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Thread: LIFE in the Trenches: 1936 Xibei San Ma

  1. #121
    Lt. General eqqman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Tobit View Post
    It makes me wonder, if you consider how the chinese adopted Communism after the Communists won the civil war. Would it be possible for the Chinese to adopt Islam if the Ma's managed to unite China? After all Communism I would argue was just as alien to the Chinese as Islam.
    Welcome! I'm not so sure that the basics of Communist theory are so alien to the Chinese psyche, since they focus on social harmony which feels very Chinese to me. Also, in most one-party states, I don't think party membership is mandatory for everybody, so if you don't care so much what happens at the ballot box and don't have high ambitions in life, you can probably get by without paying one whit of attention to party doctrine.

    Islam itself means `submission`, something else the Chinese are quite familiar with, whether it is submission to their ancestors or the Emperor. I'm not sure how many mass conversions you might get if the national government suddenly became Muslim, as the only other non-local religion to find widespread appeal was Buddhism. But any guesses on that score is wild speculation; far too many factors would be at play to offer any convincing scenarios.

    Quote Originally Posted by Herbert West View Post
    The Little Entente was Czechoslovakia, Romania, Yugoslavia, and was designed as an anti-Hungarian/anti-restoration block, for all good that did to the region.
    Welcome! It seems odd that such an alliance was necessary, since apparently Czechoslovakia alone was enough to make Horthy start shaking in his boots.

  2. #122
    Imam Of The House in Imp. Off. Herbert West's Avatar
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    The current Habsburg claimant returned to Hungary twice in 1921. While the mounted sailor did not support him (quite odd from someone who claims to be the regent of the Kingdom and a proponent of the "Holy Crown" idea, but Horthy was an inept generalissimo from day 1), an Austro-Hungarian union could tip the balance of power considerably.

    Also, 2 of those 3 nations are made up in a great portion of former Hungarian lands, as well as having a seizable hungarian minorty. A nationalistically motivated coup/invasion of any of these three powers was not an impossibility, as far as things go. A joint NAP/defensive alliance effectively put and end to whatever irredentist wishes Hungary had.

    Also, that quote comes from 38 or so. During that time, CZE had uparmed and fortified itself to great extent (giving the germans a had on on what the Maginot will be like). Back in 1920, CZE still had an advantage over Hungary, but between 1920 and 1936, the scales swung wildly. A HUN-CZE war in lets say 1928 would not have been as onesided, but a HUN-Little Entente mach would only end it the repeated subjugation of Hungary.


    Edit: Chinese conversion: the masses dont matter. Lords and masters do. Just convert the rulers to Islam, and slowly but steadily replace buddhist/confucian religious institutions with sinofied muslim ones, and over time, you are done. Non-monotheistic religions are always open to the monotheistic attack. Introduce Allah as a form of Buddha today. In twenty years, you can do away with the other forms. Confucios cna be rewritten as the zeroth/minus first prophet of Allah. And done.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Herbert West View Post
    A HUN-CZE war in lets say 1928 would not have been as one-sided, but a HUN-Little Entente match would only end it the repeated subjugation of Hungary.

    Chinese conversion: the masses dont matter. Lords and masters do...
    Hmm sounds like a good thing to include in a War Plan Orange mod!

    I'm not sure if the religion of the ruling party matters quite that much in any given country. Sure, plenty of people ambivalent in their faith will follow along with however the wind blows, but the true believers as it were won't die out quite as quickly, even over a generation.

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  6. #126
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    Quote Originally Posted by Vrael_1492 View Post
    Awesome AAR! Subbed. End of Story.
    Welcome, and thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by mnplastic View Post
    Mas engineers got bulldozers. I think they should use only shovels to save fuel
    Hehe, well, since they don't have any armor nor aircraft and are unlikely to in the next couple of years, there is plenty of fuel to go around. No reason not to use it!

  7. #127
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    Quote Originally Posted by Herbert West View Post

    Edit: Chinese conversion: the masses dont matter. Lords and masters do. Just convert the rulers to Islam, and slowly but steadily replace buddhist/confucian religious institutions with sinofied muslim ones, and over time, you are done. Non-monotheistic religions are always open to the monotheistic attack. Introduce Allah as a form of Buddha today. In twenty years, you can do away with the other forms. Confucios cna be rewritten as the zeroth/minus first prophet of Allah. And done.
    Thats...an oversimplification. I highly doubt there would be any mass-conversions, or an impetus to impose the religion on anyone (including the masters/elites.) Islam is not alien to the Chinese cultural topography, and has existed in the country since at least the 7th century in both Guangzhou and Xian. Moreover, sinofication has already taken place during the 16th and 17th centuries as Muslim literati classes synthesized Muslim concepts with Taoist, Buddhist and Confucian ideas - alot has been written on the topic of Islam's interactions with the 'Three Great Learnings." Moreover, a Muslim 'elite' has always existed in China at least since the Yuan dynasty in the form of administrators (the Yunnan area actually was largely Muslim-Hui up to the Dungan/Panthay Rebellions of the 19th century) enunchs and concubines - they are part and parcel of the elite, and dont need to assimilate the 'rest.' [Its interesting to note that the most devestating rebellions in the 19th century - apart from the Taiping - were largely Muslim led, but were moreover, suppressed by Muslim generals and troops (including the Boxers.)] The idea that Islam would need to stamp out other religious traditions is not in accord with the experiances of Chinese Islam I think, or for that matter, to Islamize (what does that even mean in this context?) sinic religious institutions.

