June 29, 2003

Nihonmatsu




I have spent the past three months teaching English up in Fukushima Prefecture. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Japan, Fukushima is a few hundred kilometers north of Tokyo. In Fukushima I have been living and working in a small town called Nihonmatsu. Although I have studied quite a bit of Japanese history, this is my first trip to Northern Japan. Nihonmatsu sits astride one of the widest passes through the Northern alps of Japan. If you are sending an army north, you must pass through Nihonmatsu. As a result, this small village in the foothills, home to rice farmers and apple growers, has played a pivotal role in many major conflicts.

In the mid-1700s the Japanese Imperial family wrested control from the warrior class that had controlled Japan for two and half centuries. The conflict that broke the warrior's power base and allowed this to happen is referred to as the "Boshin War". As far as Japanese civil wars usually go, it wasn't really much of a conflict. The Imperial Forces were armed with new rifles and modern cannon while the samurai had learned to depend almost entirely on their swords. Even lances were no longer a major part of the warrior's arsenal, although everyone still practiced with them. The better armed, more highly organized Imperial Forces stormed north through Nihonmatsu on their way to Sendai, the holdout of one of Northern Japan's most powerful samurai families.

The Niwa clan, overseers of Nihonmatsu, sent the bulk of their retainers north to help defend their lords in Sendai. The key to the Northern strategy was a delaying action in Nihonmatsu, Adachi, and several dozen other small towns between the Kanto plain and Sendai. Between equally equipped and trained forces it would have played out as a classic war of attrition that the wealthier northern forces would have easily won. Things were not equal and the first major battle at Nihonmatsu showed just how true that was.

The Imperial forces met the Niwa clan's remaining forces at the southern end of the valley. A ragtag force of teenagers, young men, and retired bureaucrats stood firm against a force that outnumbered them around a hundred to one. The resulting battle was a complete slaughter that lasted less than a day. Every battle between Nihonmatsu and Sendai went the same. A delaying action that the northern daimyo had hoped would buy them six months to build up their forces lasted barely a few weeks. Half their retainers surrendered, most of the remaining forces faded into the landscape without a fight.

All over in Nihonmatsu are plaques, stone stelles, and other monuments commemorating the battle, its victims, and the history that led up to it.

Living and working in Nihonmatsu has been quite an adventure.




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Reflections from the Future
March 7, 2010

Over the past several years I have learned that almost everything I recorded here is false. My poor Japanese ability coupled with inaccurate reference materials led to my misunderstanding the role of Nihonmatsu in the Boshin War. It turns out that despite grand obelisks and a dramatic fall festival, the historic Nihonmatsu Castle fell so quickly that details of the battle are seldom found in any printed material. It was, it seems, a mere bump in the road on the way to Aizu where the final battle took place. Everyone who died there died in vain. Poets and dreamers aside, the majority of warriors killed in battle generally die in vain because their sacrifice fails to advance the goals of their leaders. There are exceptions, of course, and high school history teachers love to talk about the exceptions, but most of the time death in combat is inglorious and wasteful.

That is not to say there are not ideals and values worth dying for. I spent four years in the United States Army (1980-1984). During that four years and often since I have considered the paradox of my own willingness to go down in defense of my nation while still understanding that my death would probably be the result of poor planning, bad tactics, and bad intel rather than a necessary sacrifice to achieve an important strategic objective. Unfortunately, in war, the warrior cannot choose when and where he fights, only how. The teenagers and young boys who died at Nihonmatsu did not buy the defenders of Aizu any additional time. Quite the contrary, the Imperial forces rolled over them without hardly noticing they were there. The defenders did have the luxury of choosing where and how they died, so perhaps they themselves went down satisfied that their sacrifice was not in vain. If so, what right do I have to judge differently?

Such is the quandary of the historian. The facts are still the facts, but the emotion and intent can never be confirmed.


June 09, 2003

Wha...?




Hmm. This blogger stuff is more difficult than I imagined. I thought I had already opened a new blog, but apparently my miserable first attempt failed.

Before I continue, I should perhaps test this one.

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Ah-ha! It suddenly seems the system is cooperating with me.

Today's thought: My favorite subject is me!

It is interesting that the human animal is hopelessly self-centered. The surest way to win friends and influence people is to ask them questions which allow them to ramble on endlessly about themselves, their opinions, their beliefs, their wisdom, their hobbies, and so on. Blogging takes this thinking to the next level by creating a media which allows each of us to pour our hearts and minds onto those hapless lives foolish or unlucky enough to wander across these pages and find themselves drowning in our own self-worship.

Something tells me I'm going to love blogging. ;-)




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Reflections from the Future
March 7, 2010

Well, I do love blogging, even though I don't post as often as I should. I have found many blogs where the owner simply posts articles they find on other sites, as well as a few where the owner writes long creative passages that read more like fiction than journalism. I guess for some people a "blog" truly is a journal while for others it is more of a notebook. In keeping with my title, I have yet to find a consistent theme for my own, but I suppose that's par for the course as well.


June 04, 2003

It starts like this, I suppose


It starts like this, I suppose. A blank page waiting to be filled with mild musings, wild flights of fancy, and everything in between. I have a website, http://www.greyhawkmanor.org, but by the time I get around to updating anything I have forgotten HTML and must relearn everything from scratch. At one point I kept an online portfolio at Writing.com, but endless hassles with the paranoid hacker who runs the joint resulted in two portfolios being deleted, the first by me, the second by him. It wouldn't be so bad except in the end the loss of both portfolios resulted in his confiscating over $400 of my hard-earned cash. Criminal complaints have so far gone unnoticed. I guess the FBI is too busy looking for Osama Bin Laden.

I don't know if this blog will ever amount to anything, but I'll run with it for a little while and see how it goes.

Cheers to anyone who wastes a minute reading this!

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Reflections from the Future

March 7, 2010

Greyhawkmanor.org no longer exists and has not existed for about three years. I have a new portfolio at Writing.com, "Brian K Miller", which proves true the old adage about dogs and vomit. There is never very much there, and not a day goes by that I don't consider deleting it entirely, but there it remains and once a year I send them a check to keep it current. I haven't had any problems with the management since I created the new portfolio, but then, I don't spend as much time using their resources as I once did.

Also, Osama Bin Laden is still at large, assuming his failing kidneys have not killed him yet. Rumor has it he is hiding in Pakistan, but nobody seems to know for sure.

August 8, 2016

Thirteen years, 652 posts, and two Kindle books later.

Osama bin Laden was indeed in Pakistan. A SEAL team killed him on May 2, 2011 and dumped his body at sea. Both this blog and my Writing.com account are still online; although I don't participate in the community at Writing.com and I don't add new posts to this blog with any kind of regularity. After all this effort it is undeniable that very few people are interested in what I have to say, so either my skill at writing has never matched my confidence or my writing simply lacks any real content, which pretty much amounts to the same thing. And yet I keep pounding away at this keyboard trying to make a difference, although nowadays I am filled with doubt rather than optimism.

Anne Frank was wrong. People are not essentially good. Human nature is essentially self-absorbed and self-focused with little or no regard for anyone else. We each walk through life at the center of our own little universe convinced we are a kind of petty god and the world exists solely for what we can take from it. I can't even go so far as to call us "selfish". We are each utterly and completely self-absorbed, even the few good people who wander around like village idiots pouring out acts of kindness no one deserves and very few appreciate. And yes, that includes me, on both counts: completely self-absorbed village idiot pouring out acts of kindness.

My youth was filled with optimism, my middle age was the domain of reluctant acceptance, and as I move into old age pessimism has begun to reign supreme. I don't know if this is a natural progression or merely the end product of countless bad choices. The one thing I do know is that every day it gets harder and harder to find something worth writing about, and yet, every day I write about something.

After a lifetime of philosophical, religious, and ethical studies, it turns out the fundamental nature of human existence is narcissism.