Tuesday, December 15, 2009

December 16th The Battle of the Bulge

Today is the 65th Anniversary of The Battle of the Bulge.

On this day, 65 years ago, Germany launched their final offensive in an attempt to change the course of the war on the Western Front. The Germans had marshaled the best of their remaining forces and on December 16th began a massive attack that caught the Allies completely by surprise.

In the first 48 hours German Army and Waffen-SS formations made impressive thrusts into and through the American lines. The 106th and 28th Infantry Divisions were both destroyed (the 106th losing 7,000 men taken prisoner) though they would both be rebuilt and fight again. In addition the 1st, 2nd, 4th, 30th, 78th, 80th and 99th Infantry Divisions were all badly damaged. Their paratrooper brothers in the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions also suffered heavy losses, and while their casualties were less than the infantry, the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 6th, 7th, 10th and 11th Armored divisions sustained heavy losses as well. (733 tanks and tank destroyers were lost.)

However, key American units held their ground and over the next few weeks the Ardennes Offensive developed into the largest battle ever fought by the US Army.

Although most of the heavy fighting took place in December, the front was not restored to its original position until the end of January. By then the Americans had suffered over 81,000 casualties including 19,000 killed and over 23,000 taken prisoner.

Losses for the Germans were equally grim, but unlike the Allies, the tanks and soldiers lost could not be replaced. Exact numbers for German losses are unknown and depend upon which units are included. Numbers range from 81,000 to 100,000 (if Luftwaffe air and ground units are included). Among the losses were nearly 14,000 killed, 39,000 wounded and over 30,000 missing. Again, the actual numbers may be far higher. The 6th SS Panzer Army alone reported over 37,000 casualties.

On a tactical level the Germans won several engagements, delayed the planned Allied offensive by some six weeks, and proved beyond any doubt that the German Army and Waffen-SS still had teeth. However, on a strategic level, the Ardennes Offensive was a decisive defeat and an unmitigated disaster for the Germans.

The Germans brought out their best units for the Ardennes Offensive, and although they made impressive initial gains they were also exposed to Allied firepower. The Americans took full advantage of the opportunity. The Germans could not make good their losses and these powerful Army and Waffen-SS tank units would be sorely missed on the Eastern Front. Indeed, there has been much speculation that had the Germans remained on the strategic defensive the war might have gone on into 1946. That of course is impossible to know, but one can only imagine the additional losses the Allies, particularly the Soviets, would have suffered attacking these powerful German formations in prepared defensive positions.

As Winston Churchill noted in the House of Commons on January 18th: “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war and will, I believe, be regarded as an ever famous American victory.”

Hollywood Loves A Famous Battle

Generally speaking Hollywood and History do not get along well even though many famous and much lauded Hollywood films are based upon well known historical events. Not surprisingly the Battle of the Bulge is no exceptions. That being said, most films about the battle have been only fair at best

Robert Shaw as Colonel Hessler (supposedly based upon
Waffen-SS Colonel Peiper) in the 1965 film The Battle of the Bulge

Perhaps the absolutely worst film is also the only film to deal with the entire battle. Released on December 16th 1965 by Warner Brothers the Battle Of The Bulge gets very little of the history correct with the notable exception of the uniforms, which are impeccable. Indeed the film plays so fast and lose with history that after watching the film in Munich, the former commander of the 5th Panzer Army, Hasso von Manteuffel commented:

The content of this film is completely fictional and has hardly anything to do with the events of those days… It also presents a distortion of the facts and actual conditions under which the battle took place … The film is an insult not only to the American soldier who fought in the Ardennes, but also a scandal for all soldiers including those on the other side. (Battle of the Bulge by Danny S Parker, c1991, p313)

Unfortunately the fiction that is this film has infiltrated the public conscious and become accepted as “fact.”

One of the events portrayed in the film, in a highly fictionalized form, is the Malmedy Massacre. Despite much scholarly research into this incident the IMDB internet bio of Charles Durning, a survivor of that event, describes the Malmedy Massacre as it is presented in the Warner Brothers film, not as it actually happened.

All in all, with the exception of the uniforms, this film is to be avoided.

Better are the handful of films that deal not with the battle as a whole but with small groups caught up in the events of that December. As with all films some are better than others and that judgment has more to do with personal taste that historic objectivity.

