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Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remembering December 7

The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941, is one of those events that proves so consequential it is hard to describe. When confronting such a situation, it is always best to turn to Winston Churchill. In The Grand Alliance he eloquently describes his reaction on hearing about the admittedly very skillful and destructive Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the entry of America into WWII:
“No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. {. . .} So we had won after all! {. . . } Silly people, and there were many, not only in enemy countries, might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting. Their democracy and system of recurrent elections would paralyse their war effort. They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. Now we should see the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy, and talkative people. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before – that the United States is like ‘a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.’ Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”
Indeed, the boiler was "lighted." In the most amazing performance by a nation in history, the United Staes went in just over three years from a Depression-wracked, barely armed, confused, and all but defeated nation to the most powerful one on earth. Its military, a largely sleepy peacetime force, became the masters of huge, technically complex operations on a scale never before or since seen, using weapons and tactics that had not even existed before the war began. American industry poured out a dazzling array of weaponry and equipment unmatched before or since. Above all, the United States proved to possess an understanding of modern warfare that, with the notable exceptions of Churchill and Yamamoto, observers would not have suspected it to have. We tend to forget that within five months of Pearl Harbor, a US-Australian naval force stopped Japanese expansion southward, and that the stunning American naval victory of Midway came just six months after Pearl Harbor. Within nine months, an American-led offensive was underway in the Solomon Islands, most notably on Guadalcanal. As, furthermore, Churchill notes in his passage above, the Americans took and put up with casualties, some 400,000 dead and missing.

The magnitude and the global reach of the American war effort remain awe inspiring. During my tours in Latin America, for example, I found it striking how many airfields and harbors the USA built in Central and South America and throughout the Caribbean during the war. Old timers in Guatemala told me of how quickly the FBI showed up getting the Guatemalans to round up German and Italian nationals. This was an area that was certainly a backwater compared to Europe and the Pacific, but still American industrial might and organizational skill were readily evident and effective.

Compare that performance to the current misadministration's inability to set up a website in roughly the time it took to go from Pearl Harbor to Hiroshima.

27 comments:

  1. I was hoping you would write something about Dec 7,1941 and write you did. The speech from the insightful and unmatched Churchill is fitting. Thank you.

    In our family, my wife's eldest cousin was married to a Pearl Harbor survivor. He is still alive at a sprightly 96 years old. He was stationed on the USS Detroit that day. Sometimes he speaks of it right out of the clear blue without being prompted and then he goes years without saying a word.

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  2. The Japanese were not unified behind the idea of going to war with the USA, but the promise of a debilitating first strike was hard to ignore. And today we might find it difficult to credit the idea that a small island kingdom with limited natural resources could rationally hope knock out a continental power in a single blow, but reading about the attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years later I am struck by what an amazing piece of warfare that was.

    Turning the tables so completely in a few years on opposite sides of the globe is a tribute to allied resolve, coordination, manufacturing, and flexibility.

    There are a lot of counterfactuals in analyzing history, but it seems to me that if the USA had maintained its military strength after WWI the Japanese would not have struck Pearl Harbor and we would have continued to fight the Germans through Lend-Lease and other half-hearted methods at the same time we continued starving Japan of petroleum and other natural resources.

    The only wars we have fought since WWII have been of our own choosing and the only attacks against us have been assymetrical in the extreme. The weakening of our own military by the Obama administration emboldens our enemies and moves us in the direction of a repeat of the Pearl Harbor attack, but the liberals will not acknowledge that in their eagerness to redirect defense funds to social programs that keep voters on their side.

    It is fitting to remember today just how dangerous it is -- to the world as well as to us -- for the US to weaken itself. Obama promised in his first campaign to restore respect for America. He has done just the opposite.

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    1. re: "He has done just the opposite."

      Writing checks with his mouth that his ass can't cover! Typical community organizer tactic; lie, bluff, threaten and intimidate until you get your own way. America must like him though, he was elected for a 2nd term! (/sarc)

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  3. Comparison noted. It is overwhelming.

    To be entirely fair to President Obama (!!), FDR actually wanted to win World War II--wanted desperately to win it. He did not want to fail into a more-preferred outcome, as Obamacare may yet fail into "single payer."

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    1. It was designed specifically with that purpose in mind, imho. Their goal is 'equalization of health care': meaning no amount of hard work, ingenuity, and good fortune can get you a better treatment that your neighbor.
      It's pretty much the opposite of everything America has fought for in the past.

      - reader #1482

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    2. And not only iyho.

      But I don't think you're quite right about the goal. Being high in--or well-connected-to--the Party-and-State hierarchy can get you better treatment than your neighbor now, and that difference is expected and intended to get much larger.

      You are, of course, right that "It's pretty much the opposite of everything America has fought for in the past."

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  4. Industrial might realized. USS Wisconsin and USS Oklahoma:
    http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/images/h78000/h78940.jpg

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    1. Industrial might, sure but it was carriers such as this: http://www.strangemilitary.com/images/content/103414.jpg
      The USS Enterprise (CV-6) that were the military might.

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  5. It is I think patently clear that faced with a similar challenge today, the outcomes might well be different. The west is now captive to the hand-wringers.

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    1. Captive... unless the fuse goes off somehow.

      Then--suddenly! bingo! No more hand-wringers.

