Saturday, May 31, 2014

Has the West forgotten the lesson of Pearl Harbor?

Walt has not forgotten about the "situation" in Ukraine. There has been an election, and Poroshenko, the Chocolate King, has become the Chocolate President. The people of the Donbas and other eastern regions of the Ukraine didn't get to vote, since Russian-speaking armed gangs disrupted the polling. Russia denies arming and supporting the separatist thugs, and claims to have pulled its troops back from positions near the border. But it retains control of the Crimea.

The question has already been asked, but let's put it out there again. Where will Russia stop? If the rest of the world accepts the illegal Russian annexation of Crimea, will that be enough to satisfy Putin? Or is this a repeat of the German annexation of the Sudetenland in the run-up to World War II?

There are those -- notably in the United States Department of State -- who believe that it's improbable that Russia would try to occupy any more Ukrainian territory, and in so doing risk war with the West. While admitting that war is possible, they think it highly unlikely. Putin wouldn't be that stupid, they say. He must know that Russia would lose any war with the West, they say. And Russia doesn't want war any more than we do...they say.

Similar things were said about Japan in 1941, right up till December 7th and the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. War with Japan was not impossible, but improbable...they said. For that reason, it was OK for the United States to let down its guard, and not pay too much attention to the threats, implicit and explicit, coming from the Land of the Rising Sun.

The resultant complacency and lack of preparedness was the chief cause of the disaster of December 7th, "the Day of Infamy". So wrote Professor Gordon W. Prange in several lengthy historical manuscripts published posthumously by his co-workers Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon as Pearl Harbor: The Verdict of History (McGraw-Hill, 1986), which Walt just finished reading.

Prof. Prange was a Professor of History at the University of Maryland from 1937 to 1980, with a break of nine years (1942–1951) of military service overseas, including a stint in Japan during the US military occupation, when he was the Chief Historian in General Douglas MacArthur's staff. That period coincided roughly with the several investigations into the Pearl Harbor debacle, including that of the Joint Congressional Committee, 15 Nov. 1945 to 15 July 1946. The testimony at and reports of those inquiries are quoted extensively in his books.

Edward F. Morgan was an assistant counsel to that committee, and drafted its final report. He included a list -- quoted in its entirety -- of no fewer than 25 "supervisory, administrative and organizational deficiencies" apparent in the US Army and Navy. Here, with Dr. Prange's comments on relations between the West and Russia, is No. 18.

18. Failure can be avoided in the long run only by preparation for any eventuality.

[Morgan wrote]: The record tends to indicate that appraisal of likely enemy movements was divided into probabilities and possibilities. Everyone has admitted that an attack by Japan on Pear Harbor was regarded as at least a possibility. It was felt, however, that a Japanese movement toward the south was a probability. The over-all result was to look for the probable move and to take little or no effective precautions to guard against the contingency of the possible action.

"Here was the old problem of enemy intentions versus capabilities. U.S. military leaders in 1941 were far too concerned with what Japan might do, not with what it was able to do. Yet history has shown that if an enemy can launch a certain kind of attach, in all probability he will do exactly that. His intentions cannot hurt his opponent; his capabilities can

"Thus, while the United States would infinitely prefer peace with the Soviet Union, if the Russians...are able to overrun Western Europe in a conventional war, the United States and its NATO allies must assume that they will do so under the right set of circumstances. Furthermore, if the Soviets have the capability of knocking out the United States in one huge preemptive nuclear strike, American leaders must assume that that is what they will do if conditions are propitious. Any other attitude on the part of the United States would be irresponsible.

"The ultimate lesson which Pearl Harbor should teach American political and military leaders, as well as every person in the United States, is this: Always be prepared for the worst contingency."

Innocent questions from Walt to Hussein Obama, John Kerry et al. -- not forgetting David Cameron, Steve Harper, Angela Merkel and whoever's running France these days: Are we prepared? Or are we just assuming the improbability of Putin doing something foolish, like moving his armies westward? Just asking...

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