Learning, applying difficult lessons from Pearl Harbor

Wednesday, December 6, 2023

Events leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor 82 years ago today have been a subject of debate ever since the attack itself.

What did our leaders really know? Were they secretly hoping for an excuse to enter the conflict, and simply underestimate Japan’s capabilities?

Or were they simply caught off guard, complacent on a lazy Sunday morning in the Pacific?

We’ll never know the complete truth, but Dec. 7, 1941, should inform our response to threats and actual attacks to the present day, including events like 9/11 and the Hamas attack on Israel.

For one, you can never know enough. We always need to improve intelligence gathering and sharing among relevant agencies to prevent surprise attacks. In the case of 9/11, intelligence failures and lack of coordination contributed to the success of the attacks.

Nothing moves slower than bureaucracy, and military bureaucrats can be the worst. However, effective leaders can recognize the dynamic nature of threats and be prepared to adapt strategies and security measures accordingly. In the post-9/11 era, there’s an increased focus on addressing evolving terrorist tactics and technologies.

Competition can foster better performance, but inter-service rivalries must not be allowed to slow the timely response needed to address global threats. The war on terror post-9/11 involved coalition efforts, emphasizing the importance of collective action against transnational threats.

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and that’s especially true when it comes to defense and homeland security.

We cannot hesitate to wisely allocate resources for defense and homeland security to prevent and respond effectively to attacks. This includes technological advancements, cybersecurity measures, and infrastructure protection.

At the same time, we shouldn’t pick a fight when it can be avoided. We need leadership that can understand and address the root causes of conflicts and extremism to prevent the emergence of groups like Hamas. Addressing political, economic, and social grievances can contribute to long-term stability.

And we must work to avoid the unfounded fears that led to the internment of thousands of American citizens based on their heritage. We need to find a balance between protecting national security and preserving civil liberties. Measures implemented post-9/11, such as the USA PATRIOT Act, sparked debates over the trade-off between security and individual freedoms.

Admiral Husband Kimmel and Gen. Walter C. Short paid dearly for their failure to fend off the Japanese attack. Still, they shouldered more than their share of the blame that belonged to the same military intelligence that failed us at the Twin Towers and Pentagon on 9/11.

The powers that be must work to develop effective counterterrorism strategies that combine military, intelligence, and law enforcement efforts. The fight against groups like Hamas involves a multifaceted approach, including diplomatic efforts, intelligence operations, and targeted military actions.

While historical events provide valuable lessons, it’s crucial to recognize the unique characteristics of each situation.

Applying these lessons requires a nuanced understanding of the specific challenges posed by modern threats like terrorism and adapting strategies accordingly.

We’ll probably never hear about the Pearl Harbors and 9/11s that our intelligence services and special forces have prevented.

And that’s how it should be.

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: