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U.S. Forests Fair Game in WWII

Bill Yenne’s well-done though rather too concise article [“When Japan Bombed Oregon,” Autumn 2013] on the September 1942 Japanese bombing of the mainland United States requires some commentary.

First, a rather poor, inaccurate usage of the 9/11 attacks as an analogy to illustrate the end of America’s oceans’ value as protection from outside attack. The British of 1812 were definitely an outside, foreign military invasive force, whereas the 9/11 attacks were carried out by immigrants hijacking American civilian property.

As to the Japanese military’s idea of starting forest fires on the U.S. mainland, creating civilian panic was a secondary military concern. Forests were (and still are) a harvestable crop necessary for the war effort—before plastics, wood was used both for structural components in weapons (LSTs, for example) and for molding forms (shaping the steel for ships). Seven months earlier, the February 1942 shelling of Santa Barbara oil refineries by Japanese submarines also caused a forest fire in Los Padres National Forest. Tough that was a minor fire, forests became high national security assets for the war effort (and later on inspired the Smokey Bear slogan).

Besides the unusually wet conditions mitigating the Oregon bombardment and sparse population, general civilian panic was prevented by better U.S. armed services media censorship. (The media suspected a cover-up since army and navy accounts of the Santa Barbara shelling differed.)

Burning American forests was not a far-fetched idea—just take a look at the damage from lightning and careless campfires in the West this past summer and fall.

Cliff Culpeper

San Francisco, Calif.

25-Year Highlights

Your article “MHQ’s 25th Anniversary: Echoes of War” (Autumn 2013) was superb, especially the excerpt from Geoffrey Parker’s story about the Spanish Armada. The Spanish king Philip II’s intransigence made Spain more vulnerable than he realized. Like the biblical Samson, who found out too late that his physical prowess was no match for the wiles of Delilah, Philip should have realized that his inflexible foreign policy made him as blind to reality as Samson. Philip’s poor planning during Spain’s invasion of England in 1588 destroyed Spain’s military edifice before Philip brought the whole structure down on both Spain and Catholicism.

Evan Dale Santos

Adelanto, Calif.

Millennia of Monsters

I was very disappointed in “Alexander the Monster,” your summer Point of View. It was one of the poorest articles I’ve seen in your magazine. I expect better. Nothing Alexander did compares with history’s truly great monsters such as Genghis Khan, Tamerlane, Hitler, Mussolini, Mao, or Stalin. What Alexander did does not even compare to some of history’s minor monsters such as our own General Curtis Le May.

Yes, Alexander did the terrible things mentioned in the article. But he did no worse than his contemporaries. In fact, Alexander was responsible for much less murder and mayhem, as the author put it, than the Romans, other contemporaries, or even the British Air Forces in World War II.

Much of what is discussed in the article is known only through secondary sources removed by centuries from Alexander. In my opinion, the best and most accurate biography of Alexander is that of Plutarch. He used primary sources that have since been lost. Plutarch is also noted for his moderate views.

Ken Pitchford

Valparaiso, Ind.


Dr. Yozan Mozig, professor at the University of Nebraska at Kearney, notes that the image on page 86 of the autumn issue illustrating our story about the Battle of Zama instead depicts “Scipio’s opportunistic largesse” after the capture of Carthago Nova in Spain, in 209 BC.


Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Military History Quarterly. To subscribe, click here.