About those maritime drills— in 1978, another period of “tension” between Empire and Russia, I got a free trip to Japan (to carry the bags for my ex-wife, another story.) Part of our ten days there was three days in the Suginoi Hotel, a large hot-springs resort in Beppu, on the southern island of Japan.

This place had many public baths, of various themes. I happened to pick the “Hanging Gardens” one day. Typical custom: get naked, wash yourself thoroughly, then into the huge, steaming pool with islands and greenery and a glass roof.

So I’m in the giant ofuro, relaxing and half asleep, when there’s a commotion by the changing-shower area. Three American naval officers there, all high intensity testosterone. They stripped down, eschewed the cleansing, and dove into the pool (about a meter deep.) Seeing me, the only other gaijin in the place, they wade on over. They were a pretty happy bunch, showing the effects of maybe a too much Suntory or sake or Kirin. The Japanese in the pool either got out, or retreated to far corners.

It seems these three were from the crews of a US guided missile frigate and guided-missile destroyer, doing a “port call” in Beppu. We talked, they heard I was a Vietnam (Army, booo!) vet. Two claimed to be the tactical officers on the two ships. Turned to politics a bit.

Japan at that time had. “Rule” that nuclear weapons were not allowed in Japanese territory. These guys were from ships that had been playing bumper cars with Russian warships in the Sea of Japan. They allowed as how they had “tagged” a Russian destroyer in the game, sliding up beside it and bumping it beam to beam.

I just had to ask about nuke weapons on board, in light of the Japanese prohibition.They deflected. I asked how likely could it be that a real shooting war might break out in these waters, and they allowed as how it might be pretty likely, almost as if they could hardly wait to put those Commies in their place. These guys were inebriated, so being an old-style hippie liberal, I asked again if there were nukes in the mix of available weapons. Yes, just like their Russian enemy. Got to maintain force supremacy, or at least parity, after all. They started talking about tactics, and bragged that they held the keys to US anti-ship missiles.

And they acknowledged that the theater was on a hair trigger, the level of hostility between competing, testosterone-infused forces was pretty high. They were pretty cavalier about the fact that suddenly a lot of tonnage f ships, including their own, could be incinerated and on their way to the bottom. Not gong to allow the Commies to survive to brag,, if they were going to die.

The reason for the delegation of launch authority seemed to be that the “horizon time” for radar detection of incoming Russian surface-to-surface was only minutes to seconds, so firing decisions had been delegated down to them because no time for a “chain of command.” So World War III could easily have started here due to trigger-happiness on either side, or false returns on the radar. One of many ways it could have started, and it’s not hard to find the many events during the Cold War when misadventure and stupidity and Murphy’s Law could have been triggered and almost was.

And of course the stuff about delegation might have been macho bullshit, but logically it made sense.

War is the natural state of humanity, given the givens. And we mopes have no idea how close we are to proof of that observation of Liet-Keynes in “Dune,” that the most persistent principles in the universe are accident and error.

Another vignette: ex and I were being escorted around by a driver who was former commander in the defeated Japanese navy. Spoke pretty good English, and in conversation made plain that he, 33 years after the surrender, felt no guilt or remorse about the war or his part in it. His principal observation was that if only Yamamoto had not attacked Pearl Harbor, the Japanese would now be running the imperial game in the “Indo-Pacific,” not the Americans.

Stupid effing humans.

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