    I think the elite will likely adopt Nationalist trappings and continue the traditions and patterns seen during the Chiang-Kai-Shek period. Perhaps the influence of Muslims and their prominence will change in society (especially viz a viz minority groups as opposed to just the Hui) but I do wonder how that would intersect with the possible narrative that it was the Muslims who allowed the Japanese to occupy half the country? I expect some limited patronage, but in the end of the day, these Muslims are Chinese first and foremost.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Calipah View Post
    I think the elite will likely adopt Nationalist trappings and continue the traditions and patterns seen during the Chiang-Kai-Shek period. Perhaps the influence of Muslims and their prominence will change in society (especially viz a viz minority groups as opposed to just the Hui) but I do wonder how that would intersect with the possible narrative that it was the Muslims who allowed the Japanese to occupy half the country? I expect some limited patronage, but in the end of the day, these Muslims are Chinese first and foremost.
    That's an interesting point. Would the Wang Jingwei gov't in this universe experience a greater degree of support if the people on the coast feel themselves betrayed by the westerners, who have only been fighting amongst themselves at the moment?

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    As a note to all readers and lurkers, voting is open for both the Iron HeAARt 2011 awards as well as the first quarter AARland Choice AwAARds. Be sure to pop over to support your favorite writers!

    On a different topic, I've been sick the last two weeks, but I hope to get back to LIFE soon. Thank you all for reading!

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    1939, Spring - The World of Tomorrow



    May issue highlighting the New York World’s Fair


    30 March: The Mas have just given Li Zongren another trouncing in their on-again off-again war. This time around, the hostilities started back on the 14th. Seeing that the Kwangtung border was again empty as Zongren had redirected his troops once more to face off against the Japanese, Ma Buqing was ordered to take the army and sweep in to grab as much territory as could reasonably be claimed without a major battle. Work is also under way to create a new port at Beihai, so the strategic goal here is to create a buffer of territory around it plus move the army closer to striking range of Canton. Infantry brigades have slowly been trickling out of Golmud, but these men alone are not enough. Engineer battalions are also being trained up as I saw, but more will also be required if the Mas hope to take on a major power like Japan in the near future. Buqing has complained frequently that the lives of his soldiers are at risk while they lack modern equipment and heavy support weapons, but Ma Hongkui is still committed to going for quantity over quality at this stage, since his borders are too big and the overall size of the army still too small. Things have improved somewhat, as there are now roughly three corps available over the two that were present at the very start of hostilities a few years ago, so progress is being made, but it comes slowly, slowly.


    The first week of the latest attack against Kwangtung


    The attack went as well as could be expected. In the first week the Mas blitzed through numerous undefended provinces and stopped only when Guangxi Clique troops appeared to form a defensive line. Ma Bufang was authorized to make a small attack near Tengxian, which he won despite the difficult conditions. The defenders were well entrenched behind a river, so his men had to ford it under fire in small boats to serve as a diversion while other detachments of troops attempted to cross the river at the flanks and engage the defenders from the rear.




    Ma infantry attempt to ford a river near Tengxian


    The maneuver was successful, but the loss of life was high and he was discouraged from doing any more such attacks until the Engineer battalions were fully trained. As a consequence, little other fighting took place except to move ahead into provinces left vacated by the defenders as they attempted to shorten their lines. Li Zongren was once again pressured to agree to a truce by the generals secretly on Ma Hongbin’s payroll. The fighting ended with a large territory gain that had little inherent value, but Hongkui’s strategic goals were well met. As I understand it now, most of the army is being sent back up to the far north. Perhaps this means Tibet will finally be dealt with?


    The Mas' border reaches closer to Canton


    7 April: An announcement came over the wireless today that Australia is fully behind the United Kingdom and their alliance with France and Poland. It seems that I’m not the only one envisioning an inevitable showdown between Germany and Poland over a territorial dispute, but now it looks like things might go a little bit differently this time. If the democracies form a strong alliance before matters even come to a head, they might make a much more convincing argument at the negotiating table.

