Tuesday, 20 September 2005

Seafaring Riverboats, Unarmoured Humvees

We've all heard about how Kublai Khan's failed invasion of Japan, thwarted by the kamikaze or divine wind, that capsized his fleet of over four thousand ships. Centuries later, the young stupid suicide pilots of the Japanese air force would invoke the name of this conquering tempest when they ploughed their planes into enemy warships during World War II.

A recent archaeological expedition has revealed some startling truths about the Khan's failed venture, and downplayed the role played by the storm, long touted as the main factor.

Never mind that the Mongols knew scratch about sailing or sea battles, or that Japanese swordsmen were lethal in close-quarters combat. There were hints that Chinese ship makers commissioned into building the fleet had used shoddy workmanship as a means of sabotage. Kublai's impatience was also a factor; to complete his massive fleet within the unreasonable schedule, riverboats - totally unseaworthy vessels - were also drafted into the fleet.

The fleet had sunk even before it left the dry-docks.

We are strange, you know. We store history and quote from it, but never learn anything from it. Even today, people are still rushing to war with vague mission statements, poor preparation, and misleading preconceptions and lousy intelligence about the other side. When it all ends, usually in failure, the common folk have to bear the cost of the aftermath.

But we don't have to look back eight hundred years to learn about the folly of rushing to war. We only need to go back about two years.

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