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  6. It is still a leftist meme that somehow Churchill knew all about the impending attack on Pearl Harbour yet withheld the information from the FDR administration in order to draw the USA into WW2. Utter drivel of course, US intelligence was aware the Japanese were going to do something but did not know where. Pearl Harbour, Schofield Barracks and Kanehoe were all placed on full alert one week before the Dec 7 strike.

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    1. There are lots of idiots out there. The attack succeeded because we were not ready, and ignored lots of "hints" that it was coming. Classic bureaucratic and political screw up.

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    2. Dip I have to disagree with you that the attack succeeded. While it sunk several battleships and other war ships and killed over 3,000 Americans the Japanese made several mistakes;

      1. If they had attacked the fleet at sea in the same way they attacked it in port the casualties would have been in the tens of thousands but instead the crews of the warships were mostly ashore.

      2. They did not destroy the dry docks so many of the vessels could be repaired in Pearl Harbour and not have to be towed to the mainland US to effect repairs saving a great deal of time.

      3. The fuel reserves which were in big tanks just over a hill from the harbour were left intact for use by the remainder of the fleet.

      4. The biggest mistake was in not finding and sinking the carriers ensuring that the US was still in a position to take the war to the Japanese in quick time.

      While it was probably not on their intelligence files and essentially an unknown factor they also came up against an admiral who must rate high in the pantheon of brilliant naval tacticians in Chester Nimitz.

      I do agree that in ignoring the multitude of hints there was a typical bureaucratic and political screw up.

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    3. You're right. What I meant was that the attack happened, and the Japanese got away with minimal losses, due to our screw ups. The attack, of course, proved a colossal blunder and was predicated on the assumption that the US, facing a European war, would negotiate some sort of deal with the Japanese essentially recognizing them as the predominant power in the Pacific. Yamamoto had serious doubts about the strategy and famously told his higher ups that he could run rampant in the Pacific for about six months but that after that the advantage would shift to the Americans and their allies. He proved extremely prescient as Midway came almost six months to the day after Pearl Harbor. He also told his higher ups that the Americans were not the French and would not surrender. He was one of the few Japanese higher ups not shocked by the determined resistance encountered in places such as Guam and the Philippines.

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    4. Diplomad Sir:

      What I meant was that the attack happened, and the Japanese got away with minimal losses, due to our screw ups.

      David (Duff - D&N on your sidebar) is always "ad nauseum as only the Brit armchair admiral is capable of" ... well, David I suppose might be somewhat excused ... never claiming anything but "former Corporal and Ex Second Hand Car Salesman" for himself, but anyway he admires [with the possible exception of myself] our US military. And, as he himself puts it, he Bores for Britain.

      (Just my opinion but, given some of his transcripts, if "Her Maj" were to deign boring worthy, David'd long ago received a Knighthood.)

      Anyway Diplomad Sir, I beg to disagree with your characterization that the Jap's success was due to our screw-ups - rather I think it was due to, their screw-ups.

      Specifically, one monumental screwup - the Japanese simply failed to recognize even after Pearl's tactical success to incorporate tactics into strategy.

      Duff [correctly] generalizes "the Japanese won the first battle but lost the war in the six months following" ... but I humbly would suggest to both David and yourself it wasn't due to our [US] screw-ups.

      Actually I'm of the opinion - it was "a failure to realize the potential."

      Anyway - prior to clicking "Read the entire" - read the few comments:

      http://www.usni.org/magazines/navalhistory/2011-12/pearl-harbors-overlooked-answer

      Arkie

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  7. Just reading a biography of General Leslie Groves, the ramrod who made the atomic bomb a war-winning weapon. In his first week on the job, he cornered global uranium supplies, selected the Oak Ridge site, and got the top priority for all the war-rationed material his outfit might need.

    He had earlier built the Pentagon in 14 months and restored water supplies to Managa with in a week of an earthquake there - working in the crater of a volcano.

    What a man! He's my hero.

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    1. I do it all the time.
      Suffer no fools..and step up.
      At the state dept, some gadfly, and most are blowflies..
      but just saying makes them both parasites.

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  8. Churchill says: “But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins.”

    I too am fascinated by the American civil war; not least because the blood of my countrymen flowed for both sides.

    I would rather it be another Pearl Harbour that re-unites America than another civil war. Max.

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    1. "Spengler" (David P. Goldman) has some provocative thoughts on the American Civil War, as in, for example, http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Middle_East/MD19Ak03.html, and in his book, "How Civilizations Die: (And Why Islam Is Dying Too)"

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    2. I would rather kill an idiot than suffer it.

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  9. Remembering my father who survived the attack aboard the USS Wasmuth. Cancer claimed him 1984. I miss you dad.

    Reader #8

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    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    2. I feel a body blow every time a warrior passes. Max.

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    3. I feel a stupid blow whenever an idiot goes by that isn;t culled.

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  10. As to the attack not destroying the drydocks at Pearl, I do not know about that, bit I do know that repairs to the damaged fleet was slow due to lack of drydoxk facilities. My father-in-law was a ship's captian in the merchant marines. He was given the task to tow 2 drydocks from San Francisco. Against all odds and direct orders, he towed 3. When he reached Pearl, he received a 21- gun salute. Those drydocks were desperately needed.

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  11. I like how you edit out the stories.
    I't's Nice..
    Stop it.
    if something is posted...maybe you could take it out at once..and not play ????
    leaperman

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