Some of the better, or at least more noteworthy films:

Battleground 1950 MGM

Band of Brothers Episode Six: Bastogne 2001 HBO

A Midnight Clear 1992 A&M Films

The Execution of Private Slovik 1974 Universal

Silent Night 2002 Fast Carrier Pictures

Slaughterhouse Five 1972 Universal

Saints and Soldiers 2003 Go Films




“What they should have done…”

With the possible exceptions of Gettysburg and Waterloo, no battle has as many games devoted to it than the Battle of The Bulge. Even though research shows that the Germans had no real chance of winning this battle the Ardennes Offensive has proven to be very popular with gamers and a new take on the battle appears almost every year.

One of the very first was Avalon Hill’s The Battle Of The Bulge. Released in 1965, what this game lacked in historical accuracy it more than made up for in playability. Indeed it was a hallmark of the Avalon Hill Company to favor playability over accuracy, just as it was the tendency of their rival, SPI, to favor historical accuracy to the point of rendering some of their games frustratingly unplayable.

Both Avalon Hill and SPI cranked out several games on this battle and these now out of print classics are much sought after by both players and collectors alike. Two in particular, Avalon Hill’s Bitter Woods and SPI’s "monster" game Wacht Am Rhein, have enjoyed a new life as updated and expanded games produced by L2 Designs and Decision Games respectively. So popular was the update of Wacht Am Rhein that it too is now out of print with copies on E-Bay fetching as much as $400.



Video games have also dealt with this battle to varying degrees of success. Most are now out of print and those that are available tend to be “First Person Shooters” that happen to have the Battle of the Bulge as one of their many scenarios. The exception to this is HPS Simulations who continue to publish an excellent operational level game Bulge ’44.

A Few noteworthy games on the Battle of the Bulge:

Battle of the Bulge 1965, Avalon Hill

Bastogne 1969, SPI

Ardennes Offensive 1974, SPI

Hitler’s Last Gamble 1975, 3W (Designed by Danny S Parker an authority on this battle)

Bastogne 1976, SPI

Wacht Am Rhein 1976, SPI

Dark December 1979, Operational Studies Group

Battle of the Bulge (2nd Ed) 1981, Avalon Hill

Battle of the Bulge 1985, Epoch

Wave of Terror 1987, XTR Corp

Ardennes 1994, The Gamers

The Last Blitzkrieg 1994, 3W

Bastogne or Bust 1994 Terran Games Inc

Bitter Woods 1998, Avalon Hill

Tigers in the Mist 2000, GMT

Bitter Woods 2003, L2 Designs (revised AH game)

Ardennes 44 2003, GMT

Iron Tide 2003, Pacific Rim Publishing

Wacht Am Rhein 2005, Decision Games (revised SPI game)

Axis & Allies Battle of the Bulge 2006. Avalon Hill/Wizards of he Coast




The Significance of the Battle Today

Outside of those interested in Military Science or the history of World War Two, the Battle of the Bulge, despite its historic importance, would seem to hold little relevance to our present day. Yet nothing could be further from the truth. The Malmedy Massacre, and in particular the trial that is spawned, have a direct bearing on our present circumstances.

Although closely studied, the actual events of that day at the Baugnez crossroads south of Malmedy remain somewhat cloudy. There are several competing versions of what happened and the absolute truth will probably never be known with certainty.

What can be said is that Battery B of the 285th Field Artillery Observation Battalion ran into the leading elements of Kampfgruppe Peiper, the armored spearhead of the 1st SS panzer Division. After a brief firefight the surviving GI’s were taken prisoner and moved into an open field next to the crossroads. Several soldiers were detailed to watch the prisoners while the rest of the battle group, urged on by their commander Joachim Peiper, pushed on down the road in the hopes of capturing an American general reported to be in the next town.


Waffen-SS Colonel Joachim Peiper

A few minutes later one of the SS tankers, later identified as Private Georg Fleps, fired two shots from his pistol into the group of prisoners, killing an officer. Another US officer yelled for his men to stand fast, but then more shots rang out and there was a mad dash for the woods. Few made it to safety. Any GI’s left in the field who showed any signs of life were shot by SS panzergrenadiers moving among them. For the next few hours panzergrenadiers on passing tanks and halftracks took potshots at the bodies lying in the field. Surprisingly, despite all of this, several GI’s did survive, making it safely to American lines.



Bodies of American GI’s killed at the Baugnez Crossroads

News of the massacre was quickly disseminated throughout the American command and did more to stiffen American resistance and resolve than anything else.


