31 March 2007

The Bataan "Hike": Premeditated or Negligent?

Yet for all its horrors, the march was not a premeditated atrocity. For the most part, the brutalities occurred in a piecemeal fashion against a backdrop of escalating confusion and seething racial hatred. Miscues, bad intelligence, cultural misunderstandings, sweltering heat, and a devolution of Imperial Army discipline all conspired to create an environment of tragic drift. The Bataan Death March, as the event later came to be called by the American media (most prisoners at the time simply called it, with characteristic understatement, "the Hike"), took place not according to plan, but rather as a result of the chaos that flourished under a plan that was fatally flawed. Once it became apparent that the original evacuation scheme was radically out of step with the circumstances on the ground, the Japanese failed to alter the plan to accommodate new facts. Their estimate of the number of prisoners was off, incredibly, by as many as 60,000 people, and their assessment of the health and stamina of the Fil-American forces was equally off base.

Realizing this, the Japanese should have instantly begun a wholesale rethinking of the logistics. Arrangements would have to be made for more vehicles, more food, more hospitals. Most obvious of all, more time would be needed to complete the move. But the Japanese Army, for all its many strengths, had rarely demonstrated a talent for reversing course in midstream once an error was recognized. Steeped in a rigid Confucian-influenced culture in which an order was considered final and any attempt to change it impugned the wisdom of the superior who conceived and issued it, the Japanese war planners were bold in action but often deficient in the improvisational skills needed for quick and supple reaction. Instead of alerting General Homma to the new exigencies on Bataan, the planners forcibly tried to make the old provisions—and timetables—work. The results were catastrophic.

For whatever reason, the Japanese elected not to honor General King's request that American vehicles be used to transport his men to prison camp. In truth, some of the trucks had been irreparably sabotaged by Americans who mistakenly thought they were supposed to destroy everything of potential value the day before the surrender. Many of the American vehicles were confiscated for military purposes, and were later seen towing Japanese artillery pieces toward southern Bataan. The Japanese Army was not heavily motorized; it remained, to a great extent, a foot army. This was partly a matter of choice and partly a matter of necessity, for Japan suffered from a desperate shortage of oil and enjoyed access to few outside sources of petroleum. Japan's extreme oil scarcity, exacerbated by the oil embargo that had been put in place by the United States and other Western powers before the war, had been one of the major factors that precipitated the outbreak of hostilities. Capturing the oil wells of the Dutch East Indies became Japan's paramount goal upon initiating the war. Because every drop of gasoline was considered virtually sacred, the Japanese Army chose to invest little in troop-carrying trucks, jeeps, and other modes of ground transport. What little gasoline existed was reserved primarily for planes, ships, and tanks. Soldiers were expected to hike long distances—twenty-five or thirty miles a day—as a matter of course. Marching represented a much more significant part of theJapanese training regimen than it did for the American foot soldier. Japanese troops generally marched more often, for longer duration, and at a faster pace than did the Americans, who relied heavily on vehicles in large part due to the U.S. Army's ready access to cheap and plentiful gas. This major difference in the two armies contributed to a gulf in the perception of what constituted a reasonable distance for a day's march. The Japanese unrealistically expected the starved and diseased Filipino-American forces to meet the Imperial Army's norms for marching—again, with tragic consequences.

There was another major cultural difference that influenced many encounters between the Japanese and their new captives: The two armies entertained radically different views on the matter of corporal punishment. Beating had long been an acceptable and routine method of discipline within the Japanese Army. Soldiers could strike subordinates with no questions asked and no explanation warranted. The slightest distinction between ranks was of critical importance because it meant the difference between who could inflict blows, and who could expect to receive them. This sort of institutionalized brutality had a tendency to work its way down the ranks to the lowliest private. One can imagine what would happen when an enlisted man, hardened by this psychology of top-down violence, found himself suddenly thrown into a foreign and not altogether distasteful situation in which he was the superior, in charge of a group of helpless prisoners. For some, the temptation to beat proved irresistible. For others, beating was only the beginning.

It was also true that many of the Imperial Army soldiers were themselves desperately hungry and ravaged by the same diseases that ravaged their captives. Although they hadn't deteriorated as far as the Americans had, many Japanese soldiers were showing signs of emaciation and battle fatigue. "We were all starving," recalled Shiro Asada, a Fourteenth Army soldier on Bataan. "We had dried fish paste and pickles to eat, that was all. Canned goods like the Americans had were a luxury to us. It seemed to us that some of the Americans were better fed than we were." As a matter of official policy, the Imperial Army showed a remarkable reluctance to provision its own troops. Army quartermasters provided only a bare minimurn of such staples as miso and rice, but soldiers were expected to forage and steal to make up the caloric deficit. Thus, swiping rations or canteens from American prisoners wasn't merely a matter of the strong taking advantage of the weak—it was practically an Imperial Army imperative. The Americans, already living so close to the bone, would have to make do with even less, for how could an army that barely fed its own be expected to provide adequate meals for 78,000 enemy prisoners?
SOURCE: Ghost Soldiers: The Epic Account of World War II's Greatest Rescue Mission, by Hampton Sides (Anchor Books, 2002), pp. 91-93

28 March 2007

Shall I Confess to Being a Capitalist or a Prostitute?

In front of a crowd full of sleepy faces, my mother was directed to speak about herself, not as a form of self-introduction, but in a confession of her past sins against the Communist party and the new government. Standing alone onstage with a microphone in her hand, my mother rushed through the major events of her life, trying to convey enough sincerity to keep herself out of trouble. She acknowledged her guilt and ignorance during the Republican era, and praised the enlightened attitudes she had since learned. Her Communist vocabulary had improved a great deal through her encounters with Mr. Tran, and she incorporated his words into her speech, maintaining her eye contact with everyone except Lam. He sat among a group of men, acting as inconspicuous as possible.

When my mother had finished, the community leader stepped up to the podium. Unlike Mr. Tran, who had earned his position through spying, the new leader was a high-ranking officer in the Vietcong's military. He was in his early fifties, with thin silver hair and a catchy smile. He had spent the past ten years of his life in the Truong Son Mountains, trekking the Ho Chi Minh trail. Rumors had it that he was now waiting to be reunited with his wife and children.

Taking the microphone in his hand, he said, "Thank you, Miss Khuon. What a story! Does anyone care to give any feedback? It is time for some constructive criticism, so without further ado, let's start. May I remind you that each time anyone among you makes a statement, he or she will earn a point toward community work."

A man stood up. My mother recognized him as one of her regular customers at her bank during her pre-Revolutionary days. A chill shot through her, since his appearance conjured up in her mind the hundreds of angry customers who had confronted her only a short time ago. As for the man, earning up to thirty points would exempt him from a day of volunteer work in the jungle; however, he also understood my mother's capacity to hurt him, through her knowledge of his past business affairs.

He cleared his throat and said, "It was a sincere story, told from the heart. But are you leaving out any details? I want to know more about your personal life. Do you have any children? And how many? Have you been married?"

The Communist leader looked at my mother, waiting for her reply. "Well, to tell the truth," my mother began, mechanically touching her stomach through her blouse, "I have never been married. I have two sons, and a new child on the way."

"Tell us about your sons," a voice said. It belonged to a woman who lived in a farm a few blocks away from my house. She was the wife of the town butcher.

"What do you want to know about my sons?" my mother said. "They are still very young."

The butcher's wife stood, looking up and down at my mother. Then she blurted out, "I've been watching you since you moved into this neighborhood. I don't need you to tell me how old your children are. What I want to know is the nature of their ethnicity. Are they half-breeds or not? Because if they are, it is an issue to us."

"Yes, they are." My mother swallowed.

"Then how did you get these children—through a catalogue?"

"I got them the same way you got your children, through intercourse, of course." My mother's answer stirred up a round of laughter in the crowd.

The community leader warned my mother, "Behave yourself, lady. This isn't a nightclub."

The butcher's wife turned bright red but was not giving up. "Under the Imperialist government," she said fervently, "there are two possible ways for a person to have had mixed-blood children: through prostitution or through adoption. You have admitted earlier that fucking was how you got them, so you must be a hooker." She ended triumphantly, looking around the audience for affirmation.

My mother swallowed again. She knew at that moment she had to make up her mind about her past status before these strangers. They wanted to label her so that later, they could justify any action taken against her. What was the lesser of the two evils she could admit to being a lowly prostitute or an arrogant capitalist? To the new regime, capitalism was considered the higher crime. Fifteen seconds dragged by before she could speak. Finally, with the crowd's full attention, my mother nodded in agreement. "Yes, I was," she said. "A prostitute is exactly what I was. And I am utterly ashamed of it."
SOURCE: The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood, by Kien Nguyen (Back Bay, 2002), pp. 109-111

27 March 2007

Good Soldier Outlier: Student Teacher

The only reason I ended up in the Army in 1969 was because I had dropped out of college while the draft was still on. But I quickly resumed my formal and informal education as soon as I finished boot camp. After my idyllic nine months of formal but fun Romanian language study at the Defense Language Institute–West Coast, I was assigned to the do-nothing 95th Civil Affairs Group at Fort Gordon near Augusta, Georgia.

At Fort Gordon, I initially spent a lot of my off-duty time at the small public library near my barracks and even took a couple of on-base extension courses from Augusta College: physical anthropology and “humanities” (mostly Greek classics). But as my language skills atrophied from disuse, I began spending time at the language lab on base, where I tried to refresh my childhood Japanese by plodding through Eleanor Jordan’s Japanese: The Spoken Language—listening to the audio portion on vinyl records!

The language lab didn’t have any Romanian materials, but it did offer occasional introductory classes in languages soldiers might expect to encounter when posted abroad. I signed up for a short introduction to Korean, taught by a ROK army officer who might have been studying at the Army Signal School. He managed to teach his class of beginners a few very formal phrases, the rudiments of the most excellent Korean alphabet, and one version of the national folksong, Arirang.

