Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Always sign above the line : Japan's surrender in WWII hits an unexpected snag

It began on December 7, 1941 amid death and destruction. It ended on September 2, 1945 in the aftermath of far greater death and destruction, amid a sombre ceremony involving ministers in top hats and bowties. And canes.

It lasted twenty-three minutes. Someone actually stood with a timepiece, probably a pocket-watch, and recorded when each event occurred.

And someone signed below the line.


Colonel Lawrence Moore Cosgrave was a war hero from the first world war, the recipient of two Distinguished Service Orders and the French Croix de Guerre, and the author of the book Afterthoughts of Armageddon recounting his experiences in the Great War. On the fateful day in 1945, he was acting as the Canadian liaison officer in Australia , and for some reason was the only Canadian military officer of sufficient rank1 within shouting distance of the USS Missouri, the ship on which the signing was to take place.

I'll return to the Colonel in a bit.

The Second World War, clearly the most ruinous — and the most significant — war ever fought by Homo sapiens sapiens, was not a very geographically homogeneous affair. While the Germans — aided by the Italians — were pitting their Heer, Kreigsmarine and Luftwaffe (army, navy and airforce) against the Brits and the Russians in the European fronts, the Japanese had their hands full with the Americans in the Pacific Theatre. It was all their fault really; near the end of 1941 they decided to try and bomb the Yankees into submission by successfully managing to enter Pearl Harbour into history books. By the time US troops were landing at Iwo Jima, Japanese strategists must have been looking for a save-load option. However, to the credit of their armed forces and to the ruin of their civilians, they refused to surrender. And thanks to the initiative taken by Leo Szilard, and a certain Albert Einstein which resulted in Pa taking action, US President Harry S. Truman had the means at his disposal to bring down kamikaze upon the Japanese.

Which he did. Twice.

The US copy
Having met history's most notorious overweight male adult and undersized male child, the Japanese decided to throw in the towel. Two copies of the Instrument of Surrender were made, one for the US and one for Japan. The text was drafted by the Americans, and consisted of eight short paragraphs, all brief and to-the-point. It was a two-page document, the left page devoted completely to the text and the right side containing the dotted lines.The Ceremony was scheduled to be held on the USS Missouri, an Iowa class Battleship that had entered Tokyo Bay a few days previously just for this reason.

The Japanese delegation
On the historic day, the US Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz boarded the Missouri at 8 o'clock sharp, followed forty-three minutes later by General Douglas MacArthur, Supreme Commander of the Allied Force, and fifty-six minutes later by the Japanese representatives led by Foreign Minister Mamoru Shigemitsu, who was wearing the aforementioned tophat-bowtie-cane ensemble. Gen. MacArthur took up the microphone at two minutes past nine2 and started proceedings that would take a further twenty-three minutes and would be broadcast around the world3. The Japanese representatives signed first, followed by MacArthur and Nimitz. Representatives from China, the UK, the Soviet Union, Australia, Canada, France, the Netherlands, and New Zealand all signed one after the other, and the ceremony was all but over by twenty-two minutes past nine. World War II was all but over.

Well, all but over.

As I mentioned previously, the second page of the document would contain the signatures. Each signatory would be required to sign above a line, below which his designation was provided. For example, General MacArthur signed above the words "Supreme Commander for the Allied Forces", while Foreign Minister Shigemitsu signed above the words "By Command and in4 behalf of the Emperor of Japan and the Japanese Government". Our protagonist, Colonel Cosgrave, was required to sign above the line above the words "Dominion of Canada Representative".

Which he did. Splendidly.

On the US copy.

Japan's copy
On the Japanese copy, however, he managed to sign in the next slot, the one that was meant for the French representative5. Which meant that the French representative, and everyone who followed him, had to sign one slot below, with the poor New Zealand representative signing in no-man's land.

Right after the signing, the Japanese spotted the error, and pointed it out to General Sutherland, Chief-of-Staff to General MacArthur. An ordinary man would have been well within his rights, at that particular moment, to reasonably panic.

Sutherland instead took out his pen.

He then sat down at the table, and proceeded to scratch out the designations of all the representatives following Cosgrave and rewrote them, in all-caps, in the lines below. He then handed the historic document, all penned up, back to the Japanese. Who, justifiably, were not amused. So Sutherland took it back and proceeded to sign his initials against every correction. This time, the Japanese had no further complaints.

No one knows what was going through Colonel Lawrence Cosgrave's mind at that particular moment.

A mighty air-armada celebrated the signing. History's bloodiest war was finally over.


Hiro and Naga, war veterans, still meet at the local watering hole, share a drink, and maintain the same stunned silence. Seventy Years.

  2. Someone had a really good pocketwatch.
  3. Radios, presumably.
  4. Seriously? "in behalf of"? I really think this should have been "on behalf of", given this.
  5. Who truly had one of the most impressive designation-name combinations I have come across : Général de Corps d'Armée Philippe Leclerc de Hauteclocque.

Friday, February 13, 2015

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, a review

I published this review in Goodreads today. Here is a facsimile.


