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JapanFocus
'Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet'
[Book Review] How kamikaze suicide bombers came to be
David Wilson (bambo1)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-14 14:20 (KST)   
Book Info

Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet
Written by: James Delgado
Douglas & McIntyre, 2009
ISBN-10: 0520259769
This swirling tale of intrigue sets sail off Hong Kong in the waters of the Pearl River Delta. There, in 1279 after repeated engagements, the Mongol ruler Khubilai Khan routed the Song navy, completing the grand plan of his grandfather, Genghis Khan: the conquest of China.

In the wake of victory, the new Grand Khan ruled the largest empire ever seen, stretching from the China Sea to the plains of Hungary. His navy, the world's biggest, consisted of more than 700 top-notch ships born of the great rivers that bisect the Middle Kingdom.

"The craft that plied those rivers, the coastline and the distant oceans beyond were the technological marvels of the eleventh through fifteenth centuries, surpassing anything that Europe put into the water," writes prolific undersea chronicler James Delgado.

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No wonder the Grand Khan felt emboldened to embark on a spot of maritime enterprise. Cue a series of doomed shock-and-awe assaults on Japan, Vietnam and Java. Within 15 years, the visionary ruler adept at home affairs but a less able warlord than he originally looked, had frittered his fleet.

"Khubilai Khan's Lost Fleet: In Search of a Legendary Armada" zeroes in on the Japan attacks, as befits the author who lives in a British Columbian village founded by Japanese fishermen. The Grand Khan invaded the land of the rising sun twice, first in 1274 and then again seven years later as in a horror film with a 4,000-strong fleet. Both times he lost.

Why one of history's most formidable, successful warrior races flopped has spurred much debate. The Japanese nailed their victories squarely and superstitiously on a kamikaze ("divine wind") effect in a nod to how typhoons mauled the Mongols on both occasions.

Digging under the surface, Delgado, the Institute of Nautical Archaeology's president, audits evidence ranging from sunken ships to hand-painted scrolls. In his verdict, which acknowledges that nothing in his field is certain, he surmises that typhoons alone could not explain the Mongols' defeat.

Their many advantages were "squandered on the shores of Japan by impatience, mismanagement, and the determined defence of an entrenched enemy who fought as if heaven was on its side," he writes.

Delgado charts how the Japanese belief that heaven saved them twice blossomed into a myth that no invaders could conquer their sacred soil. The myth reverberated down the centuries, all the way to the Second World War.
©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter David Wilson

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