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Letter From MHQ: Winter 2009

By William W. Horne 
Originally published on Published Online: January 20, 2009 
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MHQ Winter 2009
MHQ Winter 2009
A close examination of military history across eras inevitably turns up instances where one battle can have mind-boggling and wholly unforeseeable consequences decades, even centuries, in the future. Two stories in our Winter 2009 issue clearly demonstrate this searing connectivity of military events. Read together, these features make the case that a naval victory in the American Revo_lution in 1781 led inexorably to the dropping of a nuclear bomb on Hiroshima in 1945.

Consider this: First, in the entertaining "Out of Line, Out of Luck," James E. Held describes how the American Revolution was in essence won by the French, whose fleet beat back an attempt by the Royal Navy to relieve Cornwallis at Yorktown in 1781. But one of Held's critical themes is that the British navy was inept and unprepared going into the Battle of the Virginia Capes; when the war was lost, the British lords made the restoration of their naval primacy a priority. The most famous beneficiary was Horatio Nelson, whose disciplined, well-trained fleets thrashed the French at the Battle of the Nile in 1798, and again at Trafalgar in 1805.
Exactly a century later a Japanese admiral, Heihachiro Togo, signaled to his fleet on the eve of a clash with the Russian navy, "Let every man do his duty with all his might"-a clear nod to Lord Nelson's nearly verbatim signal to his fleet at Trafalgar. No coincidence, points out contributing editor John M. Taylor in his action-packed cover story, "The 'Japanese Nelson' Crushes the Russians."
Togo was a fervent admirer of Nelson, and had trained extensively with the Royal Navy in the 1870s. He absorbed the tactics, discipline, and confidence of the British Empire's unparalleled sea force, and that paid off with his annihilation of the Russian fleet at Tsushima in 1905.
That first humbling of a modern European power by an Asian country (and Togo's later role as official mentor to the young crown prince Hirohito) sent an arrogant, well-armed Japan headlong down a path of brutal, bloody imperialism that would end only with the dropping of the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
And that's the thick thread winding through 164 years of history: Capes to Trafalgar to Tsushima to Nagasaki. Kismet.
There are plenty of other great articles in this issue, including an eye-opening account of events at a Korean POW camp in 1952 by 2008 Pritzker Prize-winner Allan R. Millett, and a provocative essay by Thomas Fleming on the lethality of FDR's unconditional surrender policy.
As always, I hope you'll feel free to tell us how we're doing:


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