also shall be understood by the world as the Jesus of Nazareth was.” Jesus of Nazareth came out considerably better in the courthouse of history than did Japan, let alone Matsuoka, whose misreading of Russian, German, Chinese, and U.S. intentions contributed to an unworkable foreign policy once he became foreign minister in 1940. 
The Iran-Iraq War
Probably the least known modern total war is the Iran-Iraq war. It wasn't even given a passing mention in the cold-war portion of my high-school history class, and most people who lived through the 80s seem to think it was some Nth iteration of sandniggers "Tusken raiders" killing each other, but this time with chemical weapons and child soldiers! I'd only become aware of it when I started taking an interest in the Middle East and global politics around 4 years ago. But wikipedia articles can only do so much, so I thought it was time I picked up an actual book on it. Hearing that it was one of the few books to incorporate Saddamn Hussein's audio tapes seized since the US invasion of Iraq, I picked up Pierre Razoux's book which only got translated into English from French in 2015.
"Be harmonious, enrich the soldiers, and scorn all other men."
-Septimius Severus' advice to his sons-
Anyone interested in modern wars will be familiar with the view that Arabs can't fight for jack shit. Israelis will proudly point to '48, '67, and '73 as proof. Chadians on fucking toyota pickups will gleefully point to their war with Libya as proof. And US military officials will point with frustration at the ongoing Saudi incompetence to beat Houthis in Yemen despite Saudis spending billions and billions every year purchasing more arms from the US. Now while there are many explanations for this, the reason I find most convincing and also ties fairly well to the cultural explanation theories is the idea that most Arab armies simply aren't designed to fight foreign armies. The key words here are "foreign armies." The armies still do fight enemies, but in the Middle East, most enemies are from within. Just look at the histories of Syria, Jodran, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, and Saudi Arabia from the 1800s and see how many coup d'etats there've been. If you want to be a ruler in these states, engrave the words of Septimius Severus-senpai's words into your heart. Not the part about being harmonious, since that was to keep his two sons from fighting, but the part about keeping the soldiers happy. An unhappy officer is a social reformist itching for a coup d'etat. A happy officer is a man driving in a Mercedes-Benz. Of course, there are limits to which the army's loyalty can be bought, as Mohammad Reza Shah realized in '79, so it also helps to staff the key posts with people of your tribe. Better yet, take a page from the Brits and use minorities who'd otherwise be oppressed, so they'd rather risk death fighting for the establishment than face the guillotines waiting for them when a new regime takes over. Now how well do you think an army will perform when all its important posts are selected based on loyalty to the ruling regime rather than competence? How well do you think an average grunt will fight for a war whose cause he can barely sympathize with and ordered by a government literally everyone knows is corrupt and self-serving? How well do you think an operation can be carried out if the officers are unwilling to take individual responsibility because they don't want to jeopardize their sinecures?
Child Soldier: Iranian unique unit replacement for Infantry for Civ VI.
Has half the combat strength of Infantry but is much cheaper to build.
Comes with the martyrdom promotion giving the unit 10% attack
when fighting civilizations of other religions.
So why the hell am I talking about this instead of the Iran-Iraq War? Because that's EXACTLY what plagued armies of both sides at the war's start. None of Saddam Hussein's generals who realized what a terrible idea going to war with Iran was wanted to be "that guy" who says no to his boss and loses his cushy job, possibly along with his life, his family's life, and his dog's life (jk, everyone knows dogs are only for dirty kuffars). And thanks to incompetent officers, you get shit like the Iraqi 3rd Armoured Division's tanks being sent into the city of Khorramshahr without infantry support, which is the ancient war-equivalent of letting your cavalry charge headlong into a body of braced pikemen. All this meant that despite not declaring war to get the jump on the Iranians, the initial Iraqi-offensive was limper than the dick of an average harem anime lead dodging sexual advances right and left. Meanwhile on the Iranian side, Ayatollah Khomeini couldn't trust the regular army at all because it had long been an institution to prop up the Pahlavi dynasty, and locked up most of the competent officers and pilots at the start. And just like every other authoritarian regime, Khomeini established the Pasdaran (Army of the Guardians of the Islamic Revolution) to primarily protect the regime so he wouldn't have to rely on the regular army so much. It's a fanatic devotion and love for martyrdom that counts for the Pasdaran, not actual training or combat experience. And if the ill-trained Pasdaran can't quite cut it against the solidly entrenched Iraqis, don't worry, just send a couple waves of children on bicycles armed only with a few grenades to clear the minefields and make the enemies waste their breath and ammo before sending Pasdaran human waves. Jebus fucking christ. Bicycle-riding, grenade-lobbing child soldiers... Someone go tell Ed Beach that that totally needs to be a unit in Civ 6.
