Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 2

At the local library I picked up the requested "Coox’s Nomonhan" in 4 volumes (Pocketbook edition), published in 1994. These are books I saw at the bookstores upon my return from San Diego. The library books were stamped “donated.”

Young Dr. Coox had worked since the 1960s at the Allied GHQ in Tokyo, as a strategy analyst/researcher and military historian of WW2. He published many books, Japan - the Final Agony (1970), Tojo (1975), The Pacific War Revisited (1983), just to name a few. The book he must be proud of should be Nomonhan, Japan against Russia (Stamford U) which won the Samuel E. Morrison Prize, whose name I knew as an author of the famous “Struggle for Guadalcanal”.  Rear Admiral Morrison (1887-1976) won the Pulitzer Prize and received an honorable doctorate.  Dr. Coox, during his 15 year stay in Japan, interviewed 400 Japanese Nomonhan survivors on the list obtained from the Japanese Bureau of Veteran Affairs. He got in touch with the Nomonhan Society, consisting of survivors and bereaved family members. In the book preface, Dr. Coox expressed appreciation for all the help/cooperation received to compile the book. I’m sure Hisako Coox aided in smooth communication. The preface was written at the end of 1993, the time I was contemplating my retirement to return to Japan.

Dr. Coox was aware that the Russian casualty figures he used in his study were censured by the Russian Government and did not necessarily reflect the true figures as compared to the Japanese counterpart figures.  Under the 1990s Gorbachevian Glasnost, corrected figures first appeared, if not completely transparent, at the International Academic Study Symposiums of the Nomonhan/Khalkha River Battles held in Tokyo in 1991 by a Russian participant Colonel Valtanov and Gen. Lt. Krivosheyev in 1993 and 2010 (See the table below).  In anticipation, Dr. Coox had asked his friend Professor Hata to audit his figures in the Japanese translation (per Prof. Hata’s postscript dated, Sept. 1989 - 50th anniversary year of the Battle as the managing editor).

I’m glad to find the name of Nomonhan in the Lonely Planet Mongolia Travel Guide across the Khalkhgol.  It is where the east-most Mongolian Aimag (province) named “Dormod” penetrates into Hulun Lake, China, the largest lake in the inner Mongolia Autonomous region. Khalkhgol had existed as a vague border since Qin Dynasty/Russia days, causing skirmishes between the Japanese Kwantung Army and Russian Guards in the mid 1930s. The region is nothing but an open spread of grassland and shrubs as huge as Kyushu Island. Choibalsan, the capital of the region, is over 300 km west, which is 600 km east of Ulaanbaatar, the state capital.

Russian Commander Zhukov, obtaining Stalin’s approval for reinforcement, prepared against a possible Japanese invasion.  He faithfully followed Chinese Master Sun Tzu’s Art of War to seek revenge for the defeated Battles of Tsushima Strait and the disgraced Baltic Fleet. He drew all-out logistics, sending thousands of trucks, hundreds of tanks, soldiers, food and ammunition swiftly, on the Trans-Siberian Railway and hauling them down to no-man’s land named Nomonhan. It is the Japanse Kwantung Army opportunistic and overconfident staff who didn’t even try to know their enemy, and lacked essential reconnaissance.  Russians took geographic advantage, snipers targeted water supplies, used tactics such as piano wires to tangle Japanese tanks. The Japanese soldiers were given no time to rest and sleep after a long trek.  I can painfully visualize the battle scenes where the Japanese were encircled with nowhere to hide in the grasslands by hundreds of Russian tanks and annihilated by flamethrowers. I read that the front retreat requests were rejected by Kwangtung headquarters and the front commanders were ordered to “take their tonsils out”, i.e. commit harakiri.

I wonder what made Dr. Coox so interested in Nomonhan. I suspect he tried to determine the cause of the Japanese turning their reckless march southward as a direct result of the disastrous and not well publicized Nomonhan battles. Interviewing Japanese Nomonhan survivors, Dr. Coox had to be full of compassion. He may have been disappointed that the Nomonhan defeat didn’t ring the alarm for the Japanese at large. I heard that the Nomonhan Society contributed Dr. Coox’s books to the Yasukuni Shrine Museum and Library where the souls of all war heroes are enshrined, their sacrifices never to be forgotten.

Lastly, I also read a book Nomonhan Has Not Been Forgotten written by an elderly Oita, Kyushu writer named Noriko Koyama.  She voluntarily joined a small party of the 2006 Government sponsored dispatch to Mongolia to recover remains of soldiers and conduct memorial services in Nomonhan. Due to limited manpower and time available, the excavated  were just a fraction of remains.  Thousands still remain uncovered. The book was written in 2006 and she subtitled it for the “67th Memorial". This year is “77th” Memorial.  I’ll join her in her echo of “Nomonhan must not been forgotten”.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Dr. Alvin Coox - Part 1

"Eye witness to history” is one of my favorite running columns in the Yomiuri Newspaper in Japanese. I enjoyed Mari Matsunaga’s account of DoCoMo’s mobile phone developments as its i-mode editor-in-chief, which ran from early February  to mid-March. Then Ikuhiko Hata, an octogenarian historian, took over, beginning with the Tokyo Tribunal of War Criminals.

