Cry Havoc, and Let Slip the Blog of War

(Flickr/The U.S. Army)

On July 8th, 1853, US Commodore Matthew C. Perry dropped anchor off the coast of Japan. His fleet of four steam-powered gunships had arrived near the city of Edo, the imperial capital, known to the world in later years as Tokyo. Until that landing, the Japanese had explicitly limited all outside contact with their nation to a single port–Nagasaki–and assiduously rejected all foreign involvement in Japan’s commerce or society. Their xenophobia was not without cause: many of Japan’s neighbors, including China, had become abject vassals to the quickly expanding empires of Great Britain, Holland, and France.

Commodore Perry was having none of this. He refused Japanese requests to move on to Nagasaki, and when his small fleet was encircled by Japanese ships, he calmly notified their commander that a refusal to disperse and allow him to land would result in the Japanese vessels’ prompt destruction.

Perry, whose technologically superior squadron of ships vastly outgunned the entire Imperial Navy, was allowed to land. He delivered a letter to the Japanese emperor which, eight months later, led to the signing of the Convention of Kanagawa, granting the United States de facto imperial powers and most-favored-nation status with Japan. The incident became known as a seminal example of “gunboat diplomacy,” a tactic by which imperial powers coerced lesser nations into obedience by stationing a fragment of their obscenely powerful navies just offshore. It had a way of sharpening the local government’s attention.

Nobody uses gunboats anymore. Warfare and political manipulation have become disaggregated, unpredictable tools, no longer restricted in their use to states or international powers. A few angry young men with an unswerving commitment to their own version of The Truth changed the world on 9/11; this pattern continues every day as lives are taken and political courses altered by the violent interventions of a few. Warfare has evolved into terrorism, counterinsurgency, targeted killings, and guerrilla tactics. We fight over hearts and minds, rather than territory. War has become a stranger to us, even as it has become one of the most influential forces in our modern, networked, and globalized society.

Welcome to AK Diplomacy.

If you’re new to the site, or have no idea what all this is about, have a look here to find out some more about Lawrence Dabney (me). TLDR: I’m a humanitarian lawyer turned war correspondent. This is where I write about my experiences, post photographs, and link to my published articles.

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On October 30th, 2011, I’ll board a plane for Kabul, Afghanistan (did you know there are commercial flights to Afghanistan? Holidays are coming up…), to spend a month embedded with the marines in Helmand province. Until then I’ll be posting here about my preparations, research I’ve done on the situation over there, and the evolving art of war correspondence. Once there, I will update here as frequently as internet access allows.

Should be interesting. Wish me luck.

1 comment
  1. Joey Shaw says: October 21, 20116:24 pm

    I’m interested in hearing more of these historical comparisons to what you encounter over there, Lars. I think it’s important for people (myself very much included) to have a firmer grasp on the broader context, and on the events that have led us to the way warfare is conducted now.

    Take care, and good luck.

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