I swear I had a high-school teacher who looked like Khomeini...
Or maybe he looked like Sean Connery, I dunno.
But I don't want to be too harsh to the armies of both sides. Razoux's book shows that as the war culled out the incompetents, the Iraqi army significantly improved, and their morale boosted once they were kicked out of Iran and fighting in home territory, which the soldiers had an actual personal interest in defending. And the reliance on human wave tactics to characterize the Iranians as dumb, unsophisticated brutes is unfair, considering they faced a severe shortage of supplies and didn't have the luxury to equip their troops with fancy weapons like the Iraqis. The Iranians really did fight like lions for the most part. There's no way a pack of donkeys could put up with being ordered to charge entrenched defensive lines time and time again for nearly 8 years. If anyone's to blame in the tragedy of the Iran-Iraq War, that solely rests with Saddam Hussein for first foolishly starting it, and with Ayatollah Khomeini who refused to compromise by demanding Saddam step down as leader, even after Iraqi forces had long withdrawn back inside their own borders and were purely waging a defensive war. It was obvious that a dictator like Saddam would never step down until Iraq was forcibly occupied and taken over by a new regime. So to continually insist on him stepping down as a necessary condition for peace negotiations was basically the same as saying Iran wasn't going to stop until they conquered Iran and set up a puppet government there. Was this really necessary after the point the war had been successfully exploited by the clergy to oust the moderate secularists and consolidate their power? Did Khomeini or Rafsanjani really think that neither the US nor the Soviet would intervene with an Iranian occupation of Iraq? After giving a big middle finger to the US and treating the USSR with reserved hostility? The aggressive expansion modifier would be off the charts if I tried the same strategy in EU4, and I'd quickly get slapped down with a coalition including even Ryukyu, who doesn't even know where Iran is on a map!

Aside from the details of various offensives and counter-offensives in Razoux's book, the response by other nations to the war during its grueling 8 years left quite an impression on me. I'd previously known about things like the Iran-Contra affair or Western hypocrisy at condemning Iraq's use of chemical weapons while its companies sent chemicals and specialists to help Iraq develop them. However, I was completely taken aback by Razoux' frank portrayal of just how willing any country who was a somebody was to help support the war-effort to Iran or Iraq (or sometimes both). I expect big players like China and France or rogue nations like North Korea to sell weapons with glee as they look at their bank accounts. What I didn't expect was shit like South Korea selling roughly $1.2 billion (calculated in 1988 $US) worth of arms, planes, and tanks to Iran or lil' old chocolate-loving Belgium selling $90 million worth of small arms, explosives, and jet engines (just the engines since those dastardly socialist parliamentarians caught onto the deal and unjustly prevented selling fifty F-104s intact to innocent dindu nuffin Iranians). I suppose I only have my naivete to blame. The whole world's a glass house and its leaders are rock-throwing addicts. In any case, it's always fascinating to read about things no government is willing to openly admit to. Scandals like the Luchaire Affair are a rare chance to see behind the curtains decorated in feel-good government platitudes and MSM lies; a chance to see the world beyond the cave instead of the shadow puppets put out for us.

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