The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de ZoetThe Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet, I was halfway through Cloud Atlas, having met and journeyed with Adam Ewing, having been mesmerized by Robert Frobisher's symphonic personality, having been drawn into the mysteries surrounding Louisa Rey, having laughed and sympathised with the ordeals of Tim Cavendish, having been chilled to the bone yet seeing the germination of hope in the eyes of Sonmi~451, and finally having to wade through the Sloosha's Crossing and the verbalisms and complexities of Zachry's tortured mind. Cloud Atlas is an immense book, its immensity stemming not from its size, which is comprehensive, but from its sheer audacity and scale. An author who dares take on six different periods in Earth history, some historical, some contemporary, and some within the realms of imaginative masonry, and delivers them with such unerring mastery and almost supernatural artistry deserves perhaps more than a pat on his back and a tiepin, and certainly does not deserve to have his lovingly constructed masterpiece abandoned exactly halfway through. But abandon it I did, for Old George's charm and the lexicon of the people of Sloosha became a little miresome. I was rather taken in by Mitchell's style and sense of unrestrained audacity, and decided to pursue a different book; perhaps to compare, perhaps to recover. I found Thousand Autumns, and the prologue interested me, for it was about Japan, and topics pertaining to Nippon and its people have, for a long time, held a strange fascination for me.

A major part of Thousand Autumns is based around the years 1799-1800, when Dutch naval and maritime economic power was fading, to be overtaken and soon dominated by the near-invincible British. The setting is the trading island of Dejima, on the outskirts of the city of Nagasaki, a century and a half before Fat Man. Tokugawa-era Japan had a policy of not allowing any foreigners into their lands, and they grudgingly tolerated the presence of the Dutch on this little trading outpost, on condition that transactions would be entirely financial, and religious discourse kept to an absolute zero. Jacob de Zoet, a clerk, sails into Dejima with Unico Vortenboesch, the new Chief of Dejima. Vortenboesch seeks to overturn the corrupt practices of his predecessor Daniel Snitker, and ensure that trade flourishes once again. Jacob de Zoet, attracted to the new Chief's unbending attitude, becomes his accomplice, unwitting to some level. With a vivid principal cast such as Orito Aibagawa and Ogawa Uzaemon, and a brilliant constellation of supporting characters such as the enigmatic Doctor Marinus or the elusive Abbot enomoto, the book travels from the seaside at Dejima to the interior of Nagasaki to the mountains of Kyoga and manages to weave three very separate plots into one unified whole, the common thread between all three being the Clerk de Zoet.

Thousand Autumns does not have the audacity or the expanse of Cloud Atlas, but it does have its eye to the little details, the historical accuracies, the cultures and traditions of two very different peoples of two hundreds years past, and is sincere about how their motives and motivations are perhaps not so different from our own. In this David Mitchell tries to bring back the theme of Atlas, where too one finds a common yarn winding its way through almost five hundred years of the history of a civilisation, bringing unity in disparity, as well as pinpointing the diversities. On the flip side, the interconnectedness of the three plots can at times feel a little tenuous, and the descriptions at times a little tiring. I almost resolved to give up the book during the first few days of Mount Shiranui, but I held on and was rewarded.

Final words : A must-read if one wants to round out Mitchell's themes and styles. Three separate plotlines weave together enmeshedly. Descriptions can be academically interesting but casually frustrating at times.

Highlight : "...nownownownownownownownow..."

View all my reviews

Saturday, January 03, 2015

How writing evolved.

Micropost :

1984 is so last century.

I read “Ai Weiwei is Living in Our Future” in three bursts over a period of three hours or so. The first burst dealt with the bit about Weiwei, and my reaction to that was outrage mixed with a hat tip towards a wonderful man. I was aware of Weiwei’s predicament in general terms, but the part about the two guards watching over him at all times was rather unsettling. That was when I shared the article on twitter with a 1984 annotation, convinced that this was worth a read. I stopped at “Just like ventriloquists”.

When I returned to the article a little later, the tone of the article changed. From the victims of constant surveillance the author shifts to the people who carry out that surveillance, but have very little control themselves. This was new for me; I had never put myself in the shoes of the latter set of people. The next bit about face recognition and how a juggler on the run from the law for fourteen years is finally caught reminded me (ahem!) of the Hollywood movie “The Avengers”, where the villainous Loki is located using face recognition software that sifts data from cameras all over the globe in a matter of minutes. That is scary. So is Obama talking in that blue tent of his. And so is the capability of predicting what I am going to do.

And then, in the third act, we come to “meatspace”. The tracker bands. The app to track your pet. Your children. To turn off their cellphones if they don’t call back. Pavlok. Quantifying everything we do including dating. “Privacy is theft”. Google as the OmniTerra machine, a bit of a Brainiac. And we the bots feeding it. We whose emotional and moral centres are now laid bare (thanks social media) and suppressed (thanks again). The watchword is obviously Control, enforced by the nearly unstoppable flow of Information. Is there an end to it? Perhaps not. And although Weiwei talks about freedom being symbiotic to one who has experienced it, I doubt if, given the sheer scale of Control that the author has mentioned, will our next generation be allowed to ever experience it?