    9 April: This Sunday marks the end of a very grueling week of negotiations. Our bridge club of Peter, Claire, Max, and I have decided to go into business as an investment group. We chose to name the company the Sino-American Finance Exchange in lieu of the Sino-American Investment Group, as the SAFE group had a much better ring to it. Of course, Max is German, not American (and neither am I), but he isn’t quibbling over the issue as most of our money comes from the States. Peter and I form the major partners but the assets available to us all in aggregate are considerable. The developments by the Mas make China ripe for investment, although the main worry is always that a war with Japan will make everything come crashing down. This has been both a pro and a con for us, since the high risks involved mean there is little competition for anything we might set our hands to.

    We’ve decided to undertake two big projects and one small one to start things off. The first is to get to work on establishing telephone service in the Mas’ half of the country. Way back in the last century, the Qing had established the Imperial Chinese Telegraph Administration as a government-controlled corporation with the goal of getting the entire country wired. This corporation was later given the responsibility of establishing a telephone network for the nation before the Great War. After the War, the corporation had been absorbed by the Ministry of Posts and Communications and was fully nationalized. At this time, there were perhaps maybe 7,000 telephones in all of China, most of which were concentrated in the Nanking-Shanghai belt. Today that ministry and all of that equipment are in the hands of Jingwei’s Japanese-sponsored puppet government, and no telephones are extant anywhere else in the country. So the SAFE group’s primary goal is to get that situation reversed. This is going to be quite challenging. The assumption is that if we can get service established down through Hong Kong, it would be possible to make trunk calls back to the States, as the AT & T company there already has service established across the Pacific (they use radio to make the transoceanic connections). However difficulties arise from the fact that AT & T won’t sell their equipment, nor are they inclined to license it. The rising tensions in Europe are causing the Americans to limit the sales of certain technologies under their Neutrality Acts, just as the sales of materials like helium are already restricted. This is going to be a big opportunity to try and get Henry to use his Congressional influence to get AT & T to do business with us; but whatever we can get to happen, it won’t happen soon. Ma Hongkui has assured us that Ma Hongbin is fully at our disposal for any agreements we may need to negotiate to get telephones into Golmud.


    Old advertisement for the AT & T company (image courtesy of AT & T)


    Our second big project is working to get port facilities created in Beihai, ones that will be suitable for a major industrial nation. This city has a harbor already; it was one of the places opened up to trade when the Western powers had their way with China in the 19th century
    [1]. But it remained small and never amounted to much when compared with more important places like Shanghai and Tsingtao. The city is more known for its beaches and was a popular place for the European elite living in China to have their vacations. We need to drastically increase both the cargo capacity of the place as well as render it suitable for serving as a naval base. I don’t know what real plans Ma Hongkui has of yet vis-à-vis a navy, but I suspect that he realizes if you plan to end up in a war with a transoceanic power, you can’t ever ultimately defeat them if you can’t project some kind of power into their home. Of course, even if he doesn’t produce any warships, China will need vastly expanded shipbuilding capability just to keep up with a merchant marine large enough to handle the level of industry I know Hongkui hopes to achieve. A lot of work is ahead of us on this score, but at least we don’t have to start entirely from scratch as we do with the telephone exchange.


    The port of Beihai, mainly known for its beaches


    Our last little investment is to help Konrad in expanding his business. We are going to help him buy one of the buildings next door to him and convert it into a restaurant. The layout will be such as to have a stage area where there could potentially be some live shows, or he can just use that back wall to show his movies. The current owner of the building is also running a bar there, but he hasn’t been able to compete with Konrad for business, and is happy to sell. We’re going to have the building torn down and replaced with a new one that will better serve its purpose as a restaurant. Konrad has decided to call the new place `Der Amberger` to be a counterpoint of sorts to The Americaine, as he’s originally from Amberg. I thought the name sounded too much like `The Hamburger`, personally, but since it is going to be a restaurant, I suppose that is okay.

    Most of the business work is going to be handled by Max and Peter, as they are already full-time businessmen, and I’m more interested in fronting the money than I am in dealing with the details. I prefer to spend most of my time taking pictures and seeing the world, but getting the houses built for myself and the Sheng family has already been taking me away from that of late. I did manage to find an excuse to not have the houses *too* close together- the sites are about twenty minutes away by motorcar (which neither myself nor the Sheng family have). Of course, this plan could backfire if Jie insists we take a taxi every day to visit them, but we’ll have to see how it goes. I could always make an excuse that SAFE business has me too occupied to make a visit, if need be...

    14 April: More news from the wireless: the French government has announced military exercises and a full mobilization of their army. It looks like more powers in Europe are jumping at the chance to rattle their sabers. Perhaps the German chancellor will stay quiet if he sees the democracies getting aggressive, but we’ll have to wait and see.

    24 April: The bridge club threw me a nice birthday party at The Americaine. The highlight was receiving a great present from Jie (sent by proxy): a set of Glenn Miller records, I thought it was aces. I had heard his music at times on the wireless and I understand he is becoming quite popular in the States, so it is nice to have. I’m sure she had some help in picking these records out, but it’s fine, I’m happy to have anything from her. November still seems so far away.


    The Glenn Miller band is starting to dominate the music scene
    of the late 1930s


    Later this same evening we had word that Hungary has joined the Axis alliance of Germany, Japan, and Italy. Given the recent support that they received in the dismemberment of Czechoslovakia, it seems like the least they could do. This news is going to come as a big blow to Poland, as I know that the idea of a Polish-Hungarian alliance was one of the few things the German government had ever worried about. Now it is the Poles who will be surrounded on all sides by hostile forces if things ever turn ugly.

    17 May: Ma Hongkui summoned me in to witness a very unexpected meeting. The Japanese sent their ambassador Shigeru Kawagoe to Golmud in order to try and influence the Mas to join the Axis alliance, or at least stay neutral in regards to their affairs. However they made a key mistake in sending Chiang Kai-shek along with the ambassador. I presume he is there to help Ambassador Kawagoe `read` Ma Hongkui, but this move is going to misfire badly, as the split between the two men now runs too deep. I don’t think his gift of yamamomo
    [2] ice cream is going to help as much as he might have thought, either.


    Japanese Ambassador Shigeru Kawagoe (far left) with Chiang Kai-shek


    Hongkui has a tough diplomatic road ahead. The world has several powerful factions, so prudence would seem to indicate that an alliance with one would be helpful to avoid being trampled underfoot should conflict erupt between them. But his choices are fairly limited. He is so diametrically opposed to Communism’s ideology that there is no chance whatsoever of aligning with Stalin’s Soviet Union, unless it was part of the groundwork for a grand betrayal later. Joining Germany might be an option if it wasn’t for Japan. An alliance along those lines will mean a de facto surrendering of China’s east coast to permanent Japanese control, and Hongkui is too much of a nationalist to allow that to happen. Likewise, the Japanese seem to feel they cannot become a Great Power if they are limited to controlling their Home Islands only, so I doubt they would submit to German pressure to surrender their Chinese conquests back to Ma Hongkui. This makes the German-Japanese alliance all the more puzzling as the two nations really have little to offer each other; a Sino-German alliance would have proved far more beneficial to both parties. The only thing these Axis powers have to dangle as a carrot to Hongkui is to turn a blind eye to a possible Chinese move into Indochina or India, but he doesn’t need anything from them if he chose to move in those directions on his own.

    Hongkui’s only real choices seem to be to try and push independence for as long as possible, or join up with the Franco-British alliance. These Allied powers can offer him something he doesn’t have already: support as the official government for all of China, and possible support against Japan if a full Sino-Japanese war erupts. However the Western democracies are still unwilling to accept him. My own theory is that he will end up waiting in the wings until either the Axis or Communist powers become such a threat that the Allies come to him hat in hand to try and maintain their power base in Asia. As a consequence, although Ambassador Kawagoe will be treated well during his visit, I expect him to be returning to Tokyo sorely disappointed.

    26 May: The Mas finally have control of a port large enough to handle international trade! Ma Hongkui was down at Beihai for a special ribbon-cutting ceremony. I had wanted to attend and immortalize the event on film, but I have been sick for most of the week and had to miss it. I think I have already commented on the fact that Beihai has already been a port-of-call of sorts for at least a hundred years, but this event marks a major expansion. Aside from increasing the port facilities, there are now shipyards there too, so work can begin on creating more of a merchant marine to handle all the increased trade that Hongkui hopes to generate. Our SAFE group will now have the responsibility of financing continued expansion to make the port one of the largest facilities in Southeast Asia, surpassing even Shanghai and Haiphong. It’s an incredible opportunity for investment, but not without some risk, as there is a possibility of being blockaded by Japan if international diplomacy takes a turn for the worse.


    The Mas gain a port for shipbuilding or trade


    15 June: I’ve been hearing a lot of interesting news reports about the New York World’s Fair that opened last April. They plan on being open for two seasons, so if I have a chance to go there with Jie, I think I will take it. It would be a great opportunity for her to visit the States and to meet my parents. I also understand that they have buried a time capsule there to be opened in the year 6939, and some of the items placed inside include issues of LIFE, one of which contains my cover article discussing the Mas! How’s that for good press?


    Nighttime view of the Fair showing the Trylon and Perisphere


    While most Fairs like to showcase the latest technologies, this one in particular has been strongly themed to promote science and the future. All of the latest gadgets are on display and the overall architecture of the park has been done to evoke this theme. It is perhaps most evident in the Fair’s iconic central buildings, the Trylon and Perisphere. Despite all this, there have been some grumblings from the scientific community. One of the things I heard on the wireless was an interview with noted scientist Albert Einstein, who was commenting on the fact that while the Fair does have a fairly scientific emphasis, this is geared more to consumerism and commercial products rather than science in its own right (as you might have seen in Chicago’s Fair, with all of Tesla’s displays). A good example of this is probably the demonstrations of the new communications system called `television` (`far-seeing`, matching up with the `far-speaking` telephone and `far-writing` telegraph). The American President, Franklin Roosevelt, gave an opening address at the start of the Fair that was broadcast over the television airwaves, to be seen by perhaps only 200 people or so who were equipped with the sets to receive the signal. While certainly a great technical achievement, this new device is most likely to be used for entertainment purposes (unless somehow they can make it small enough to be portable) and won’t necessarily lead to any new scientific breakthroughs, which is Einstein’s point.

    Regardless of Albert’s grumblings, there do seem to be a few things there that would please a die-hard scientist. If I could get out there, I would love to see Elektro, the man-sized robot that can not only talk but respond to a human operator speaking to it
    [3]. I have memories of seeing robots in films like Metropolis when I was younger, so it would be a great thrill to run into a real one and see it. Even aside from marvels like Elektro, the Fair promises to have galleries of classical culture so that you can find something for everyone there, including things like Vermeer paintings and even an original copy of the Magna Carta[4]! If I can’t get out there, I will have to count this as one of the major disappointments of my life.




    ---
    Editor’s Notes:
    1. The 1876 Treaty of Yantai granted access to the city for the United Kingdom, the United States, Germany, Austria-Hungary, France, Italy, Portugal, and Belgium, among other things. Oddly enough, the Treaty was ratified immediately by the Qing government but not ratified in Britain until 1885
    2. Meaning `mountain peach` in Japanese, also known as `yangmei` in China
    3. Elektro has survived through to the present day and can be seen at the Mansfield Memorial Museum in Mansfield, Ohio. His most notable post-Fair appearance may have been his role as `Thinko` in the movie Sex Kittens go to College in 1960. The `family in Canada` he is asked about in the clip refers to the birth of the Dionne quintuplets, at the time, the largest birth in which all the children survived
    4. Due to the outbreak of war, this document was left guarded in Fort Knox alongside the original copy of the American Constitution until years after the hostilities were over. The war also caused the Czechoslovak and Polish pavilions to close before the 1940 season



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  12. #132
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    LIFE is back!! *dancing on the floor*
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    Quote Originally Posted by mnplastic View Post
    At last you can export Coca Cola
    Hehe well, that port is going to be too full of incoming steel shipments to be in a position to do a lot of exporting in the near future. Luckily for me the game is still early enough that there are nations with available surpluses for me to trade for.

    Quote Originally Posted by Vrael_1492 View Post
    LIFE is back!! *dancing on the floor*
    It's good to be back!

  14. #134
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    superb pacing as ever, nice small war to snag a bit more of Guanxi, discussion of world events and Ma's diplomatic options and an insight into the plans of our budding businessmen ...

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    This is getting better and better.

    Usually, I am a junkie for action. Give me big battles, adacious campaigns and victories overcoming horrible odds. But this AAR is different. You manage to make an update with nothing but a small border war into an exciting read. I can't wait to read more.

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    Nice to see LIFE back, good update as usual! Nice to see an ahistoric port city down in Beihai, are the Ma intending to use it for trade alone, or does it have a more nefarious use I wonder...
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  17. #137
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    Quote Originally Posted by loki100 View Post
    superb pacing as ever, nice small war to snag a bit more of Guangxi, discussion of world events and Ma's diplomatic options and an insight into the plans of our budding businessmen ...
    Quote Originally Posted by Bornego View Post
    This is getting better and better.
    Quote Originally Posted by Saithis View Post
    Nice to see LIFE back, good update as usual!
    Thanks!

    Quote Originally Posted by Bornego View Post
    Usually, I am a junkie for action. Give me big battles, adacious campaigns and victories overcoming horrible odds. But this AAR is different. You manage to make an update with nothing but a small border war into an exciting read. I can't wait to read more.
    You're in luck, much of that will come soon enough. I can promise a war with at least two Major powers.

    Quote Originally Posted by Saithis View Post
    Nice to see LIFE back, good update as usual! Nice to see an ahistoric port city down in Beihai, are the Ma intending to use it for trade alone, or does it have a more nefarious use I wonder...
    Well, mildly nefarious. In the short-term it opens me up for trade with the USSR and USA so I can get past my desperate shortage of metals. I haven't had the full use of my available ICs in quite a while, and I also need to keep making more of them. But it is no coincidence that Beihai lies on one of the shortest routes I can make from Golmud to the coast...

  18. #138
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    Ah, Glenn Miller - Jie is at the forefront of American popular music, I see! Her taste is impeccable!

    Good update. Another bit of bullying of the Guanxi Clique (at this point, I feel like the Mas are the school bully and Guanxi their pathetic, weak target - held up for lunch money and/or having his head shoved into the school toilet) and that port is starting to sound quite promising.

    Nice to see the Allies forming up a bit, but of course things are going to get far worse before they get any better. And Japan making overtures to you? Maybe it'll mean you'll get to savor peace a bit longer, which would be wholly advantageous.

    Oh, and nice tidbits about the World Fair. I'm actually learning Real History (tm) from reading this AAR!
    Hollow Little Reign - A brief Crusader Kings tale about family ties in Byzantium.

  19. #139
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    Quote Originally Posted by Stuyvesant View Post
    Nice to see the Allies forming up a bit, but of course things are going to get far worse before they get any better. And Japan making overtures to you? Maybe it'll mean you'll get to savor peace a bit longer, which would be wholly advantageous.

    Oh, and nice tidbits about the World Fair. I'm actually learning Real History (tm) from reading this AAR!
    At one point pretty soon I'll be influenced by the UK, Japan, *and* the USSR, setting a new record for me in a game.

    Don't let on that this AAR is also educational, or people might get scared away! Hehe...

    As another reminder to all readers and lurkers, voting is open for both the Iron HeAARt 2011 awards as well as the first quarter AARland Choice AwAARds. Be sure to pop over to support your favorite writers! I also recommend viewing some of the other AARs that have been nominated by others, you never know what gems you might discover.

  20. #140
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    1939, Summer - All Conflicts Great And Small



    September issue discussing the new war with Germany


    1 July: Ma troops under White Russian officers are nearly halfway through Sinkiang province. Sinkiang is one of China’s greatest melting pots, with a large mixture of Han, Hui, Uighurs, Kazakhs, and Mongols. This area represents the extreme west of China and holds the eastern terminus of the old Silk Road, the great land route crossing Asia to Europe. When it was originally conquered by the Han dynasty in the days of the Roman Empire, it was known as Xiyu, or `Western Region`, but after the rise of Islam in central Asia it later became known as Huijiang, or `Muslim Frontier`, during the age of the Qing. Today it is Sinkiang, or `New Frontier`. The area mainly consists of the Tarim Basin, which once held the Tarim Lake, but the lake has been landlocked for most of its life and finally dried out completely in this century. The basin is now mostly a desert, with a few salt marshes here and there, making it somewhat similar to the vicinity of Golmud.


    Sinkiang is huge in size, but less than 5% is considered habitable


    The expansion of Imperial Russia made the region an area of contention between the two empires, just as the Russians competed with Britain for influence over Afghanistan. It was not uncommon for revolts against Chinese rule to turn out to be Russian-supported, either directly or indirectly. The Republic of China managed to maintain nominal control over the region after the end of the Qing dynasty, but the territory has been a hotbed of rebellion throughout the 1930s. In 1933 a large uprising of Uighurs tried to break away from China and declared the independent East Turkistan Republic; this was crushed quite forcibly by the Mas on Chiang’s behalf. This seems straightforward, but oddly enough things were even more complicated under the surface. Chiang had suspected his appointed Kuomintang governor for the province, Sheng Shicai, to have secretly been a Soviet puppet. A small uprising had broken out to overthrow him, which had the tacit approval of Chiang, as this would have allowed him to get rid of the governor without angering any of the other KMT warlords. If the uprising had succeeded, then the Soviet mole would have been removed and Chiang could have sent the Mas in to crush the uprising and appoint a more politically reliable man as governor. However, due to the large-scale Uighur revolt that broke out at the same time, Chiang was forced to act precipitously and send in the army before the governor had been killed. Not only that, the Soviet Union sent in troops and advisors to help support their puppet before the Mas arrived. Adding even more to the confusion, it was rumored that the Japanese had invited some exiled Turks unhappy with Kemal Ataturk’s government to come to the fledgling East Turkistan Republic and rule there as sultans, creating a central Asian Japanese puppet state.


    Uighur women with a traditional yurt


    The situation resolved itself in 1934 with the Mas linking up with the Soviet forces and crushing the Uighurs and all other rebels. Alexei had been there and he mentioned some of his experiences, including the oddity of White and Red Russians fighting side-by-side against a common foe (it wouldn’t last). While all the revolts were put down and the Soviet troops *did* leave, Chiang found himself frustrated at being back at square one vis-à-vis Sheng Shicai. The region has had itself nearly 5 years of peace, and we can only guess at what might have developed if Chiang were still in charge to manage the situation. However, what we do know is that Ma Hongkui gives the Soviet Union and Communism short shrift, and is no longer in the position of having to care about negotiating with the remaining KMT warlords- he is ready to remove them.