The director of the lab (and its sole full-time employee) was a friendly DoD civilian from Puerto Rico. I spent as much time chatting with him as I did trying to study Japanese on my own, and he recruited me to teach a few English conversation classes, one to a group of lovely GI wives, mostly from Thailand, and another to a rather tougher group of officers from South Korea, Turkey, and possibly Iran.

By that time, my civil affairs unit had transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, leaving me behind with the base Personnel Control Facility because I was due to get out soon. In order to escape my boring new duty of escorting would-be deserters to their military tribunals, I had signed up for a six-week, full-time cement masonry class under Project Transition, designed ostensibly to help us become productive civilians.

One problem for me was that both my daytime class studying cement masonry and my evening class teaching English to foreign officers were a long way from my barracks, and I no longer had a car. I had to wear my uniform during Project Transition, but there was no way I was going to appear in my enlisted man’s uniform in front of a class of status-conscious foreign officers. So I had to hike a long way back and forth to my barracks at the far end of the post every evening in order to make the transition from student soldier to (ostensibly) civilian teacher.

26 March 2007

Teaching a Fishy English Lesson, Nhatrang, 1978

Jimmy and I attended the local elementary school, where our studies focused on math, literature, history, and science. All were taught from the Communist point of view. Miss San, who continued to teach my class, decided to hold a free tutorial session at her home every Sunday afternoon. Those were the only lectures in my experience that were not delivered with any political overtone.

Miss San lived in a two-story dwelling several blocks away from my street. She used her first floor as a fish-sauce factory, and three enormous earthenware jars were constantly at work there. Each container could hold two to three hundred pounds of fish, marinating in an equal amount of salt. She explained to us that making fish sauce was her main source of income. Teaching was just a recreational activity. The rancid smell of rotten fish was deadly, like the stench of tooth decay, only stronger. The odor permanently clung to her clothes, seeped into her hair, and like a miasma, spread to her surroundings. The adults, especially men, avoided her. They feared her eccentric nature. Children, however, were drawn to her warm personality, and no one found her more magnetic than I did.

As each Sunday afternoon approached, we eagerly wondered what surprise she had in store for us this week. Sitting on the floor in her rumpled bedroom among her scattered clothes, we waited for her appearance like the audience of a performing artist. One of Miss San's favorite subjects was English. "The only way for us to grow as a nation is to learn from other countries' technologies," she often told us. "How can you learn their technologies? You can start by learning the universal language — English."

She winked at us with a mischievous smile. "Today, let's not learn from the textbook. Instead, let's test our vocabularies, shall we? For the next hour, all of us must speak in English. I know this is a very difficult game, but we can try. Let's have some fun together."

We were trembling with excitement. Abandoning our language in a large group discussion such as this one was a forbidden act, yet it seemed so natural and harmless to us in that moment. As if she sensed our uncertainty, Miss San continued, "Let's keep this our own little secret, children."

She switched to English and the lesson began. "Duy went out last night," she said, and I saw my friend sit up a little straighter. Pointing at a small girl in a ponytail, Miss San ordered, "Chi, please finish that thought."

Chi pondered a few seconds and then said carefully, "Duy went out with a girl last night."

There were some giggles among the students. The image of Duy with a girl was funny in any language. Miss San turned to me. "Kien, please?" she asked.

"Who was that girl? " I formed a sentence quickly.

"Yes, that is a good question," she said. "Tell us who that girl was, Duy."

Duy stood up. Scratching his ears, he stuttered, searching the room for help. Someone whispered an answer, and he seized it as though he were drowning. "That girl was — was — was — my — mother," he shouted. His voice cracked from the excitement. We fell into each other's arms with laughter. Leaning against the wall, Miss San, too, was smiling. In the shadow of the room, I thought she was quite a beautiful lady, almost like a vision.
SOURCE: The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood, by Kien Nguyen (Back Bay, 2002), pp. 139-141

Miss San abruptly disappeared soon thereafter.

25 March 2007

Hakuho Wins Osaka Basho

OSAKA, Japan [AP] — Mongolian Hakuho defeated compatriot Asashoryu in a playoff today to win the Spring Grand Sumo Tournament.

Hakuho sidestepped a charging Asashoryu at the faceoff and then swatted the grand champion down to win his second Emperor's Cup.

Asashoryu lost his first two bouts of the 15-day tourney at Osaka Prefectural Gymnasium and then reeled off 13 straight wins to force the playoff with his Mongolian counterpart.

Sumo's lone grand champion was bidding for his 21st title and entered the tournament on the heels of accusations that he was involved in fixing matches.

The Japan Sumo Association cleared Asashoryu of any wrongdoing but it was clear he was not himself during the first two days of the tournament.

Hakuho showed a lot of poise throughout the tournament but elected to dodge to his side in the playoff, a move that is frowned upon by sumo purists.

Asashoryu forced a playoff when he swatted down ozeki Chiyotaikai in the final bout of regulation to improve to 13-2.

Chiyotaikai attempted to use his trademark arm thrusts but was no match for Asashoryu.

Hakuho ensured himself of at least a place in the playoffs when he hauled down Bulgarian Kotooshu to move to 13-2.

Ozeki Kotooshu finished at 8-7, good enough to maintain his ozeki rank for the next tournament.

Ozeki Kaio wrapped up a winning record on the final day when he forced out Mongolian Ama to improve to 8-7. Komusubi Ama also finished at 8-7.
Hakuho has now won two tournaments and compiled a record of 179 wins and 70 losses in the highest division. He's very likely to be the next ozeki (champion) promoted to yokozuna (grand champion).

Trying to Leave Saigon, April 1975

SAIGON WAS IN its last free hours. The smell of chaos filled the air, and confusion was written all over the faces of the people on the street. Groups of armed convicts were breaking into houses, screaming up and down the streets, and shooting into the sky. Furniture flew onto the street, blocking the traffic. Discarded items were set on fire, either by accident or purposely; the smoke and flames added to the terror. Soldiers ran in all directions, tossing their rifles into trash bins, and stripping off their uniforms as if they were on fire. Some children who had lost their parents huddled on a street corner, crying. Above their heads, fire was consuming a coconut tree, and sparks of flame rained down on them. From the car window, they looked as if they were being burned alive in some sacrificial ritual.

We did not get far. The streets were blocked by hordes of desperate people, all with the same futile intention of getting to the airport. Just as we reached the freeway, a painful truth dawned on us: we weren't going anywhere. As far as we could see, the highway was clogged with civilian vehicles and military tanks. The hellish shriek of panic was dreadful in the hot air. People were abandoning their cars, running over each other, jumping on top of one another, climbing onto anything within their reach in order to move forward. Dead bodies lay in contorted positions, grinning horribly at the living. A few steps away from our van, a pregnant woman lay dead near the sidewalk. Her stomach had been ripped open by many hasty footsteps, and next to her lay her dying fetus, moving weakly under a dark mob of curious flies. A pool of dark blood beneath her dried slowly under the harsh sun. My mother quivered and recoiled in her seat, pulling us closer to her.

All along the freeway, people flowed like water down a stream. The crying of lost children looking for their parents, the screams of people being robbed, the songs blaring from the radio, the gunshots, the wailing of the wounded victims all blended into an incoherent symphony of grief. And like the humidity evaporating in the air, this collective keening lifted higher and higher, mixing with the noxious tear gas in a dark cloud of suffering.

Inside the car, my brother and I were too afraid to make a sound. Lam no longer looked relaxed. His long hair fell over his forehead, which was slick with sweat. His fingers, which held to the wheel tightly, were white at the knuckles. His head shook uncontrollably with each breath he took, and his eyes were opened wide, exaggerating the whiteness of his eyeballs.

Lam let out a loud, frustrated scream, as he pounded the horn in a fury. He turned to face my mother. "We have to get the fuck out of the car," he spat. "This is not going to work just sitting here. You take the children and move."

My mother's lips tightened into a straight line. She grasped my arm, and I felt her fingernails dig deeply into my flesh.

"Are you insane?" she replied. "Look at these people! I am not leaving this car."

Lam leaned within an inch of my mother's face. I could see his jugular veins, engorged with blood like two swollen earthworms, as they stared at each other. At last Lam broke the silence.

"Then give me my damned ticket and my passport. I am sick of listening to you, wretched woman. I am leaving with or without you."

My mother did not respond. "Now!" he cried.

The scream startled my mother. She shook her head as if to clear it, then reached for her purse.

Lam's eyes followed her hands. "Give me your ticket and passport as well," he blurted. "I am taking Loan with me."

"Why her?" my mother asked. Lam focused on something invisible on the floor. "She is having my baby."

Loan let out a small cry. My mother ignored her. After exhaling a deep breath, she gazed at Lam calmly.

"So am I. How do you explain this to me? Can't you see that I am also pregnant with your child? " she asked.

"So what? You don't need me. You never did," he said bitterly. "Trust me, you will do just fine."

He yanked the purse out of my mother's hand, searching intensely until he found what he was looking for. In addition to the papers, he grabbed a thick bundle of cash. Waving them teasingly in front of my mother, Lam said, "You just consider this payment for my devoted services."

Behind my mother, Loan finally spoke up. "I am not leaving with you, Lam. I am staying here with the mistress."

He turned to look at her as if she were deranged. Then, his lips pulled back in a distorted smile. "Fine, you stupid servant. Stay. Be my guest."

He picked out my mother's passport and ticket and threw them together with her purse back in her lap. Keeping the money and his own passport, Lam rammed them into the front pocket of his pants. Then, the smile returned to his face. He sank back in his seat, adjusting his clothing, before opening the door to let himself out. Oddly, he turned back one last time to look at us.

