Will war return to the Solomons?

Reports that China seeks a permanent lease of the island of Tulagi in the Solomons is enough to induce chills in any student of history, as much as it would puzzle most of the world.

Where are the "Solomons," after all?  What are they?  Who has ever heard of them?  (In fact, Word redlined both those uses above as "errors.")  A string of islands in the back of beyond, a name suitable for a trick question on a game show.

But there was a time when the Solomon Islands, stretching a thousand-mile arc northeast of Australia, were notable to the point of legend, as the site of one of the bloodiest, most vicious, and most interminable campaigns of WWII, one of those instances in history where "they stood, and earth's foundations stayed."

The U.S. invaded Guadalcanal, one of the southernmost islands in the chain (along, in fact, with Tulagi) on August 7, 1942, in the first major amphibious assault of the Pacific War.  What followed was one of the nastiest campaigns in the annals of warfare, six months of fighting in all three elements with the U.S. Marines usually outnumbered and outgunned.  (At one point the Navy had lost so many ships that it was forced to pull back, leaving the Marines to fight Japanese land, sea, and air forces alone for weeks.)  After that battle ended on February 9, 1943, the campaign shifted to the rest of the islands in the chain, the Allies climbing the ladder (which the Solomons, arranged in two parallel lines, strongly resemble).  New Georgia, Kolombangara, Choiseul, Shortland, Bougainville — each requiring an opposed amphibious landing, and often a naval battle as well.  So many ships were sunk amid the southern Solomons that the channel was renamed "Ironbottom Sound."  Dozens of ships remain there today and will remain for centuries, their silhouettes towering in the murky waters as monuments to the titanic battles fought there.  It is one of the eeriest and most forlorn sights on this planet.

Though the center of action shifted north and west by late 1943, the campaign was not officially closed until the end of the war itself.

And why was this isolated region worth the effort?  Because the Japanese had built an air base on Guadalcanal, right across the channel from Tulagi.  From that base they would have been able to dominate the approaches to Australia, possibly even knocking Australia out of the war.

And today, the Chinese are "interested" in the exact same area.

It may well come to pass. The Solomons government has the not unusual distinction of being leftist and greed-crazed at in the same time.  Officials in recent years have overseen the effective deforestation of Guadalcanal, a task that back in the day would have been considered on the order of terraforming the moon.  A few weeks ago, they cut relations with Taiwan, considered by most observers to have been a nudge and a wink to Beijing.

The Chinese "holdings" will be stated as being commercial, though they will be dotted with installations that will be sealed and heavily guarded, marked with massive antennas and other equipment not usually associated with commercial endeavors.  And when the fighting breaks out in the Southwestern Pacific area, as it will, then the Chinese will be in a perfect position to carry out the same plans that the Japanese attempted, only this time with cruise missiles and IRBMs.

Our media and bureaucracies will ignore it all, right up until shots are fired.  They know nothing of the Solomons, and they wish to know nothing.

But they will learn anyway, along with all the rest of us.  To paraphrase a line known to everybody: they have forgotten history, and they will repeat it.

Reports that China seeks a permanent lease of the island of Tulagi in the Solomons is enough to induce chills in any student of history, as much as it would puzzle most of the world.

Where are the "Solomons," after all?  What are they?  Who has ever heard of them?  (In fact, Word redlined both those uses above as "errors.")  A string of islands in the back of beyond, a name suitable for a trick question on a game show.

But there was a time when the Solomon Islands, stretching a thousand-mile arc northeast of Australia, were notable to the point of legend, as the site of one of the bloodiest, most vicious, and most interminable campaigns of WWII, one of those instances in history where "they stood, and earth's foundations stayed."

The U.S. invaded Guadalcanal, one of the southernmost islands in the chain (along, in fact, with Tulagi) on August 7, 1942, in the first major amphibious assault of the Pacific War.  What followed was one of the nastiest campaigns in the annals of warfare, six months of fighting in all three elements with the U.S. Marines usually outnumbered and outgunned.  (At one point the Navy had lost so many ships that it was forced to pull back, leaving the Marines to fight Japanese land, sea, and air forces alone for weeks.)  After that battle ended on February 9, 1943, the campaign shifted to the rest of the islands in the chain, the Allies climbing the ladder (which the Solomons, arranged in two parallel lines, strongly resemble).  New Georgia, Kolombangara, Choiseul, Shortland, Bougainville — each requiring an opposed amphibious landing, and often a naval battle as well.  So many ships were sunk amid the southern Solomons that the channel was renamed "Ironbottom Sound."  Dozens of ships remain there today and will remain for centuries, their silhouettes towering in the murky waters as monuments to the titanic battles fought there.  It is one of the eeriest and most forlorn sights on this planet.

Though the center of action shifted north and west by late 1943, the campaign was not officially closed until the end of the war itself.

And why was this isolated region worth the effort?  Because the Japanese had built an air base on Guadalcanal, right across the channel from Tulagi.  From that base they would have been able to dominate the approaches to Australia, possibly even knocking Australia out of the war.

And today, the Chinese are "interested" in the exact same area.

It may well come to pass. The Solomons government has the not unusual distinction of being leftist and greed-crazed at in the same time.  Officials in recent years have overseen the effective deforestation of Guadalcanal, a task that back in the day would have been considered on the order of terraforming the moon.  A few weeks ago, they cut relations with Taiwan, considered by most observers to have been a nudge and a wink to Beijing.

The Chinese "holdings" will be stated as being commercial, though they will be dotted with installations that will be sealed and heavily guarded, marked with massive antennas and other equipment not usually associated with commercial endeavors.  And when the fighting breaks out in the Southwestern Pacific area, as it will, then the Chinese will be in a perfect position to carry out the same plans that the Japanese attempted, only this time with cruise missiles and IRBMs.

Our media and bureaucracies will ignore it all, right up until shots are fired.  They know nothing of the Solomons, and they wish to know nothing.

But they will learn anyway, along with all the rest of us.  To paraphrase a line known to everybody: they have forgotten history, and they will repeat it.