    About a month ago I learned from Ma Hongbin that they had proof that Sheng Shicai was receiving major aid from the Soviet Union in the form of money and military equipment, and is convinced that he is ready to declare Sinkiang an independent nation. If that happens, the Soviet Union could be invited in to protect the area from Chinese reprisals and it will become a Communist puppet state. So Ma Hongkui decided on aggressive action, but at the time most of his forces were down in Kwangtung province and thus unavailable for action in the northwest. As soon as the cease-fire was declared with Li Zongren, all the troops were back on the trains (figuratively speaking- there is no rail here as yet) to rush to Golmud for redeployment. I managed to chat with a few of the soldiers after they arrived in the city. One of them joked that the government should start keeping track of how much they travel and offer awards to soldiers who hit the million li
    [1] mark. I was also able to have a brief chat with Alexei before he headed out with the troops to start the attack. I wanted to know how he felt about his second visit to the Tarim Basin, but of course, his answer was `nichevo`.


    The first push into Sinkiang went well


    I was too preoccupied with business to be there when the attacks were started at the end of June, but I am now in Lop Nur with Alexei and General Dimitri Mirikin. Mirikin was assigned the task of the initial foray into Sinkiang, and has been given some of the new Engineer battalions in advance of the expected attacks on Di Hua, Shicai’s putative capital if he had been allowed to declare independence. I have been spending the evening here in a tent with the General Staff while the troops defend against enemy attack. Shicai seems to be sending everything he has to dislodge us from Lop Nur, but the Engineer battalions have ensured that we are fairly dug in. Alexei’s overall plan is to allow the enemy to exhaust himself here in Lop Nur, then a fresh corps from Golmud will be brought up to press forward to Di Hua while this one rests. Sinkiang wasn’t supplied by Chiang with any artillery or air support, so the rear areas are quite safe. Even so, it was an advantage that I can’t see Jie, since I didn’t have to argue with her about my wish to chronicle the fighting from the front. Of course, Shicai did receive a smattering of aircraft from the Soviet Union back in `34, but not enough to form an attack wing. We’ve heard it buzzing around overhead; its use seems to be limited to reconnaissance. If some of the reports we’ve heard are true, then the enemy is also being led by one of the Soviet `advisors` that Ma Hongkui is so worried about. The battle is another Red vs. White rematch!


    Dimitri is under attack, but help is on the way


    6 July: It has been nearly a week and the battle hasn’t quite gone as hoped. Of course, that famous quip says `no plan survives contact with the enemy`. Alexei’s men pulled back from Lop Nur as planned to rest and refit, but the enemy was still strong enough to resist the advance started by the reinforcements brought up by Ma Buqing. Now with Buqing holding the line, the push on Di Hua will have to wait until either Alexei’s corps can rest up, or a third corps is brought up from the south.


    Ma Buqing arrives with much-needed help


    17 July: After much discussion Ma Buqing and Alexei have come up with a new plan to try and crack Di Hua. They gathered up about half the troops that were available, which also happened to be the most unrested, and took off to the north to try and flank the defenders. I stayed behind with the rest of the men who were deemed the most fit for duty. These men were given the task of staging a frontal assault on the city to pin down the defenders while the rest of the Mas’ army completed their maneuver. However, while this was happening, something happened to the morale of the defenders and their will to fight melted away. We received a radio communique that Sheng Shicai wanted to surrender, so the city was taken before the bold plan was even fully completed! But due to the poor terrain and infrastructure it will still be several weeks before the Mas’ army can move into the city and fully occupy it.


    Ma troops clear the way to Di Hua


    5 August: I’m still here in Di Hua and will likely be so for the next few days. Sheng Shicai has already disappeared. I saw him here when we marched into the city, and Ma Hongbin was flown down to receive him. This morning Shicai, Hongbin, and the plane were gone, but there is no news of their arrival in Golmud. We’ve uncovered plenty of evidence here on the extent to which Shicai sold out to the Soviet Union, so I suspect he won’t ever been seen again. It appears that in the last days, Shicai received word from Stalin that the Soviet Union would not intervene on his behalf, so his rebellion was now completely futile. The captured soldiers have confirmed that it is this news that broke their will to fight and allowed us to capture the city so quickly.

    Several Soviet personnel were here in the city’s military headquarters and have been demanding loudly to be repatriated. Not too surprising since they no longer have any reason to be here, and they have been subjected to plenty of abuse from the Mas` soldiers. I happened to be standing outside the hotel most of them had been quartered in, doing an interview with a poor fellow named Pavel Volper, who was a secretary to one of the Russian advisors or other. A Chinese soldier came out the door holding a large pile of clothes and a gold watch on a chain dangling from his hand. He was taking so many Soviet coats and uniforms that they were starting to fall into the street. The man gave me a glance as he hurried past and said something along the lines of `You like? You take! `, and tossed some of the gear in my direction. I felt a bit embarrassed but Pavel said `You might as well take it; it could be the last thing China receives from the peace-loving Soviet People. ` I still felt awkward but perhaps my little trophy would amuse Jie.