"Have a nice life, all of you," was all he said before he disappeared into the crowd.
SOURCE: The Unwanted: A Memoir of Childhood, by Kien Nguyen (Back Bay, 2002), pp. 25-27

24 March 2007

The Race for Burma's Natural Gas

The February issue of HIMAL SOUTHASIAN reports on the competition for Burma's huge deposits of natural gas and what it means for human rights in one of the most oppressive regimes in Asia.
Even as Southasia’s energy-strapped, fast-growing economies have led many to wonder whether antagonistic neighbours may be pushed together into forced cooperation, on the eastern edge of the region a less optimistic dynamic is playing out. Indeed, the huge natural-gas reserves of Burma have caused many Asian governments to turn a blind eye to Rangoon’s continued oppressive and non-democratic tactics.

Burma stands on the world’s tenth largest natural-gas reserves, estimated at more than 90 trillion cubic feet (tcf) in 19 on-shore and three major offshore fields. As the economies of South, Southeast and East Asia have soared upwards in recent years, the Shwe ‘gas block’ in western Burma’s Arakan state has instigated intense competition between India, China, South Korea, Thailand, Japan and Singapore. South Korea’s Daewoo International estimates that just two blocks from the Shwe gas field together have a reserve of about 20 tcf, equivalent to about 3.5 billion barrels of oil. There are currently four stakeholders in the Shwe Gas Project – Daewoo (which controls 60 percent), KOGAS of South Korea, and two Indian interests, the Oil and Natural Gas Corp (ONGC) and the Gas Authority of India Limited (GAIL)....

Burma remains one of the most repressive countries in Asia, despite promises for political reform and national reconciliation by its government, which continues to spend 40 percent of the country’s national budget on defence, and just five to ten percent on health and education. Burma’s military, the Tatmadaw, is Southeast Asia’s second largest conventional force, estimated at over 400,000 troops. The junta stands to profit by up to USD 17 billion dollars from the Shwe Gas Project over its lifespan, which could become the government’s single largest source of revenue – up to USD 825 million per year....

Meanwhile, in early January 2007, just days after China and Russia jointly blocked a proposal before the United Nations Security Council to censure Rangoon’s continued human-rights abuses, the Chinese government landed a new deal to further explore Burma’s petroleum resources. Negotiations between India and Burma over gas pricing are continuing, with an agreement expected by the middle of the year. Such is the desperation for Burmese natural gas in India, and such a fear of growing Chinese influence on Burma, that human-rights issues will cut much ice in New Delhi – particularly if the Indian civil society continues to keep mum.
via The Marmot

Finding Burmese Speakers During WW2

On Language Log, Mark Liberman has been excerpting passages from J Milton Cowan's brief memoir, "American Linguistics in Peace and at War."
It is difficult today to visualize some of the obstacles we had to overcome. To illustrate I will tell the Burmese story because it has multiple punch lines. In the lottery of languages William S. Cornyn drew the Burmese straw. This frightened him a bit but Leonard Bloomfield promised to hold his hand. Nobody knew where to find any native speakers of Burmese and the files of the Alien Registration Act were classified. The Department of Immigration and Naturalization said there were no Burmese legally in the country at the time. There were supposed to be some sailors who'd jumped ship in New York and San Francisco but they hadn't caught up with them yet.

Mortimer sent me to the Pentagon to see a young fellow in G-2 (Military Intelligence), Major Dean Rusk, a name not so well-known in those days, but known to Mortimer. I described the non-existence of known Burmans and why we wanted some. He volunteered to see what could be done with the roster of Alien Registration. He phoned our offices the same afternoon, saying tht he had over a hundred names and he'd call back as soon as he could have them decoded. Next morning he phoned to say there was something funny, there were Abernathys, Browns, Davenports, Fitzgeralds and so on down through the Youngs. It turned out that the Roster listed those foreigners residing in the U.S. who had been born in Burma, regardless of their current nationality. These were the names of children born to business people and missionaries while living in Burma. There were only two names that sounded exotic enough to be possible Burmans.
Read the rest at Language Log

When I was a missionary kid in elementary school in Kyoto, I remember reading a biography of Adoniram Judson, a pioneering Christian missionary in Burma at a time when converts risked death sentences for changing their religion. Judson was no slouch as a linguist, either.

22 March 2007

The Amazon's Cinta Larga in 1914

ALTHOUGH ROOSEVELT and Rondon did not realize it, the Cinta Larga's strong independence was probably keeping the men of the expedition alive. Because the Indians did not have a traditional chief, they were forced to make all of their decisions by consensus. If it was time to move the village, for instance, they had to agree on the time and location of the move. When it came to dealing with the expedition, the Cinta Larga were divided. Some of them believed that they should remain invisible to the outsider. Others, however, argued that they should attack. These men had invaded their territory, and there was no reason to believe they did not mean the Indians harm. By attacking first, the Cinta Larga would have the upper hand. They would also be able to loot the expedition, which was carrying valuable provisions and tools—especially those made of metal.

War was not a rare event for the Cinta Larga. The most common cause was the death of one of their own, from an earlier attack or even from natural causes. The Cinta Larga believed that death was brought about by witchcraft. If a man became ill and died, the others in his village never blamed their healer, a man who used plants and religion to cure the sick. Instead, they looked around their own village, and if they did not find anyone suspicious, they assumed that someone from another village must have performed the dark magic. The only response was to avenge the death by attacking the offending village.

The Cinta Larga also occasionally went to war if the population of their own village had become so depleted by disease, murder, or both that they needed to steal women and children. Such attacks took place at night. The men would camp near their victims' village, and then, after the sun had set, they would slip inside their communal hut. As the male members of the other village slept in their hammocks, the warriors would club them to death before rounding up as many women and children as they could find....

THE MOST striking fact about the Cinta Larga—and one that would have alarmed the men of the expedition had they known it—was that these Indians were cannibals. Unlike the type of cannibalism much of the world had come to know—among desperate explorers, marooned sailors, and victims of famine—the Cinta Larga's consumption of human flesh was born not out of necessity but out of vengeance and an adherence to tribal traditions and ceremony. The tribe had very strict rules for cannibalism. They could eat another man only in celebration of a war victory, and that celebration had to take place in the early evening. The man who had done the killing could not grill the meat or distribute it, and children and adults with small children would not eat it. If they did, the Cinta Larga believed, they would go mad.

The most important rule of cannibalism within the tribe was that one Cinta Larga could not eat another. The tribe drew a clear distinction between its own members and the rest of mankind, which they considered to be "other"—and, thus, edible. An enemy killed during war, therefore, was ritually dismembered and eaten. While still on the battlefield, either in the enemy's village or in the forest, the Cinta Larga would carve up the body just as they would a monkey that they had shot down from the canopy. First they would cut off and discard the man's head and heart. Then they would section off the edible portions: the arms, legs, and a round of flesh over the stomach. They grilled this meat over an open fire and brought it home to their village for their wives to slice and cook with water in a ceramic pan.
SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 228-231

Last year's PBS Frontline/World feature entitled Jewel of the Amazon also features the Cinta Larga.

21 March 2007

The Model T's Effect on the Amazon

Seringueiros [rubber tappers] were, by default, the true settlers of Brazil's interior. When Henry Ford had introduced the Model T in 1908, the Amazon had been the world's sole source of rubber. The wild popularity of these automobiles, and the seemingly insatiable demand for rubber that accompanied them, had ignited a frenzy in South America that rivaled the California gold rush. In The Sea and the Jungle, H. M. Tomlinson complained that the only thing Brazilians saw in their rich rain forests in 1910 was rubber. "It is blasphemous that in such a potentially opulent land the juice of one of its wild trees should be dwelt upon ... as though it were the sole act of Providence," he wrote. "The passengers on the river boats are rubber men, and the cargoes are rubber. All the talk is of rubber." Two years before Roosevelt had set sail for South America, his friend the great American naturalist John Muir had been similarly astonished by the rubber lust that he had witnessed as he traveled through the Amazon. "Into this rubbery wilderness thousands of men, young and old, rush for fortunes," he marveled, "half crazy, half merry, daring fevers, debilitating heat, and dangers of every sort."

By the time Roosevelt reached the Amazon, the dangers were still there but the promise of riches had all but disappeared. The bottom had dropped out of the South American rubber boom in 1912, when the Amazon lost its lock on the market. Thirty-six years earlier, an Englishman named Henry Wickham had smuggled Hevea brasiliensis seeds, the most popular species of Amazonian rubber tree, out of Brazil. Those seeds had then been cultivated at Kew Gardens, and the British had eventually planted their predecessors in tropical Malaysia. There, far from their natural enemies, the trees could be planted in neat rows with no fear that a blight would destroy the entire crop, as it likely would have done in South America. Labor in Malaysia was also not only cheap but readily available, and much more easily controlled. So successful had been the transfer of rubber trees to the Far East that by 1913 Malaya and Ceylon were producing as much rubber as the Amazon.
SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 317-318

Doina Bumbea: A Romanian Abducted to North Korea

The Romanian newspaper Evenimentul Zilei ('The Event of the Day') has managed to confirm the identity of a Romanian woman abducted to North Korea during the 1970s.
Doinea Bumbea was a Romanian painter who disappeared in the 70s after telling family an Italian agent will arrange an exhibition for her in Japan....

The story was reconstructed by EVZ reporters after they found the woman’s family. The reporters also found out that she died ten years ago.
Radio Free Asia has more.
WASHINGTON—A Romanian newspaper says it has identified a Romanian woman, kidnapped in 1978, who married the U.S. Army deserter James Dresnok—reportedly the last U.S. defector still living in North Korea.

