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Monday, June 6, 2011

The Other Battle on June 6: Midway

We all have been reading and hearing lots of commentary on the anniversary of the June 6, 1944 landing in Normandy.  That is as it should be. On that day the United States officially saved Europe from itself, and from the ravages of those "Grand Ideas" that Europeans are so good at originating, you know, Communism, Fascism, Nazism. It was the American cowboys, rednecks, etc., who saved the "great" European philosophical class from the monsters it had made. While we should not forget the brave combatants from other nations who took part in D-Day, it was largely an American show. Without the United States there would have been no Normandy landing.

So while we should remember and honor that landing, I am always surprised by how little attention is paid to the anniversaries of another great battle, one that was truly life or death for the United States and for freedom in the Pacific and Asia: the Battle of Midway, June 3-7, 1942.  This amazing battle is one which I find Europeans know almost nothing about, and, sadly, about which Americans are becoming evermore ignorant.

Look at the date of the battle. This was not quite six months after Pearl Harbor. In other words, less than six months after the most devastating sneak attack ever suffered by the US Navy, that same navy, vastly out- numbered and out-gunned, fought and defeated the vastly superior Japanese navy.  And it was no ordinary, debatable defeat: it was a crushing, humiliating one. It was the greatest sea battle ever fought up to that time, and resulted in an American victory from which Japan's military ambitions never recovered.

Many years ago when I was stationed in an Asian country, a Japanese diplomat brought up the subject of WWII--I don't know why, I certainly never brought up that subject when around Germans or Japanese. He claimed that the Americans had no fighting spirit, and that all their victories were due to vast superiority in equipment. This theme, incidentally, is one I have heard Europeans and others repeat, as well. He completely ignored the Battle of Midway, and for him, WWII, began essentially with the invasion of Okinawa. Trust me, after the lecture I gave him on the battles of Wake Island, Coral Sea, Guadalcanal, and Midway, he never brought that subject up again.

This battle and many of the others in the Pacific--as well as the daylight bombing of Germany--had a shocking feature. There existed an incredible tolerance for casualties, a tolerance that would horrify modern sensibilities. Those young pilots, and they were extremely young, were essentially disposable. They flew incredible missions over vast distances in what were mass-produced, but almost experimental aircraft; the odds were against their surviving the war. Nobody lied to them. Nobody sugar-coated it. They were not drugged or drunk. They climbed into those flimsy aircraft, day after day, and risked horrible deaths in pursuit of victory.

OK, enough. Just a plea that we remember that other June battle, the one that took place when the United States had its back to the wall. A battle that had we lost . . .


  1. When I was a little tyke, I read and re-read and re-read...a couple of books called Air War (something like that). Anyway they covered the Midway battle in depth. To say that there was a tolerance for casualties is putting it lightly. IIRC not a single torpedo plane returned from the first wave and none of them made any significant hits. Think about that for a moment, dozens of pilots lost within minutes for no direct gain. Imagine what the NYT would do with that today. The biggest mistake made by the Japs was when they decided to change the bombs on the fully fueled aircraft that were on the carriers. We got lucky and managed to hit them at that moment. Also the deck crews were not wearing their fire suits because of high temps and humidity and the belief that we would never hit them. With the deck crews wiped out, there was no one to even attempt to fight the fires. There are several excellent books about Midway (of course I cannnot recall the authors at the moment) including one written from the Jap POV. It truly was the end of the Jap naval dominance (four carriers sunk!) and coming just 6 mths after PH, was an enormous morale boost for the USA and our Pacific allies.

  2. Hey Diplomad,

    Great post. What's with the ad for essaymechanic.com?


  3. They asked me if they could advertise their service. I said yes as they are friends and very good writers.

  4. I propose that our lack of remembrance about the Pacific War comes from the postwar failure of our Asian policy; whereas our postwar European policy essentially succeeded. For Asia, World War II basically made the world safe for Stalinism.

    But, as I reflect on World War II and what we were willing to take in casualties back then, I suspect that a lot of that also came from our own media's unwillingness to criticize FDR and the enthusiasm of the hard Leftists in it back then for a crusade that rescued the USSR.