Wednesday, 19 February 2014

People You Bump Into

Years ago....in the late 1970s....I worked with a guy who had this life dream....running a pool hall.  He grew up in some small rural town in South Carolina, and had some uncle who ran a hall there.  His big dream....after doing four years in the Air Force....was to make his way back to the home state, find a town of some size without a pool hall, and open one.

This topic would come up in the TV room of the barracks.  We (the occasional audience in the dorm TV room)....would ask this guy about the plan, and how this would work.

You see....a pool hall guy....has to have certain qualities.  I never thought much about this....until this guy brings up the obvious ones.

Pool halls stay open late....so you'd likely open by noon, and stay open til midnight.  You kinda have to stay open six days a week (closing on Sundays)....so you are doing seventy-two hours a week in work.  Naturally, this would tire most guys out.

You have to stay clean, sober, and in-good with the local authorities....to get the booze license.  This means paying off the Republicans and Democrats of the local town, as elections come around.

You have to have some patience with drunks and disorderly folks.  People get stupid playing pool, make wages and bets way beyond reality, and someone has to lose.  Folks tend to get irate when they lose big-time.  Losing your paycheck one evening....usually means the wife getting upset and asking stupid questions.  So guys might get physical, and as the pool-hall owner....you really don't want this kind of fight or damage done to the place.

I never thought much on the attention to table quality until this guy started to quote manufacture and standards.  Running a dozen "fine" tables...means you need to put out cash and replace the tables on occasion.  Same with the balls and cue sticks.

As I was briefed deeply on the strategy of a owner....it's the kitchen that pulls in half the profits.  A decent pool hall serves first-class burgers and fries....with ice-cold beer always in the refrigerator.  Ribs and chicken are mandatory....along with grilled-cheese sandwiches and some kinda stew on really cold days.

Pool tournaments are a big deal, and draw folks to watch....and amateur players practice more to be noted as a legend or semi-legend in the local area.

Somewhere in 1979....our associate with aspirations of being a pool-hall owner....wrapped up his four years in the Air Force and left Germany.  We all figured he'd find success one day.  I have no idea what became of him, or if he ever got into the pool-hall business.

One of the neat things about being in the Air Force....you got around to meeting weird characters from across the fifty states.  Some were nuts.  Some were brilliant.  Some were worthy of being immortalized as the Mister Haney character on Green Acres or the George character from Seinfeld.
I can look back and feel kinda blessed (well...as much as a Bama guy can be)....that I took this long path and trail for twenty-two years.  Today, I probably know enough to fill up twenty 3x5 cards on pool-hall operations.  To be honest....other than about six games I played while at Rhein Main, and maybe one game while on some deployment to Turkey....I've never been much of a pool player, and never aspired to being a pool-hall manager.  

Forced fate?  Yeah, maybe.  Fate kinda happens and then you stand there....absorbed with pool-hall management concepts, but will never use that knowledge ever in your life.

That Khalkhin Gol Battle

Pearl Harbor, Midway, the Battle of El Alamein, the allied invasion of Italy, Normandy, the Blitz, the battle of Leningrad, the battle of Attu....all the great battles and legacies of World War II....only occur because of seventy cavalry horsemen from the Soviet Union....who were in search of greener pastures for their horses, and they happen to cross the line splitting Mongolia (a part of the Soviet Union then) and China, which was controlled by the Japanese.  The date was 11 May 1939.

It's an odd piece of history that no high school teacher will touch, and the vast number of college history professors will simply leave there....not to be part of the class or any discussion.

This crossing of the line...in the interest of greener pastures....is what creates a odd revision to the overall plan of Germany and Japan for conquering the majority of the civilized world.

You'd shake your head.....how seventy odd horsemen did something stupid, and rewrote the outcome of World War II....but it's a interesting tale.

The Japanese will react on this day to the "intrusion" of the Soviet cavalry men and their horses.  There will be shots fired, and a retreat by the Soviet-Mongolian force.  Two days later....the Soviet-Mongolian force will return in greater numbers, and effectively destroy the local Japanese force in the area.  The small battle here should have been the end.....but it wasn't.

Within six weeks....both sides were pulling in extra troops, and the Japanese force mounted a major attack against the Soviets.  Air battles were conducted....aircraft were destroyed on the ground, and a full-scale, but limited action was occurring.  But there's a problem....the Japanese commander didn't ever ask the Japanese high command back in Japan for permission.  Things got hectic once they figured out the whole thing going on.  This wasn't going along with the BIG strategy of the German and Japanese alliance.

You see...the BIG plan was....Germany would only have one front to worry about once they'd stream rolled over into France and taken control, and that front would be the Soviet Union.  The Japanese....as part of the strategy....would stage operations at some point in 1941/1942....in the far east, and threaten the Soviet Union from the Siberian region.

Stalin had sent out a major part of his military to Siberia, and the better of troops, tanks and aircraft were in that region.  Japan would keep them busy, and eventually win.....and be rewarded with everything in Siberia.  Hitler's force would only face a limited military capability around the western portion of the Soviet Union, and within a year or two....have kicked Stalin out of Moscow.

You can imagine phase two....where they return to the British situation....easily threaten them....and within weeks to months....establish a treaty where Britian will fall.  The royal family will leave for Canada, and a German-friendly government will be in place.  Yeah, that resigned British King would have likely been brought back, and put on the thrown.....just to establish some legit nature.

At that point, there'd be three nations of significance.....the Germans, the Japanese, and the US.  By 1944....the US would be standing there with limited options.

Well....but back to the Mongolian episode.  In this moment of Japanese "stall"....the Soviets quickly plan and execute a massive summer campaign against the Japanese force in the region.  It will be referred to....as the Battle of Khalkhin Gol.

Around mid-September of 1939....the Japanese will come to agree to a ceasefire.  There are massive losses for both camps.  A force of roughly 55,000 Soviet troops will face a slightly superior number of Japanese troops (roughly 80,000).

But the Soviets will have 500 tanks in the region....of a superior quality, and have three times the number of aircraft.  The Japanese land-force?  It never had the technical capabilities that the Soviets had.  Maybe the Japanese Navy was a four-star force....but you can't say that for the Japanese Army.

This ceasefire will be a hotly discussed topic back at Japan's military headquarters.  The Japanese will claim roughly sixteen thousand dead or wounded, with the Soviets claim at nine thousand (it might have been significantly more, but the Soviets just weren't ever that honest over the number business).

So Japan reevaluated the whole strategy that Hitler's team had laid out.  After Khalkhin Gol....they really didn't want to go back into Siberia and conduct another loser of a war.  So, a new strategy was drawn up....which meant that Hitler had to fight two fronts.....and Stalin would move his best troops and tanks west....to defeat Hitler.

The Japanese strategy would mean that they'd have to intimidate and really annihilate the US at Pearl Harbor.....thus creating a war against an enemy who probably wouldn't have been part of the game for two or three more years (then it'd be too late to help Britain or the Soviets).  

So seventy cavalrymen....with their seventy horses.....in search of greener pastures....trip up the Hitler strategy....change the dynamics of World War II in a matter of minutes, and change the balance of history forever.

Why does it not ever get mentioned?  There's likely three basic reasons.  First, Altogether, there's never more than 130,000 troops combined....in this battle.  Second, it's in the middle of nowhere, and no journalists ever report the stages or outcomes of daily events.  For the most part, you have to accept various accounts (some false) from both the Japanese and Soviet achieves to tell part of the story.  Third, it's not some grand episode, or some crown prince murdered, or some massive invasion.  It's simply seventy guys with hungry horses.  And that's not really hot history stuff that would be worth listening to in a boring history class.