In its March 20 issue, the Bucharest-based Evenimentul Zilei reports that the late Doina Bumbea, a Romanian sculptor and painter born in 1950, was abducted in 1978 from Italy to North Korea.

There, she married an American soldier who had deserted his unit by fleeing across the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that divides North and South Korea

In his Japanese-language memoir To Tell the Truth, another American defector, Charles Jenkins, describes a woman named Doina, a Romanian abductee, who died of cancer in January 1997....

Romanian officials have verbally sought clarification from Pyongyang regarding the alleged Romanian abductee, but North Korean officials haven’t replied.

Dresnok, a U.S. Army private at the time, crossed over to North Korea in 1962. He reportedly still lives in the North Korean capital Pyongyang. The U.S. military has said that Dresnok, from Norfolk, Virginia, left the army in August 1962 at age 21.
via The Marmot

20 March 2007

Night Sounds on the River of Doubt

COMPOUNDING THE misery wrought by the rain was an overarching sense of isolation and uncertainty, a feeling that was magnified by strange noises that shattered the forest's silence and set the men's nerves on edge. That afternoon, as Roosevelt and the men in his dugout paddled quietly down the river, a long, deep shriek suddenly ripped through the jungle. It was the roar of a howler monkey, one of the loudest cries of any animal on earth. The sound, which can be heard from three miles away, is formed when the monkey forces air through its large, hollow hyoid bone, which sits between its lower jaw and voice box and anchors its tongue. The result is a deep, resonating howl that vibrates through the forest with strange, inhuman intensity, and echoes so pervasively that its location can be nearly impossible to identify.

Worse even than the noises they could recognize were those that none of them could explain. These strange sounds, which disappeared as quickly as they came and were a mystery even to those who knew the rain forest best, had made a strong impression on the British naturalist Henry Walter Bates fifty years earlier. "Often, even in the still hours of midday, a sudden crash will be heard resounding afar through the wilderness, as some great bough or entire tree falls to the ground," the naturalist wrote. "There are, besides, many sounds which it is impossible to account for. I found the natives generally as much at a loss in this respect as myself. Sometimes a sound is heard like the clang of an iron bar against a hard, hollow tree, or a piercing cry rends the air; these are not repeated, and the succeeding silence tends to heighten the unpleasant impression which they make on the mind."...

The Amazon's sudden, inexplicable sounds were especially terrifying at night, when they were all in the pitch-black forest, with no way to see a potential attacker and no sure means of escape. While the jungle in daylight could sometimes appear completely devoid of inhabitants, the nightly cacophony left no doubt that the men of the expedition were not alone. Even for veteran outdoorsmen like George Cherrie, the setting of the sun came to mark an unnerving threshold between the relative familiarity of a long day on the river, and sleepless nights in the jungle, spent trying to imagine the source of the spine-chilling noises that echoed in the darkness around him. "Frequently at night, with my camp at the edge of the jungle," he wrote, "I have lain in my hammock listening, my ears yearning for some familiar sound—every sense alert, nerves taut. Strange things have happened in the night."

The screams, crashes, clangs, and cries of the long Amazon night were all the more disturbing because they often provoked apparent terror among the unseen inhabitants of the jungle themselves. In the fathomless canyons of tree trunks and the shrouds of black vines that surrounded the men at night, the hum and chatter of thousands of nocturnal creatures would snap into instant silence in response to a strange noise, leaving the men to wait in breathless apprehension of what might come next.

"Let there be the least break in the harmony of sound," Cherrie observed, "and instantly there succeeds a deathlike silence, while all living things wait in dread for the inevitable shriek that follows the night prowler's stealthy spring."
SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 156-158

Water Colors in the Amazon Basin

Each of the Amazon's thousands of tributaries starts at a high point—either in the Andes, the Brazilian Highlands, or the Guiana Highlands—and then steadily loses elevation and picks up speed until it begins to approach the Amazon Basin. Scientists have divided these tributaries into three broad categories—milky, black, and clear—in reference to the color that they take on while carving their way through three different types of terrain. Alfred Russel Wallace, British naturalist and friend of Henry Walter Bates and Charles Darwin, made the distinction widely known in the mid-nineteenth century when he published his Narrative of Travels on the Amazon and Rio Negro. Wallace noted the striking difference between the milky Amazon and the black waters of the Negro where they collide on the northern bank of the Amazon. Seen from above, the meeting of these two colossal rivers looks like black ink spilling over parchment paper. The visual effect is heightened because the Negro, which is warmer and thus lighter in weight, rides on top of the Amazon, and the rivers do not fully blend until they have traveled dozens of miles together downstream.

Milky rivers, such as the Amazon and the Madeira, generally have their origins in the west and are clouded by the heavy sediment load that they carry down from the youthful Andes. Blackwater rivers, on the other hand, usually come from the ancient Guiana Highlands in the north and so wash over nutrient-poor, sandy soils. Scoured by millions of years of hard rains, these soils cannot retain decomposing organic matter—mostly leaves—which, when swept into a river, literally stains the water black like tea.

Although during the rainy season the River of Doubt is nearly as black as the Negro and as murky as the Amazon, it is technically a clearwater river. Like the Amazon's largest clearwater rivers, the Tapajos and the Xingu, it has its source in the Brazilian Highlands, and so it picks up very little sediment as it flows over ancient and highly eroded soil. Clearwater rivers are also less acidic than blackwater rivers. Some, most notably the Tapajos, are so clear that they look blue, perfectly mirroring the sky above them. But most, like the River of Doubt, mix with either blackwater or milky tributaries as they snake through the rain forest, and so look neither blue nor clear by the time they reach their mouth.
SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 171-173

19 March 2007

Black Immigrant Model Minorities

Clarence Page takes a closer look at a well-camouflaged model minority in the U.S.—new black immigrants.
WASHINGTON-Do African immigrants make the smartest Americans? The question may sound outlandish, but if you were judging by statistics alone, you could find plenty of evidence to back it up.

In a side-by-side comparison of 2000 census data by sociologist John R. Logan at the Mumford Center, State University of New York at Albany, black immigrants from Africa average the highest educational attainment of any population group in the country, including whites and Asians.

For example, 43.8 percent of African immigrants had achieved a college degree, compared to 42.5 of Asian Americans, 28.9 percent for immigrants from Europe, Russia and Canada, and 23.1 percent of the U.S. population as a whole.

That defies the usual stereotypes of Asian Americans as the only "model minority." Yet the traditional American narrative has rendered the high academic achievements of black immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean invisible, as if it were a taboo topic.

How Much Longer Will Spoken Manchu Last?

Manchu, one of the official languages of the Qing dynasty, seems to be going mute.
Meng [Shujing] is one of 18 residents of this isolated village in northeastern China, all older than 80, who, according to Chinese linguists and historians, are the last native speakers of Manchu.

Descendants of seminomadic tribesmen who conquered China in the 17th century, they are the last living link to a language that for more than two and a half centuries was the official voice of the Qing Dynasty, the final imperial house to rule from Beijing and one of the richest and most powerful empires the world has known.

With the passing of these villagers, Manchu will also die, experts say. All that will be left will be millions of documents and files in Chinese and foreign archives, along with inscriptions on monuments and important buildings in China, unintelligible to all but a handful of specialists.

"I think it is inevitable," said Zhao Jinchun, an ethnic Manchu born in Sanjiazi who taught at the village primary school for more than two decades before becoming a government official in the city of Qiqihar, 50 kilometers, or 30 miles, to the south. "It is just a matter of time. The Manchu language will face the same fate as some other ethnic minority languages in China and be overwhelmed by the Chinese language and culture."

(While most experts agree that Manchu is doomed, Xibo, a closely related language, is likely to survive a little longer. Xibo is spoken by about 30,000 descendants of members of an ethnic group allied to the Manchus who in the 18th century were sent to the newly conquered western region of Xinjiang. But it too is under relentless pressure from Chinese.)

The disappearance of Manchu will be part of a mass extinction that some experts forecast will lead to the loss of half of the world's 6,800 languages by the end of the century. But few of these threatened languages have risen to prominence and then declined as rapidly as Manchu.

18 March 2007

Two Film Roles: Scottish Moron vs. Stasi Mensch

This weekend, the Outliers went to see the excellent, award-winning German film The Lives of Others. Last weekend, we saw The Last King of Scotland, for which Forest Whitaker won a well-deserved Oscar. In between, we watched the German film Der Tunnel (via Netflix), which inspired in me an inchoate train of thought about people who understand living in a world of sometimes deadly moral compromise and those who don't have a clue. But it was the sharp contrast between two starring roles in The Last King of Scotland and The Lives of Others that finally clarified it for me.

The fictional character in The Last King that most incensed exasperated me was not the disarmingly witty and manipulative, but increasingly brutal and paranoid tyrant. (I had expected him to be a monster.) It was the bloody fool of a Scottish doctor: a cocky, self-satisfied, self-indulgent, self-aggrandizing, culturally ignorant, sexually predatory, criminally naive moron who endangers more lives than he saves--a type all too common on university campuses worldwide (and, of course, in governments). The doctor finds out too late that others play by different rules with more deadly consequences than he has ever imagined. You'd think a real do-gooder might have exercised a little more caution and self-restraint as a guest in someone else's house. But he is really an adventurer, not a do-gooder. The world is both his oyster and his china shop, and he manages to destroy three pearls he touches--the health minister, one of the dictator's wives, and a fellow doctor--while leaving other lives shattered as well. You start out sympathizing with him, but when he finally escapes Uganda, my reaction was "Good bloody riddance!"

The Stasi spook at the center of The Lives of Others presents a stark contrast: a pathologically repressed, anal-retentive automaton whose only emotions are vicarious, the sole purpose of whose odious vocation is to incriminate others, not to heal or rescue them. And yet, this meticulously mistrusting drone knows very well how his world works and where its dangers lie. He studies his quarry long and hard before deciding what action to take (or not), finding ever more reasons to doubt the motives of his bosses and to empathize with his prey. In the end, he manages to carry out an anonymous good deed that allows at least one pearl to form in this slimy milieu of universal suspicion, deception, and betrayal. This repellant slimeball turns out to be ein guter Mensch after all. You start out loathing him, but you end up appreciating the self-effacing derring-do of this spook cum guardian angel, and so does the writer he has spied upon. Even though I had anticipated how the writer would convey his thanks, my eyes still flooded over as the moment arrived.

The story in The Lives of Others begins in 1984, and conveys only too well the Romania I encountered in that same year, about which more anon. It will take some time to compose. In the meantime, let me close with an excerpt from John O. Koehler's Stasi: The Untold Story of the East German Secret Police (Westview, 2000).
"The Stasi was much, much worse than the Gestapo, if you consider only the oppression of its own people," according to Simon Wiesenthal of Vienna, Austria, who has been hunting Nazi criminals for half a century. "The Gestapo had 40,000 officials watching a country of 80 million, while the Stasi employed 102,000 to control only 17 million." One might add that the Nazi terror lasted only twelve years, whereas the Stasi had four decades in which to perfect its machinery of oppression, espionage, and international terrorism and subversion.

To ensure that the people would become and remain submissive, East German communist leaders saturated their realm with more spies than had any other totalitarian government in recent history. The Soviet Union's KGB employed about 480,000 full-time agents to oversee a nation of 280 million, which means there was one agent per 5,830 citizens. Using Wiesenthal's figures for the Nazi Gestapo, there was one officer for 2,000 people. The ratio for the Stasi was one secret policeman per 166 East Germans. When the regular informers are added, these ratios become much higher: In the Stasi's case, there would have been at least one spy watching every 66 citizens! When one adds in the estimated numbers of part-time snoops, the result is nothing short of monstrous: one informer per 6.5 citizens. It would not have been unreasonable to assume that at least one Stasi informer was present in any party of ten or twelve dinner guests.

Like a giant octopus, the Stasi's tentacles probed every aspect of life. Full-time officers were posted to all major industrial plants. Without exception, one tenant in every apartment building was designated as a watchdog reporting to an area representative of the Volkspolizei (Vopo), the People's Police. In turn, the police officer was the Stasi's man. If a relative or friend came to stay overnight, it was reported. Schools, universities, and hospitals were infiltrated from top to bottom. German academe was shocked to learn that Heinrich Fink, professor of theology and vice chancellor at East Berlin's Humboldt University, had been a Stasi informer since 1968. After Fink's Stasi connections came to light, he was summarily fired. Doctors, lawyers, journalists, writers, actors, and sports figures were co-opted by Stasi officers, as were waiters and hotel personnel. Tapping about 100,000 telephone lines in West Germany and West Berlin around the clock was the job of 2,000 officers.

Stasi officers knew no limits and had no shame when it came to "protecting the party and the state." Churchmen, including high officials of both Protestant and Catholic denominations, were recruited en masse as secret informers. Their offices and confessionals were infested with eavesdropping devices. Even the director of Leipzig's famous Thomas Church choir, Hans-Joachim Rotch, was forced to resign when he was unmasked as a Spitzel, the people's pejorative for a Stasi informant.
UPDATE: Historians of Africa on the H-Africa discussion list have weighed in with a lot of good critical commentary on The Last King of Scotland. Here's the best take I've read so far, by Brian Coyle at UC Berkeley.
In three recent films about African atrocity, The Last King of Scotland, Blood Diamond, and Hotel Rwanda, it interesting what gets said but not shown.

In Hotel Rwanda, an excellent film in my opinion, the conflict's root cause is briefly posited in a didactic moment among key characters. The fact is given, unquestioned, that Belgians introduced a false distinction within an amorphous African population, granting some the ethnicity Tutsi to dignify a ruling, if non-European, class. The ethnic distinction that Hutu and Tutsi claim to be physical and deep is really a crafty Belgian charade. This neatly fits a dominant paradigm of social construction, but is hardly a scholarly consensus. In Blood Diamond, an average film in my opinion, the European-American-South African root cause is even more pedantically coded, right into the title. Little if any reference is given to the Liberian origin of the conflict, run by invaders from Liberia (though some were Sierra Leonians returning from time spent in the Liberian conflict). The diamond mines were fuel thrown on an already blazing fire. Also, the audience is left to assume that it was diamond-interest mercenaries who finally uprooted the rebels, which is untrue. In Last King of Scotland, a lousy film in my opinion, the English are made unequivocally responsible for Amin's rise to power, and of course the Scottish doctor plays a key role in causing the deaths of the people we see.

Behind each of these geopolitical explanations is the same dynamic. Causal agency is granted to non-Africans, and removed from Africans. The big-budget films dare to say that the West is the root of African evil, and Africans are history's mere pawns.

But what isn't shown? Atrocities. Hotel Rwanda does show scattered corpses, and has a very effective scene where a car rides over bumps that we learn are people. But the Rwandan genocide involved hatcheting people to death, by hundreds and thousands. Film critics agreed the filmmakers chose wisely to refrain from such graphic imagery. Blood Diamond had a brief exposition of chopping off of hands, but the rest of the picture showed splays of machine gun fire and explosions. I can attest, having been in Sierra Leone during the war's beginning , that guns were plentiful, but not bullets. Children were not given license to waste Rambo-scale rounds of ammunition. The worst violence was again by machete, and again it occurs off camera. In Last King of Scotland, Amin's atrocities are barely shown. Instead we remain as ignorant as the foolish doctor, getting information from newspaper images he reads.

In all three cases, the films spare audiences from graphic recreations of the actual atrocities. The is rather unusual, since other big-budget movies have no scruples about such displays. Uber-violence is Hollywood's idea of freedom of expression. Perhaps it takes a special kind of producer/director team to make an African movie, who are temperamentally uninclined to recreate atrocities. Or maybe not. If presented with wide-screen recreations of hundreds of innocents hacked to death in gruesome realistic detail, the audience might "mistakenly" conclude that Africans, by themselves, are capable of epic brutality that stamps history for millennia.
This contrasts sharply with another virtue of many German films like The Lives of Others (or The Harmonists, which we also saw recently): The German films don't blame everything on the Russians, or the French, or the Brits, or the Americans. They acknowledge that many—if not most—people in East Germany (or Nazi Germany) were complicit to some degree or another.

16 March 2007

Peleliu D-Day + 1, 16 September 1944

Bloody Nose Ridge dominated the entire airfield. The Japanese had concentrated their heavy weapons on high ground; these were directed from observation posts at elevations as high as three hundred feet from which they could look down on us as we advanced. I could see men moving ahead of my squad, but I didn't know whether our battalion, 3/5 [3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment], was moving across behind 2/5 and then wheeling to the right. There were also men about twenty yards to our rear.

We moved rapidly in the open, amid craters and coral rubble, through ever increasing enemy fire. I saw men to my right and left running bent as low as possible. The shells screeched and whistled, exploding all around us. In many respects it was more terrifying than the landing, because there were no vehicles to carry us along, not even the thin steel sides of an amtrac for protection. We were exposed, running on our own power through a veritable shower of deadly metal and the constant crash of explosions.

For me the attack resembled World War I movies I had seen of suicidal Allied infantry attacks through shell fire on the Western Front. I clenched my teeth, squeezed my carbine stock, and recited over and over to myself, "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me; Thy rod and Thy staff comfort me...."

The sun bore down unmercifully, and the heat was exhausting. Smoke and dust from the barrage limited my vision. The ground seemed to sway back and forth under the concussions. I felt as though I were floating along in the vortex of some unreal thunderstorm. Japanese bullets snapped and cracked, and tracers went by me on both sides at waist height. This deadly small-arms fire seemed almost insignificant amid the erupting shells. Explosions and the hum and the growl of shell fragments shredded the air. Chunks of blasted coral stung my face and hands while steel fragments spattered down on the hard rock like hail on a city street. Everywhere shells flashed like giant firecrackers.

Through the haze I saw Marines stumble and pitch forward as they got hit. I then looked neither right nor left but just straight to my front. The farther we went, the worse it got. The noise and concussion pressed in on my ears like a vise. I gritted my teeth and braced myself in anticipation of the shock of being struck down at any moment. It seemed impossible that any of us could make it across. We passed several craters that offered shelter, but I remembered the order to keep moving. Because of the superb discipline and excellent esprit of the Marines, it had never occurred to us that the attack might fail.

About halfway across, I stumbled and fell forward. At that instant a large shell exploded to my left with a flash and a roar. A fragment ricocheted off the deck and growled over my head as I went down. On my right, Snafu let out a grunt and fell as the fragment struck him. As he went down, he grabbed his left side. I crawled quickly to him. Fortunately the fragment had spent much of its force, and luckily hit against Snafu's heavy web pistol belt. The threads on the broad belt were frayed in about an inch-square area.

I knelt beside him, and we checked his side. He had only a bruise to show for his incredible luck. On the deck I saw the chunk of steel that had hit him. It was about an inch square and a half inch thick. I picked up the fragment and showed it to him. Snafu motioned toward his pack. Terrified though I was amid the hellish chaos, I calmly juggled the fragment around in my hands—it was still hot—and dropped it into his pack. He yelled something that sounded dimly like, "Let's go." I reached for the carrying strap of the mortar, but he pushed my hand away and lifted the gun to his shoulder. We got up and moved on as fast as we could. Finally we got across and caught up with other members of our company who lay panting and sweating amid low bushes on the northeastern side of the airfield.

How far we had come in the open I never knew, but it must have been several hundred yards. Everyone was visibly shaken by the thunderous barrage we had just come through. When I looked into the eyes of those fine Guadalcanal and Cape Gloucester veterans, some of America's best, I no longer felt ashamed of my trembling hands and almost laughed at myself with relief.

To be shelled by massed artillery and mortars is absolutely terrifying, but to be shelled in the open is terror compounded beyond the belief of anyone who hasn't experienced it. The attack across Peleliu's airfield was the worst combat experience I had during the entire war. It surpassed, by the intensity of the blast and shock of the bursting shells, all the subsequent horrifying ordeals on Peleliu and Okinawa.
SOURCE: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E. B. Sledge (Oxford U. Press, 1990), pp. 79-80 (reviewed here: "A biology professor after the war at the University of Montevallo in Alabama, Sledge brings an academic style to the text that flows easily from chapter to chapter.")

Souvenir Hunting on Peleliu, September 1944

During this lull the men stripped the packs and pockets of the enemy dead for souvenirs. This was a gruesome business, but Marines executed it in a most methodical manner. Helmet headbands were checked for flags, packs and pockets were emptied, and gold teeth were extracted. Sabers, pistols, and hari-kari knives were highly prized and carefully care for until they could be sent to the folks back home or sold to some pilot or sailor for a fat price. Rifles and other larger weapons usually were rendered useless and thrown aside. They were too heavy to carry in addition to our own equipment. They would be picked up later as fine souvenirs by the rear-echelon troops. The men in the rifle companies had a lot of fun joking about the hair-raising stories these people, who had never seen a live Japanese or been shot at, would probably tell after the war.

The men gloated over, compared, and often swapped their prizes. It was a brutal, ghastly ritual the likes of which have occurred since ancient times on battlefields where the antagonists have possessed a profound mutual hatred. It was uncivilized, as is all war, and was carried out with that particular savagery that characterized the struggle between the Marines and the Japanese. It wasn't simply souvenir hunting or looting the enemy dead; it was more like Indian warriors taking scalps.

While I was removing a bayonet and scabbard from a dead Japanese, I noticed a Marine near me. He wasn't in our mortar section but had happened by and wanted to get in on the spoils. He came up to me dragging what I assumed to be a corpse. But the Japanese wasn't dead. He had been wounded severely in the back and couldn't move his arms; otherwise he would have resisted to his last breath.

The Japanese's mouth glowed with huge gold-crowned teeth, and his captor wanted them. He put the point of his kabar [knife] on the base of a tooth and hit the handle with the palm of his hand. Because the Japanese was kicking his feet and thrashing about, the knife point glanced off the tooth and sank deeply into the victim's mouth. The Marine cursed him and with a slash cut his cheeks open to each ear. He put his foot on the sufferer's lower jaw and tried again. Blood poured out of the soldier's mouth. He made a gurgling noise and thrashed wildly. I shouted, "Put the man out of his misery." All I got for an answer was a cussing out. Another Marine ran up, put a bullet in the enemy soldier's brain, and ended his agony. The scavenger grumbled and continued extracting his prizes undisturbed.

Such was the incredible cruelty that decent men could commit when reduced to a brutish existence in their fight for survival amid the violent death, terror, tension, fatigue, and filth that was the infantryman's war. Our code of conduct toward the enemy differed drastically from that prevailing back at the division CP.
SOURCE: With the Old Breed: At Peleliu and Okinawa, by E. B. Sledge (Oxford U. Press, 1990), pp. 118, 120

15 March 2007

Birth-order Names in Japan and Papua New Guinea

Most people familiar with Japan are aware of the Japanese birth-order naming system for males, whereby first sons are often called 一郎・太郎 Ichirō/Tarō; second sons 二郎・次郎 Jirō; third sons 三郎 Saburō, and so on. In theory, it would be possible to keep going up to at least the tenth son: 四郎, 五郎, 六郎,七郎, 八郎, 九郎, 十郎. However, I'm not sure how to pronounce the characters for fourth son, can't find it in my dictionaries, and suspect that it would be an extremely unlucky name because Sino-Japanese shi 'four' sounds like shi 'death'. (Japanese high-rises often lack a 4th floor, for the same reason that my high-rise condo in the U.S. lacks a 13th floor.) [See the correction below.]

Another thing I'm not so sure about is whether this system marks order of issue or order of survival. Back in the old days, many more children died very young. That might account for the naming of Admiral Tōgō Heihachirō, whose name (東郷 平八郎) suggests he might have been his mother's eighth son, even though he had only three brothers as an adult. (My farm-raised father's eldest brother and eldest sister also died very young, but he still ended up with five brothers and one sister.)

Birth-order naming systems are also very common in the coastal languages of the Huon Gulf of Papua New Guinea. The naming system in Numbami accommodates up to seven sons and five daughters, and without incorporating any numerals. The order-of-issue names for sons are Alisa, Alinga, Gae, Alu, Sele, Dei, Ase Mou; and for daughters are Kale, Aga, Aya, Damiya, Owiya, Ase Mou. Notice how the names for the seventh son and sixth daughter are the same? That's because both translate as 'name none', or No-Name. My host mother during my fieldwork had seven sons and four daughters, all of all of whom survived thanks to postwar improvements in public health. The youngest son was called Ase Mou 'name none', or Ase 'name' for short. Of course, as the kids get older, they tend to go by their baptismal names (often of Biblical origin) or traditional names, depending partly on whether they remain in the village or move to town.

Another coastal language for which birth-order names have been recorded is Labu, which is the only surviving coastal member of the Markham subgroup, which stretches far inland up the Markham River valley. The Labu names for the first five sons are Aso, Amoa, Aŋgi, Aŋgu, Ôlôndi; and for the first five daughters are Ami, Hiya, Aya, Êta, Hênamu. (My source seems a little bit confused about the names farther down the line.) If you compare the Numbami names to the Labu names, only the names of the third daughter match. (However, I'm guessing that Labu Asôlô for both males and females toward the bottom of both lists is the etymological equivalent of Ase Mou 'name none', even though the current Labu word for 'name' is apaŋa.)

This is typical of the Huon Gulf Sprachbund: the structures match but the sounds often don't. That facilitates translation, but not lexical retention. Fortunately, human memories can retain enormous amounts of lexical clutter; while human brains are much less efficient at quick translation between languages. (Human RAM far exceeds human CPU capacity. The rise of transformational grammar seems to have been predicated on the opposite assumption: People had to derive one semantically related structure from another; they couldn't memorize both and then analogize between them.)

UPDATE: For Japanese kanji jocks (or kanji bandits), Matt of No-sword offers some interesting observations of how people have simplified characters by employing ditto marks (or means very similar). Sort of a calligraphic compression algorithm.

CORRECTION: (Slaps forehead.) Matt corrects me (and not for the first time). 四郎 Shirō is neither unlucky nor uncommon. Well, it's less common than 三郎 Saburō but more common than 五郎 Gorō for the same reason that third sons are more common than fourth, and fourth more common than fifth. Instead of puttering around in my kanji dictionaries, I should have googled up likely names like Suzuki/Tanaka/Yamada Shirō.

14 March 2007

Naipaul on Writing Fiction and Nonfiction

In the Guardian V. S. Naipaul looks back on his evolution as a writer.
I had no great love for [Trinidad], no love for its colonial smallness. I saw myself as a castaway from the world's old civilisations, and I wished to be part of that bigger world as soon as possible. An academic scholarship in 1950, when I was 18, enabled me to leave. I went to England to do a university course with the ambition afterwards of being a writer. I never in any real sense went back.

So my world as a writer was full of flight and unfinished experience, full of the odds and ends of cultures and migrations, from India to the New World in 1880-1900, from the New World to Europe in 1950, things that didn't make a whole. There was nothing like the stability of the rooted societies that had produced the great fictions of the 19th century, in which, for example, even a paragraph of a fairytale or parable by Tolstoy could suggest a whole real world. And soon I saw myself at the end of the scattered island material I carried with me.

But writing was my vocation; I had never wished to be anything but a writer. My practice as a writer had deepened the fascination with people and narrative that I had always had, and increasingly now, in the larger world I had wanted to join, that fascination was turning into a wish to understand the currents of history that had created the fluidity of which I found myself a part. It was necessary for me as a writer to engage with the larger world. I didn't know how to set about it; there was no example I could follow.

The practice of fiction couldn't help me. Fiction is best done from within and out of great knowledge. In the larger world I was an outsider; I didn't know enough and would never know enough. After much hesitation and uncertainty I saw that I had to deal with this world in the most direct way. I had to go against my practice as a fiction writer. To record my experience as truthfully as possible I had to use the tools I had developed. So there came this divide in my writing: free-ranging fiction and scrupulous non-fiction, one supporting and feeding the other, complementary aspects of my wish to get to grips with my world. And though I had started with the idea of the nobility of the writer of the imagination, I do not now rate one way above the other.
via Arts & Letters Daily

When I finished high school I wanted to be a writer, and I studied journalism when I first started college (before dropping out). But I had already discovered that I couldn't write very convincing dialogue, and my journalism professor told me I wrote in a very "scientific" style. So I ended up writing analytical essays, academic arguments, and—much later—travelogues. My youngest brother is the fiction-writer in the family, as was our maternal grandmother, who alternated between school-teaching and (mostly religious) writing.

Japan's Forgotten Self-Abductees

The Marmot's Hole cites a new study by ANU professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki on North Korea’s forgotten victims, the Koreans who “returned” to North Korea from Japan between 1959 and 1984, with much encouragement from the Japanese government. Read the whole thing.
Between 1959 and 1984, these few were among the 93,340 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea in search of the new and better life. There were several particularly ironic features of this migration. First, it took place precisely at the time of Japan’s “economic miracle”. Secondly, although it was described as a “repatriation”, almost all those who “returned” to North Korea originally came from the south of the Korean peninsula, and many had been born and lived all their lives in Japan. Third, the glowing images of life which tempted them to Kim Il-Sung’s “worker’s paradise” came, not just from the North Korean propaganda machine but from the Japanese mainstream media, supported and encouraged by politicians including key members of Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The Marmot adds:
PS: Obviously, this whole affair, if true, is not exactly analogous to Operation Keelhaul [Wikipedia], when thousands of anti-communist Eastern Europeans (many of whom were Nazi collaborators) in Allied-occupied Europe were handed over to the Soviets and Yugoslavs after the war. But it’s a tragedy nevertheless. One famous survivor of the repatriation, of course, is defector Kang Chol-hwan [Wikipedia], the author of The Aquariums of Pyongyang who spent his first years in Japan before his parents returned to North Korea. He spent much of the rest of his childhood in Yodok Prison Camp [Wikipedia], thanks to North Korea’s humane practice of incarcerating entire families [New York Times].

13 March 2007

Puttering About in My Sprachbundesgarten

I’ve been distracted a bit from blogging of late because of a burst of enthusiasm for enhancing Wikipedia’s coverage of Austronesian languages in Papua New Guinea. It’s my own little archival digitization project (as if this blog isn’t obscure enough for my tastes).

Thirty years ago, I did dissertation fieldwork in Morobe Province, PNG. My original goal was to describe just one previously undocumented language that appeared—on the basis of a few wordlists—to be rather conservative, so that my description could provide more and better data for broader-reaching historical and comparative work. However, I found that describing the synchronic grammar of one language in a fairly comprehensive manner was an extremely daunting task (especially the syntax in my verb-serializing language). Few linguists ever try anymore. Every component of any language you attempt to describe is sure to be surrounded by theoretical minefields and earthworks laid out by others. I didn’t have enough fire support, sappers, or élan to storm so many well-entrenched positions at once.

So I elected instead (stretching the military analogy) to deploy a long, thin skirmish line designed to probe the changing shapes of the Austronesian outposts along the coasts of New Guinea—in order to help dispel the “fog of yore,” so to speak. I undertook a historical and comparative study of word order and word-order change across all the Austronesian languages of the New Guinea mainland. The latter was not as difficult as it sounds because (a) only a few dozen of those eight score or so languages were adequately documented at the time, and (b) I could focus on just a few broad questions where data and theory seemed a better fit. The central issue was the extent to which the Austronesian languages have adapted their inherited SVO (Subject Verb Object) typology to the SOV typology that prevails among the demographically dominant Papuan languages on the mainland.

My fellow junior fieldworker on the project exercised more discipline, produced a thick and useful grammatical description of his language (before I finished), and went on to a thriving linguistic career. I attended his dissertation defense, where one professor with his own pet theory of syntax criticized him for being too eclectic in his use of theoretical tools of analysis—in short, for subordinating theory to description. I leapt to my friend’s defense, arguing that it would be a shame to waste the only comprehensive description ever likely to be published on a particular language just to serve the purposes of a particular fly-by-night theory. The professor replied in a huff that his theory had been under development for decades. I asked him how many centuries that language had remained undocumented.

The New Guinea mainland can be considered a sort of Sprachbund, where unrelated Papuan and Austronesian languages have converged toward common structures to varying degrees. For instance, the Austronesian languages of New Guinea are the only ones to display verb-final (SOV) word order, like most of the Papuan languages (and like Hindi, Japanese, or Turkish). Basic word order in Austronesian languages elsewhere, from Madagascar off the coast of Africa to Easter Island off the coast of South America, is either verb-medial (SVO) like Malay or Tok Pisin, or verb-initial (VSO) like most of the Philippine or Polynesian languages.

But the Austronesian languages around the coast of the Huon Gulf, where I did fieldwork, form their own sort of Sprachbund in microcosm, where languages at the borders of four small subgroups exhibit unusual traits more characteristic of their neighbors than their relatives. One of the most extreme examples is Labu (also known as Hapa), spoken in coastal swamps at the mouth of the Markham River, just across the river from the current city of Lae. The city, by the way, takes its name from a linguistic community by the name of Lahe, Lae, or Aribwatsa, whose speakers abandoned their language in favor of Bugawac, the dominant language along the north coast of the Huon Gulf and a crucial piece of the south coast near Salamaua.

Labu shares certain innovations with a larger group of Markham languages that stretch all the way up the Markham River valley. For instance, they regularly reflect Proto-Oceanic *t as a flap /r/ or /l/ and Proto-Huon Gulf *v as either /f/ or /h/. They also reduced their numeral system to ‘one’, ‘two’, and ‘hand’, but added a numeral classifier on the number ‘two’ (sa-lu, se-ruk, le-ruk, depending on the language). Other numbers are composites: ‘2+1’, ‘2+2’, ‘hand+1’, etc. Such severely reduced numeral systems are more typical of Papuan languages.

Labu speakers didn’t forsake their language for Bugawac, but they did remodel some of it on Bugawac lines. They recreated numerals for ‘3’ (si-di) and ‘4’ (sô-ha). So now they can count more like the other coastal languages: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5 (= ‘hand-part’), 5+1, 5+2, … 10 (= ‘hand-both’), … 20 (= ‘person-one’). However, for anything above 5, almost everyone switches to Tok Pisin numerals.

Strangest of all, Labu has acquired a distinctive low “tone” (register tone) on certain words, as in /u/ ‘rain’ vs. /ù/ ‘pot’. None of the other Markham languages exhibit such tone distinctions. Of all the Huon Gulf languages, only Bugawac, Yabêm, and possibly Kela distinguish words on the basis of tone, and its origin in those languages is fairly recent and derives from earlier obstruent voicing contrasts—low tone from /b,d,z,g/, high tone from /p,t,s,k/—with other segments being neutral for tone. Labu tones don't always match the tones of cognate words in Bugawac or Yabêm, nor do they correlate well with earlier obstruent voicing contrasts, so it's a bit of a mystery how Labu speakers adopted tonal distinctions.

12 March 2007

The End of the Golden Age of Exploration

[Theodore] Roosevelt lived during the last days of the golden age of exploration, a time when men and women of science roamed the world, uncovering its geographical secrets at a breathtaking pace and giving rise to bitter international competitions. The year he was born, the earnest young explorer John Hanning Speke, traveling with the famed Orientalist Richard Burton, discovered the source of the White Nile. In 1909, the year that Roosevelt left the White House, Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Henson won the race to reach the North Pole ... Just two years later, in late December 1911, Norwegian explorer Roald Amundsen became the first man to reach the South Pole. Robert Scott, a renowned explorer and British hero, made it to the pole a month later, only to find the Norwegian colors flapping in the polar wind where he had planned to plant the British flag. Shocked and dispirited, Scott and his men froze to death on their long, bitter journey back to their ship. Sir Ernest Shackleton and his men, in a legendary attempt to cross Antarctica, narrowly escaped the same fate two years later, the same year that Roosevelt would set off down the River of Doubt.

To [Henry Fairfield] Osborn, Roosevelt's decision to descend this river seemed insane if not suicidal, and he ordered [Frank] Chapman to tell the former president that the American Museum of Natural History expected him to adhere to his original plan. However, when Chapman's letter, with all the weight of the museum behind it, reached Brazil, it had less effect than a leaf falling in the rain forest. Having found the challenge he had been yearning for, Roosevelt was beyond the reach of Osborn's persuasion. In a letter to Chapman, Roosevelt wrote, "Tell Osborn I have already lived and enjoyed as much of life as any nine other men I know; I have had my full share, and if it is necessary for me to leave my bones in South America, I am quite ready to do so."
SOURCE: The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt's Darkest Journey, by Candice Millard (Doubleday, 2005), pp. 61-62

The Mennonites of Filadelfia, Paraguay

Last week, reader Scott Rogers sent me links to interesting accounts of the Mennonite diaspora in Paraguay.
Mennonite settlers came to Paraguay from Germany, Canada, Russia and other countries for a number of reasons: religious freedom, the chance to practice their beliefs without hindrance, the quest for land. Although German immigrants had settled in Paraguay before the turn of the 20th century, it wasn't until the 1920's and 30s that many, many more arrived.

Many of the immigrants from Russia were fleeing from the ravages of the Bolshevik Revolution and the later Stalin repressions. They traveled to Germany and to other countries, and eventually joined the emigration to Paraguay.

Paraguay welcomed the emigrants....

The Mennonites had the reputation of being excellent farmers, hard-workers, and disciplined in their habits. In addition, the rumor of oil deposits in the Chaco, and Bolivia's encroachment on that area, which resulted in the 1932 War of the Chaco, made it a political necessity to populate the region with Paraguayan citizens. (At the end of the war, Bolivia had lost much of its territory back to Paraguay, but both countries suffered loss of life and credibility.)

In return for religious freedom, exemption from military service, the right to speak German in schools and elsewhere, the right to administer their own educational, medical, social organizations and financial institutions, the Mennonites agreed to colonize an area thought to be inhospitable and unproductive due to the lack of water. The 1921 law passed by the Paraguayan congress in effect allowed the Mennonites to create a state within the state of Boqueron.

Three main waves of immigration arrived:
  • a Canadian group from Manitoba founded the the Menno colony in 1926-1927
  • a group from the Ukraine and the area of the Amour river came via China and created the Fernheim colony in 1930
  • a group of Russian refugees founded the Neuland colony in 1947
Conditions were difficult for the few thousand arrivals. An outbreak of typhoid killed many of the first colonists. The colonists persisted, finding water,creating small cooperative agricultural communities, cattle ranches and dairy farms. Several of these banded together and formed Filadelfia in 1932. Filadelfia became an organizational, commercial and financial center. The German-language magazine Mennoblatt founded in the early days continues today and a museum in Filadelfia displays artifacts of the Mennonite travels and early struggles. The area supplies the rest of the country with meat and dairy products.
My wife's paternal line were Germans from the Ukraine who emigrated to lands around Menno, South Dakota, beginning in the 1880s. If not actual Mennonites, they were certainly pietists.

