[December 7, 2020] December 7, 1941, at 7:53 a.m., Japanese warplanes attacked the U.S. Naval fleet at Pearl Harbor.1 Much has been written in America about the attack – the lessons learned from it and how a weaker yet innovative enemy can blindside a large and powerful nation.
In a famous speech, U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt declared the attack as a date that “will live in infamy.” He made it “very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.” He was wrong. Nearly 60 years later, terrorists struck the United States in another surprise attack on our soil and threw the nation into another war.
“Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
Of course, there are lessons we can learn from this tragedy. I wrote about a few of them two years ago in an article titled, Pearl Harbor: Lessons from the Attack. These lessons are – 1) never underestimate your enemy, 2) political unanimity can fail, and 3) the signs of war are often visible for all to see.
Is it true that leaders are too often prejudiced in their vision of reality that they cannot predict such events. Or, are such terrible acts simply Pink Flamingo or Black Swan happenings to deal with only when they occur?2 We all know too well the tragedy of failed leadership. Today, we see it in our city and state political leaders who adopt programs and policies that repeatedly fail the inner-city poor.3
Prior to WWII, for example, Japan had been on a collision course with the U.S.. Japan saw the U.S. as its main rival for supremacy in the Pacific. In the late 1930s, the U.S. adopted economic sanctions intended to end Japanese aggression against China. These had precisely the opposite effect on the military-dominated government of Tokyo.
At Dawn We Slept is the name of a book by Gordon W. Prange that says as much in the title. I doubt anyone could have come up with a better name. The dawn attack on Pearl Harbor was successful because the U.S. was unprepared. It does not mean that we did not have the proper equipment, training, or deployment of forces. It meant a failure to appreciate the ‘will’ of a determined enemy.
“The will to succeed is important, but what’s more important is the will to prepare.” – Bobby Knight
I’m reminded of the story of Alex Horanzy. U.S. Army private Horanzy was sleeping early on the morning of December 7, 1941, as he and his unit were up all night guarding airfields on Pearl Harbor. The Japanese attack woke him and his buddies. They ran for the antiaircraft guns, some being killed along the way.
They operated the guns until the attack was over. Shortly after that, he was sent to fight the Japanese throughout the rest of the war. Mr. Hornazy passed away at 98 years of age. There are many like Alex Horanzy. We should all salute heroes like him.
- This article’s thumbnail is taken from the book’s cover, At Dawn We Slept: The Untold Story of Pearl Harbor (2001) by Gordon W. Prange. Actually, Prange did the research, and Donald M. Goldstein and Katherine V. Dillon wrote the book. Prange passed away in 1980. The book is thoroughly researched, and the thick volume covers considerable detail about the year leading up to the attack. I recommend it.