After the war a trial was held at Dachau in which 74 members of the Waffen-SS were tried, convicted and sentenced, in many cases to death. However, because the prosecution had used “enhanced interrogation” on the prisoners, and the tribunal had knowingly admitted the evidence so obtained, the convections were instantly called into question. After several reviews of the trial, including one by the US Senate, several of the convictions were over turned and all death sentences were commuted to life in prison. These sentences were themselves reduced upon subsequent review. The last defendant to be released, Joachim Peiper himself, was set free in 1956.

Even though it is clear that a war crime was committed against American GI’s by members of the Waffen-SS, because of the use of evidence obtained by “enhanced interrogation” those defendants, many of whom were guilty, walked free. It seems clear that the use of “enhanced interrogation” serves no useful purpose. It is not only counter productive but undermines the very foundations upon which our judicial freedoms and rights are built. Our failure to follow our own laws serves only to allow those who have wronged us to walk free. What was true in 1946 is still true today.

Friday, June 5, 2009

D-Day June 6th, 1944 -- Still the Stuff of Homer 65 Years On


Saturday is June 6th, the 65th anniversary of the Allied Invasion of Hitler's "Fortress Europe." Perhaps not since the Greeks sailed against Troy had the world seen an invasion fleet as large. Indeed, Agamemnon and Odysseus could not have conceived of such a force even in their wildest dreams. And paratroopers, filling the night skies in their thousands, would have struck the Greeks as if the gods themselves had come to join the battle.

Many an Achilleus and Hektor fought and perished that day, and the days, weeks and months that followed. There were heroes on both sides, and some villains too, but any glory or honor the German forces won by their battlefield exploits and warrior élan is forever tainted by the evil cause they served. Oh one might make a case for nobility of an individual soldier, even among the members of the Waffen-SS, but there is no redemption for the larger group or the master they followed.






General Eisenhower called it the “Great Crusade” and indeed it was a crusade after a fashion. Others have seen that June day in terms truly Homeric, and that too is certainly true. German Fieldmarshal Erwin Rommel said the invasion would be “The Longest Day” and so it was.





We who now sit comfortably in the present, 65 years later, can but imagine what it was like that day, jumping out of a plane into the dark and an uncertain landing or bobbing up and down in a landing craft waiting for the ramp to drop and rushing into an almost certain death on the beaches of Normandy.

Some of us actually know someone who was there: a grandfather or an uncle or a friend of the family. That they survived at all, let along went on to win a stunning victory is nothing short of miraculous.

For those who enjoy their History via Hollywood one can do no better than the 1962 Darryl F Zanuck film The Longest Day. Yes, Spielberg’s film, Saving Private Ryan, is more popular and certainly more visceral, but in terms of historic authenticity it rather pales before Zanuck’s old Hollywood warhorse.

I remember well the first time I watched The Longest Day for it was the only time that I can recall my father actually going to a theatre to watch a movie. There was to be a special screening of the film at Walter Reed for service members and their families. My father, who was stationed at Walter Reed, made a point of gathering us up and driving from our home in Wheaton Maryland to the post theatre for the showing. Although my father had served in World War Two he reached Europe, as an infantry officer, after the Battle of the Bulge. Even so many of the soldiers he served with were veterans of that invasion and for reasons he did not articulate he thought it important that we see this film. Not surprisingly, at age 7 the film made a big impression on me, and still does every time I watch it.





Of course it must be remembered that in 1962 most of the veterans of the D-Day landings were still alive, whereas by 1998 when Spielberg released his D-Day opus World War Two was ancient history and barely remembered by the vast movie viewing public. With this in mind Spielberg concentrated on the story in the trenches so to speak. Zanuck’s audience, on the other hand, already knew that story – they had lived it. What they might not know about, and what The Longest Day tells so well, was the story-taking place above their heads and above their pay grades. How the officers on both sides blundered about and how victory, for either side, was decided as much by chance as it was by skill or courage.

This is not to degrade by any means the courage displayed that day by the soldiers on both sides. It was a day when “uncommon valor was common.” However all soldiers know that luck on the battlefield is a commodity not to be underestimated. As Julius Caesar once observed when considering a highly recommended officer for promotion to general, “Yes, I know he is good, but is he lucky?”