Read more about Paraguay's Mennonites here.

10 March 2007

Rev. Sgt. Usaia Sotutu: Fijian missionary, spy, soldier

One of the most intriguing people whose name keeps popping up in accounts of coastwatching in the Solomon Islands during World War II is Usaia Sotutu, a Fijian missionary who volunteered to help the coastwatchers. His name appears (according to the index) in 18 different passages in the book I just finished reading, Coast Watching in WWII: Operations against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, 1941–43, by A. B. Feuer (Stackpole, 2006).

Nevertheless, I can find no profile of him anywhere on the web—although there is another Usaia Sotutu born on 20 September 1947, a Fijian athlete who participated in the 1972 Olympics and the 1975 South Pacific Games, whom I presume to be among the children of Usaia and Margaret Sotutu. [They were not. See the correction below.—J.] So, in an effort to get a better sense of this remarkable man, I want to compile as much as I can in a blogpost, beginning with several passages from Feuer's book.
[April 1942, p. 33] Friendly Fijian natives, led by Usaia Sotutu, hid the AIF [Australian Imperial Force] men from Japanese search parties. Usaia knew every inch of Buka Island and guided the soldiers to the western end of the [Buka] Passage. For several days, the Fijians kept the Army lads concealed until Usaia was able to find a few canoes. Then, under cover of night, he sneaked the coast watchers and their teleradio across the Passage to Soraken.

[June 1942, p. 40] While waiting for the air drop at Kunua, I again met with Father Herbert and Usaia Sotutu. Usaia was still keen on taking an active part in our cause and brought with him a half-caste lad—Anton Jossten. Like Usaia, Anton was very intelligent and spoke English fluently. They had an unusual proposition for me that had immediate appeal. Usaia had a following of educated natives who had been employed as teachers at the Methodist Mission. Usaia and Anton, with the assistance of this group, wanted to establish an espionage network to furnish intelligence regarding Japanese activity around the Buka Passage. The scheme had intriguing possibilities. The teachers were not known to be in any way connected with our coast watching activities. They could move about, within or near enemy lines, without suspicion. I gave Usaia the go-ahead to proceed with his plans. And, although both he and Anton were willing to work voluntarily, I gave them both to understand that I would try and have them enlisted—or put on the payroll in some other capacity.

[January 1943, p. 120] On the night of January 10, Usaia Sotutu and Corporal Sali secretly sneaked down the mountain into Soraken and set fire to every building and wharf. At dawn, the enemy arrived in force to view the gutted ruins.... I am convinced that our action delayed the Japanese occupation of Soraken.

[March 1943, p. 191] After reaching Namatoa, our detachment was split into three parties, each consisting of eight soldiers and a number of trusted natives. I also met Usaia Sotutu—a fine stamp of a man, six feet tall or over, whose wife Margaret and young children passed me as our boat, from the U.S.S. Gato, headed for the beach. Mrs. Sotutu, and her children, were on their way to safety aboard the submarine. I was among the first 12 Army personnel that arrived on this trip.

[July 1943, p. 201] On its second trip to Bougainville the [U.S.S.] Guardfish evacuated 23 people. In addition to Jack Read, the rescued personnel included Captain Eric Robinson, Usaia Sotutu, Anton Jossten, Sergeant Yauwika, Corporal Sali, Constables Sanei and Ena, and 15 other natives. The site chosen for the rescue of Jack Read and his party was at a point south of the Kiviki River. At 4 a.m. on July 30, Read and his men were transferred to a subchaser, and at 7 p.m., they reached Guadalcanal.
The New Zealand Electronic Text Centre's Official History of New Zealand in the Second World War 1939–45: The Pacific, chapter 10, section III, Battalions Move to the Solomons offers a glimpse of the Rev. Sgt. Usaia Sotutu's later exploits.
Almost three years after its formation, 1 Battalion, Fiji Military Forces, sailed for the Solomons on 15 April 1943 in the USS President Hayes. Half the officers and many of the non-commissioned officers were New Zealanders, three of them former instructors lent to Fiji in November 1939. The battalion, commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel J. B. K. Taylor, who had served with the New Zealand Division in Egypt and France during the 1914–18 War and later joined the Fiji administration, reached Guadalcanal on 19 April and occupied a camp at Kukumbona. On 8 May, after the American command had complied with Taylor's desire not to break up his unit into small groups for action in New Georgia, the battalion moved to a more agreeable camp site in the island of Florida. It remained there for five months, practising jungle tactics and landing exercises and carrying out such routine tasks as beach patrols and coastwatching....

When the Fiji Battalion landed [in Bougainville], American forces had established road blocks on these trails to prevent any surprise attacks from the main Japanese forces occuping the south and north-east coasts of Bougainville, with their principal concentrations round Buin, Kahili, and Kieta. The most disputed of these tracks was the Numa Numa Trail, which led through the mountains from the gorge of the Laruma River. Air observation by aeroplanes based on the Torokina and Piva airstrips, though valuable, was unreliable in country where ground movement could not be accurately discerned, so that all vital intelligence was obtained from patrols working through the rough country beyond the limits of the perimeter. Because of the desire to obtain as much intelligence information as possible without revealing their own strength, patrols were at first instructed not to fight unless they were forced to do so. Enemy patrols, on similar missions, worked down from the forest-clad hills towards the perimeter, so that these alert opposing groups, creeping through the jungle, continually tried to ambush each other and frequently succeeded....

A strong combined patrol from 129 US Infantry Regiment and 1 Fiji Battalion set out from the perimeter, but was driven back soon after it entered the rough hill country towards Sisivie and Tokua, two native villages which gave their names to the forest tracks leading to the garrison area from the rear. Almost simultaneously the Japanese began their attacks on road blocks established along the tracks covering the Ibu post. [Battalion commander Lt. Col.] Upton decided to evacuate the position and withdraw his force down the Ibu-Sisivie trail, which would bring him to the Laruma River and the Numa Numa Trail and so into the perimeter. Early on the morning of 15 February [1944] he despatched [Capt.] Corner from the outpost with the first section of the garrison, which included 120 native carriers with ammunition and radio equipment, and 100 native women and children from mountain villages who feared enemy reprisals....

Corner found his way blocked by determined Japanese attacks on the road posts and retired along the trail he had just traversed, taking up a defensive position at a ravine which offered the only good natural barrier. He was joined there later in the afternoon with the main force under Upton, who was confronted with a disturbing situation. All escape routes were blocked by the Japanese, who greatly outnumbered him, and no help was available from American or Fiji units from the perimeter. He had little time to decide how to get 400-odd men and 200 natives over a mountain range and down to the perimeter unknown to the Japanese, who were now pressing the battalion patrols blocking the tracks along which Upton's force was extended. A Fijian sergeant, Usaia Sotutu [emphasis added], who had been a missionary on Bougainville for twenty years, saved the day. He remembered an old, disused track near the ravine and led the battalion along it, carefully camouflaging the entrance where it branched off the main trail the force had just used.... On 19 February the force reached the coast intact and with only one man wounded. In those four days, travelling slowly and with the utmost difficulty, the Ibu force climbed 5000 feet through dense forest drenched with rain, and carried arms and equipment, which included Vickers guns, 3-inch mortars, and food for more than 600 people—soldiers and natives.
It's not clear where he ended up after the war (or even whether he survived it), but a Margaret Sotutu turns up in a photo of teachers at Ratu Kandavulevu School in Fiji in 1962, seated next to a Paula Sotutu, who went on to a distinguished career as a diplomat and public servant. The most recent source I could find on the Rev. Sgt. Usaia Sotutu is a speech on 27 August 2005 by Fijian Prime Minister Laisenia Qarase welcoming Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Michael Somare, whose delegation repatriated the remains of Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, a Fijian soldier who had died on Bougainville in 1944.
In the final decades of the 19th century, Fijian missionaries began to help in taking the Light of Christianity to your islands. We remember those soldiers of God today and give thanks for their service. Many settled, married and became part of village life. This missionary tradition continued until after the last War.

We have with us today Mr Paula Sotutu, a well-known and distinguished citizen of Fiji. Paula has a very personal perspective of the Fijian missionary experience in Bougainville. His father, Reverend Usaia Sotutu, was perhaps the most famous of those pioneering preachers. He spread the Word for 27 years in the Teop and Buin-Siwai areas and had many followers.

Paula, his brother and sisters, were born at the Buka Mission Hospital. He accompanied his father during many pastoral visits to his flock. Paula remembers clearly some of his father’s courageous exploits as a wartime coast watcher and guide to government officials and a small contingent of Australian troops.

Later, when Bougainville was retaken, he made his local knowledge available to Fijian troops, who were part of the invasion force. Mrs Sotutu and the children were smuggled to safety in a submarine in 1943. Reverend Sotutu stayed behind. He still had God’s work to do.

The following year Corporal Sefanaia Sukanaivalu, was awarded the Victoria Cross for giving his life at Bougainville to save his fellow soldiers.

For over 60 years, this dear and brave son of Fiji – our greatest war hero - has been buried at Rabaul.
UPDATE: David Sotutu, son of the Olympian Usaia Sotutu, offers a correction.
In your article you mentioned a Usaia Sotutu that was born on September 20, 1947 and participated in the Olympics and South Pacific Games.

He is my father. His parents were not Usaia and Margaret Sotutu. He is only named after Usaia Sotutu. His parents were Tevita Naiteitei and Akisi Buasega. He was born in the village of Tavea in Bua. He now lives in Tacoma, Washington, USA.