    Sinkiang’s dreams of autonomy are crushed


    Loot from the capture of Di Hua (photo courtesy Theriaux family)


    7 August: We’ve received word that a treaty has been signed between the Soviet Union and Germany. The so-called Molotov Ribbentrop Pact isn’t an alliance, per say, but the two nations are apparently promising not to attack each other. Such a treaty seems nonsensical to me, as what are the consequences of breaking it? It’s also odd since the rhetoric coming out of the capitals of both nations would indicate that the two nations are implacable foes. Something feels queer about the whole thing.

    10 August: It was good to be back in Golmud, where I was able to read a backlog of wires sent from my family (nice) and endure a tongue-lashing from Jie’s family for going into danger (not so nice). It seems my father has been becoming more of a baseball fan in his later years, and as he lives in New York he has naturally gravitated towards the Yankees. In one of his wires he told me that he attended a game back on July 4th where one of the players, Lou Gehrig, made an impassioned speech where he announced his retirement from baseball. I don’t know too much about the team but my father has written to me about Gehrig before. He allegedly once visited a sick boy and promised to hit two home runs in his next World Series game in the boy’s honor, and did it. He earned the nickname the `Iron Horse` due to his record of playing in well over two thousand consecutive games
    [2], but ironically he is retiring for health reasons. Apparently he has come down with some illness that is mystifying doctors and now prevents him from continuing to play ball. My father tells me that all of New York (even their great rival Brooklyn) is saddened and that Gehrig will be sorely missed. It seems this is one of the worst disasters for the Yankees since they lost Babe Ruth.



    20 August: Had some minor news from the SAFE group today. We’ve had Ma Hongbin assist us in making arrangements to get some telephone exchange equipment ordered via a company in Hong Kong. We’re basically going to trick the AT & T Company into thinking they are selling to a British corporation, which will then resell the gear to us. Peter also reminded Hongbin that trained engineers and operators are also going to be a potential problem, but he told us not to worry about that part.

    2 September: The conflict over Danzig that I have feared for some time has finally erupted. The city has been fought over between the Germans and Poles for nearly its entire history. It is considered vital by the Poles since it lies at the river mouth of the Vistula, providing access to the sea for cities in the interior like Warsaw and Krakow. After the Great War the city was handed over to the Poles to be Poland’s only seaport in an otherwise landlocked country. However, since the city had a German-speaking majority, it was not placed under direct Polish control and instead was administered by the League of Nations. Ever since the city has been agitating to be incorporated into Germany, in particular after the National Socialists came to power there. The German Chancellor has issued one of his most forceful demands yet- that the Poles relinquish all claim to the city, *and* cede a portion of the surrounding territory so that they can establish land connections between East Prussia and Germany proper. This demand was refused. According to the wireless reports, the Germans then invaded Poland after claiming that their troops at the border were attacked by Polish troops on the other side. The two countries are now at war, and the alliance of the United Kingdom, France, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand have also declared war on Germany. As the balance of military power seems solidly on the side of these Allies, I would expect this fight to end quickly. As if this news wasn’t grim enough, the Soviet Union has also declared war on Finland! Stalin is seemingly aggrieved that the Fins won’t allow an expansion of Soviet influence in the Baltic at their expense. Perhaps he feels that the recent treaty with Germany actually holds some value and he now has a free hand to pursue his own interests.


    German troops tear down the border crossing to Danzig


    15 September: German troops have made their way to the gates of Warsaw. Poland’s allies seem incapable of doing anything to help. This might be excused by most of them, as they require time to get men and supplies shipped to Continental Europe, but the French army was already mobilized for war and was already placed at the Franco-German border. They seem to be making no aggressive moves at all, which just allows the Germans to use everything they have against the Poles.


    German troops reach Warsaw


    20 September: Having lost Warsaw, and also having no apparent immediate support from their allies, the Polish government has announced its surrender. A few hours after this announcement came in on the wireless, there was another announcement that troops from the Soviet Union have moved into the eastern half of the country. There definitely appears to be more to that treaty between Germany and the Soviet Union that meets the eye. The question now is: with Poland gone, will the Allies accept a peace treaty with Germany, or will they decide to fight on regardless?


    Poland is divided



    ---
    Editor’s Notes:
    1. The li is the Chinese equivalent of the mile or kilometer
    2. Gehrig played 2,130 consecutive games, a record finally beaten by Cal Ripken, Jr. in 1998 who played 2,632 games



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