On that day long ago, June 6th, 1944, a little luck backed by immense courage carried the day for the Allies and the world saw not the beginning of the end to Hitler and World War Two, but certainly the end of the beginning of our march to victory.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Petraeus Speaks Out Against "Enhanced" Interrogation

In an Open Letter to the troops General David Petraeus spoke out against the use of so called "enhanced interrogation" and in favor of following the Geneva Conventions.  Furthermore on May 24th of this year, during an interview on Radio Free Europe, the General reaffirmed his support for the Geneva Conventions and voiced support for the president's decision to close the Guantanamo Bay Detention Center.  

One might hope that the words of this outstanding officer might put an end to this debate about the efficacy of using torture and perhaps give those who advocate the use of torture, but who themselves have never served in the military, pause to reconsider their pro-torture positions.  Indeed, one might hope...

Here is the text of the letter by  General Petraeus:

10 May 2007

Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines, and Coast Guardsmen serving in Multi-National Force—Iraq:

Our values and the laws governing warfare teach us to respect human dignity, maintain our integrity, and do what is right. Adherence to our values distinguishes us from our enemy. This fight depends on securing the population, which must understand that we—not our enemies—occupy the moral high ground. This strategy has shown results in recent months. Al Qaeda’s indiscriminate attacks, for example, have finally started to turn a substantial portion of the Iraqi population against it.

In view of this, I was concerned by the results of a recently released survey conducted last fall in Iraq that revealed an apparent unwillingness on the part of some US personnel to report illegal actions taken by fellow members of their units. The study also indicated that a small percentage of those surveyed may have mistreated noncombatants. This survey should spur reflection on our conduct in combat.

I fully appreciate the emotions that one experiences in Iraq.

I also know firsthand the bonds between members of the “brotherhood of the close fight.” Seeing a fellow trooper killed by a barbaric enemy can spark frustration, anger, and a desire for immediate revenge. As hard as it might be, however, we must not let these emotions lead us—or our comrades in arms—to commit hasty, illegal actions. In the event that we witness or hear of such actions, we must not let our bonds prevent us from speaking up.

Some may argue that we would be more effective if we sanctioned torture or other expedient methods to obtain information from the enemy. They would be wrong. Beyond the basic fact that such actions are illegal, [emphasis added] history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary. Certainly, extreme physical action can make someone talk; however, what the individual says may be of questionable value. In fact our experience in applying the interrogation standards laid out in the Army Field Manual (2-22.3) on Human Intelligence Collector Operations that was published last year shows that the techniques in the manual work effectively and humanely in eliciting information from detainees.

We are, indeed, warriors. We train to kill our enemies. We are engaged in combat, we must pursue the enemy relentlessly, and we must be violent at times. What sets us apart from our enemies in this fight, however, is how we behave. In everything we do, we must observe the standards and values that dictate that we treat noncombatants and detainees with dignity and respect. While we are warriors, we are also all human beings. Stress caused by lengthy deployments and combat is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign that we are human. If you feel such stress, do not hesitate to talk to your chain of command, your chaplain, or a medical expert.

We should use the survey results to renew our commitment to the values and standards that make us who we are and to spur re-examination of these issues. Leaders, in particular, need to discuss these issues with their troopers—and, as always, they need to set the right example and strive to ensure proper conduct. We should never underestimate the importance of good leadership and the difference it can make.

Thanks for what you continue to do. It is an honor to serve with each of you.

David H. Petraeus
General, United States Army
Commanding

 

 

Monday, May 18, 2009

Ends -- Means, and the Justice In-between


The news of late is, once again, filled with torture, accusations, and denials.  What did you know and when did you stop knowing it? That was the question asked of Nazis more than sixty years ago and once again being asked of our own Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi.

Nancy Pelosi and her answers have only served to fuel the firestorm surrounding the issues of torture and whether the ends justify the means.  The GOP and their supporters have tried to shift the discussion away from torture to focus instead on Pelosi, and by extension the Democrats as a whole, and their knowledge of and complicity in the use of torture by the CIA.  While this might be seen as an attempt by the Right to distract us from the real issue of who ordered the use of torture and why, in fact the question of what Pelosi knew and what did she do with that knowledge is important.  

In pursuing those responsible for the crimes committed by the Nazis we are now at the point of punishing those who knew and yet did nothing to stop them.  The courts have found that their mere presence is enough to brand them as persecutors.  The history of how we dealt with the German War Criminals may well serve as a blue print for how we deal with our own.

First there is the recurring case of John Demjanjuk, the retired autoworker who lied about his membership in the Waffen-SS and was tried in Israel for war crimes. , Though he was acquitted, there was still the problem of his membership in the Waffen-SS and, more to the point, his lying about that membership on his citizenship application. 

