WW2 China and The Battle of Midway and the Future of Warfare

I’m on vacation and am finally getting through *The Generalissimo*, a biography of Chiang Kai-Shek.

In my view, the book is a bit light on the economics of wartime China, which was actually a series of somewhat overlapping states. Chiang’s KMT controlled the largest but most of Eastern China went to the Japanese. And don’t forget the various Warlords controlling pockets here and there and, of course, Mao’s communists’ own little micro-state.

As far as I can tell, each of these mini-states used different currencies (mostly foreign denomination but the KMT had their own fiat currency) and relied almost entirely on external support (for the KMT and communists, the Soviet Union) to stay solvent. How on earth did this all work? Was there a shadow trade among them? How about families? Immigration? All fascinating topics (to me) but ignored.

Perhaps because of data issues and perhaps following the priorities of sources (it’s sexier to talk about after all), the book focuses on politics. Both inside China, where the struggle was framed as being between the Communists and KMT, and internationally, where the main forces were the USSR, Japan and, eventually, the USA.

Chiang predicted the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, almost to the day. The Imperial forces were bogged down in China (note to Hitler, big countries are hard to take over) and would impatiently turn their attention South forcing a collision with Allied interests in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. Japan could either slowly escalate a war by invading small territories or launch a Blitzkrieg-style surprise attack. Chiang knew from experience the latter was more their style.

Chiang then figured the US would clobber Japan. Which they did. A brief mention of Midway as the turning point (I knew little of the Pacific war) sent me on an evening-long digression into the specifics of the history of that battle.

One feeling you get is that the US got a bit lucky: three Japanese aircraft carriers (just now proving they were far more useful than Destroyers) went down in a single bombing raid (one from a single bomb), decimating the Japanese fleet. Going in, Japan and the US’s navies were about even strength. If those carriers hadn’t gone down, perhaps the US might have still been beaten.

Then again, I’ve been looking for an excuse to bone up on my favorite python plotting library, and produced this graph:

source data: http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/org9-4.htm#1938

Japan was doomed from the start. Even if Midway went the other way, the Japanese would have had to contend with the most immense mobilization of navy war machines in the history of the Universe. Nobody could match this. Nobody.

So here’s my question: what would be the equivalent graph for a contemporary military juggernaut?

No way anyone cares about how many aircraft carriers you can build in a three-year span if you’ve got nukes. Then again, nobody can nuke you if you’re sitting in a dorm room in Iceland corralling a million server farms to shut down vital utilities or government facilities.

What makes a nation frightening to other nations? Is that question even relevant?

Edit: Here’s the code. Note that it’s an xls file because wordpress won’t let me upload a .py or .txt file. If you want to look at it change the extension to .py or .txt or something and view it in whatever text editor you like.

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