He wrote that after Tokyo University, he studied at Harvard in 1963 and at Columbia in 1964, and showed the photo of President Kennedy in the Dallas motorcade. I was in NYC in the1960s.  He and I witnessed the assassination of the President in the U.S.   He referred to a friend, Dr. Alvin Coox, who helped him secure the Asian Foundation scholarship in addition to the Rockefeller Foundation.  Dr. Coox!  My Goodness! I served as an initial Advisory Board member for his SDSU Japan Studies Institute in the 1980s. However, he passed away right after I left San Diego. I remember his spouse Hisako. I emailed my friend who knows Hisako. I received an answer and she is hale and hearty.  Hisako Coox has sponsored my friend’s life work of Japanese language promotion and annual speech contest in San Diego for the past 10 years.

I first met the Coox’s at an LA reception celebration at the Japanese Consulate General. The reception invitees were mostly from the Japanese American business circles. The Coox's humbly sat apart. I introduced myself and my wife. I didn’t really know about him until I returned to Japan in mid-90s. His best selling and award winning “Nomonhan: Japan against Russia 1939” (Stamford Press) was translated into Japanese in 1994 and hit the bookstore shelves in 4 volumes.

Then I read in a weekly magazine that Dr. Coox had a conversation with Ryotaro Shiba (now deceased), a famous writer and my alma mater senior.  Ryotaro was drafted to Manchuria when when he was a student and assigned to a tank battalion. He didn’t engage in war but got trained as a tank trooper and was knowledgeable enough to discuss differences between Japanese and Russian tanks. The Nomonhan (battles of Khalkhin Gol) survivors would have told him how miserably they were defeated. The BT-5 Soviet tanks, copied from an American designer, featured track fitted transportation, high-speed mobility, overpowering anti-tank machine guns, and equipped with a flame-thrower.  One weakness of the Soviet tanks were that they were fire-prone. The overheated gasoline engine easily caught fire - alas - the Japanese infantrymen, without tank or artillery support, found that they could knock out gasoline-powered tanks and armored cars with Molotov cocktails and mines. About 120 vehicles were destroyed in this manner, but the Japanese soldiers, who had to get up close to deliver a satchel hurling attack, took heavy casualties.

Ryotaro did in fact interview Nomonhan survivors like Dr. Coox, apparently with ardent hope of writing about them, but stopped pursuing it. Many people wondered why. Most plausible to me was that he heard, with shock, that there was a similar attempt as depicted in the US movie “Saving Private Ryan” to force the war to an abrupt end.

I’m surprised a younger writer Haruki Murakami (1949- ), Kafka and Jerusalem Prizes winner, touched upon Nomonhan battles in his 600-page “Wind-Up Bird Chronicle” (the Chronicle hereafter) as a story within a story. I got wind that his father once conscripted in Manchuria during WW2.  I read the English translation by Jay Rubin.  There is a couple of places that is relevant in Book l Thieving Magpie – in Chapter 4, High Towers & Deep Wells - O, Far Away from Nomonhan and Chapters 12 and 13, Lt. Mamiya’s Long Story Parts 1 and 2. The Chronicle has 3 Books and seems still unfinished.

Briefly, at the pre-battle stage, a horse-riding party of 4 Japanese secretly crossed the River Khalkhin, the controversial Outer Mongolia/Manchuria border, a violation by itself.  A self-proclaimed civilian named Yamamoto had a top secret mission to plot probable pro-Japanese Mongolian agents (undisclosed to the escort). To escort him safely, 3 soldiers were chosen. They were Lt. Mamiya, Sgt. Hamano, Cp. Honda. An injured Yamamoto, back from an errand, ordered the immediate departure. They had to wait for night to cross the Khalkhin Gol as they spotted Mongolian security. So, the party slept with Cp. Honda taking watch. Lt. Mamiya woke to find Sgt. Hamano killed lying on the floor and he and Yamamoto were captives. After Russian interrogations, Yamamoto was sentenced to an ugly slow death by knife flaying alive. Lt. Mamiya had to run naked for his life and jump into the dry well or be shot. Death came to Lt. Mamiya in the barren tundra fields buried deep in the well unknown by anybody.  He was overwhelmed with loneliness and despair waiting for his death. It was Cp. Honda,  by intuition on foot, who found and saved Lt.Mamiya. The existence of the well incident has a profound meaning in the Chronicle, as WW2 ruin and redemption.