Demjanjuk had his citizenship revoked and with his appeals exhausted he has been extradited back to Germany to face charges arising from his assignments as a guard at several Concentration Camps.  Like Scooter Libby who was tried not for “outing” a CIA Agent but for lying about it, so too Demjanjuk was not deported for being a member of the Waffen-SS (there are many of them living openly in the US) but for lying about his SS membership.1

Likewise Josias Kumpf, a retired sausage plant worker, was deported to Austria in March of 2009 because he too had lied about his membership in the Waffen-SS and assignment as a guard at several Concentration Camps. At his deportation hearing Kumpf admitted to serving as a guard but asserted that he had harmed no one.  The court agreed but found that “…his mere presence at a place where admittedly horrible, horrible things happened was sufficient to find him a persecutor.”

The use of torture by the US against prisoners held in the so called “War on Terrorism” has moved back onto the front page with the release by the Obama administration of previously classified memos.  These memos detail not only the ‘tortured’ logic by which the Bush Administration tried to show that torture, as authorized and practiced by them, was in fact legal, but also spell out exactly what was done and to whom.  Led by MSNBC host Keith Olberman, the calls by the Left for War Crimes trials have reached a fever pitch. 

The political Right, led by Dick Chaney, have argued that the use of torture saved lives and besides, the Democratic leadership in the Congress knew and approved. 

At the same time we have the comic opera spectacle of Condoleezza Rice being confronted by students in a dorm lobby at Stanford University and displaying her lack of historical knowledge or perspective.  She goes so far as to claim that Al Queda is a greater threat to the US than was Nazi Germany simply because Germany never attacked the US Homeland. (What about those U-Boat attacks off the New Jersey shore?)   Further, in what would have gotten her a failing grade in a Logic 101 class, Rice asserted that because the US does not torture, any actions taken by US interrogators were not torture. 3

All men are mortal

Socrates was mortal

Therefore All Men are Socrates

Vox Populi

As astounding as this video may be, the performance by Ms. Rice pales when compared to the vitriol in the comments left by viewers.  They run the gamut from those who believe that so called “Enhanced Interrogation” is not torture to those who affirm that, even if it is, the US is more than justified in using torture if it saves lives.   The rationale usually falls into the “The Terrorists did not sign or are not covered by the Geneva Conventions” or the “What ever it takes to protect America and Americans.”

You Tube is anything but scientific so it is impossible to know if the voices there represent anything more than a lunatic fringe.  However, a recent CNN/ORC poll found that while 60% of respondents think water boarding is torture. 50% approve of their use and 57% do not want members of the Bush administration investigated.4

The follow-up question the pollsters did not ask but should have: “Would you approve of the use of Enhanced Interrogation techniques on US soldiers captured by enemy forces?”  Perhaps they thought the answer would be obvious, too obvious, but that may not be the case given Senator Kit Bond’s amazing admission that he knew about the use of torture by the CIA.5

Finally there is Nancy Pelosi being accused of knowing and therefore approving, if only tacitly, of the use of Water Boarding.  She has claimed that although briefed by the CIA they did not mention Water Boarding, or if they did mention it they were speaking in the future tense.  The CIA counters that they explicitly mentioned Water Boarding and Senator Kit Bond has confirmed that, in the briefing he received from the CIA, the use of Water Boarding was indeed discussed and not in the abstract.

Of course the Right, now calling for Pelosi to resign for lying, are themselves in an untenable position.  If Torture is OK because it is necessary, as many of them assert, then what does it matter if she knew? What they and the GOP are not objecting to is that she knew about the use of torture by the CIA and did noting to stop it because neither did they.  The GOP and the Right believe not only that torture works but that it is justified if it saves American lives.  

Fine.  Then let us stipulate that torture does work. So what – that changes nothing.6

It is never a case of the ends justifying the means but rather the end being only as honorable as the means employed to obtain it.  If you use the weapons of the enemy then you have become the enemy.  Torture is the weapon of the enemy.

History Lessons 

Thus do we return once again to the Nazis and to the Germans in 1945 denying any knowledge of the Concentration Camps.  What did you know and when did you stop knowing it?

“We had no idea what went on in the Camps.”

“How could we know – they kept it a secret.”

“And even if we did know, what could we do?”

What could we do indeed…? 

The issue is not did Nancy Pelosi lie about knowing.  The real issue is did she know and do nothing to stop it?

Senator Kit Bond has already admitted that he knew and we know he did nothing to stop it.

Water Boarding is torture.  Torture is against the law and against the very principles for which the United States stands

Those who carried out torture against prisoners should be tried and punished if found guilty.

Those who ordered the use of torture should be tried and punished if found guilty.

Those in the chain of command, military or civilian, who knew that torture was being used and did nothing to stop it, should pay a price for their cowardice. In this regard the GOP is no less guilty; if Pelosi knew, then you can be sure that THEY knew.

If the US Courts found that a lowly Concentration Camp Guard, who was not accused by the US Government of committing any particular act of torture or murder or abuse of prisoners but whose “mere presence at a place were admittedly horrible things happened, was sufficient to find him a persecutor” then how can the Courts, and by extension we the people of the United States, ignore those who ordered the use of torture, those who conducted torture, and especially those who know this crime was being committed and did nothing to stop it?

Sometimes holding the moral high ground obliges one to act in a moral fashion to defend it.  Now is one of those times.



1 LA Times April 2009

2 Huffington Post article by Dinesh Ramde March 19, 2009

3 Video Clip posted on Youtube April 28, 2009  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ijEED_iviTA

4 CNN / Opinion Research Corporation poll reported on May 6th, 2009. http://news.yahoo.com/s/afp/20090506/pl_afp/usattacksmilitarytorture;_ylt=AnVnX0UNs9Lz8OeUr4jdkbIHcggF

5 Although Senator Bond never served in the military his son is a Marine Corps officer who has served two tours in combat as a Marine Platoon Commander.  One presumes that should the enemy ever capture his son that Senator Bond would object to him being subjected to “Enhanced Interrogation.”

6 If we accept the argument of “any and all means in order to win” or in other words the classic “the Ends Justify the Means” then why do we not use poison gas against the enemy?  It would certainly be more efficient and would save the lives of many American soldiers.  Many US leaders, both civilian and military called for the use of poison gas against the Japanese after the appalling casualties suffered by the Marines at the Battle of Tarawa in 1942.  FDR had ruled out the use of gas but if we had been forced to actually invade Japan perhaps Truman would have changed his mind and allowed the use of poison gas against the Japanese.  As it was the Atom Bomb made the invasion unnecessary and so too the question of using poison gas.   See Before the Bomb: How America Approached the End of the Pacific War by John David Chappell   c1997   ISBN: 0813119871

 


Monday, March 2, 2009

Pure Acting--Kabuki Actor Nakamura Matagoro Dies at 94

Matagoro sensei has died.

I had the great good fortune (as did several of us) to spend a year training with Matagoro sensei in what is still one of the best years of my theatrical life.

What I remember most clearly was the day, after class, when Russell and Elizabeth had questions about their scene together as Heimon and Okaru and the emotions involved as Heimon tells Okaru about Kampei's death.

There were several of us there, sitting next to Matagoro in the dance studio at the University of Hawai'i, as he started to explain the scene.  Then he said, "Here, let me show you." and without a moment's hesitation he launched into the scene, acting both parts with full emotional intensity.  It was an incredible performance, unlike any I had ever seen before or since.  Here was a true artist working at the very height of his powers and his talents.  It was pure acting without relying on props, or costumes, or stage setting to carry the scene but doing so entirely with his acting.  And when the scene was finished, he smiled and asked, in a calm matter-of-fact tone, "Do you understand now?"

I have seen many great performances (granted, mostly on film) by some of the world's greatest actors, but nothing has ever equaled the sheer skill and artistry I saw that morning.

Kabuki has lost a great artist, and we from outside the kabuki world of Japan have lost a true friend who supported our quest to better understand this art form not just as scholars but more importantly as fellow artists.

The march of time was bound to bring this day, but the reality of it still hits hard.
Matagoro sensei (seated) along with Nakamura Matashiro and Yamada Isuzu on the occasion of her visit while on her way back to Japan.  Yamada san  had stopped at the University of Hawaii to pay her respects to Matagoro and ended up conducting an impromptu make-up demonstration and then staying to watch our rehearsal of the kabuki play Chushingura. 

Yamada Isuzu is an actor of some renown -- she played the part of Lady Macbeth in Akira Kurosawa's film The Throne of Blood.


Nakamura Matagoro in the role of the Shogun in Hiroshi Inagaki's 1962 film Chushingura.