I Didn’t Believe What Nobody Said ‘bout Nuthin’

By | July 28, 2020

[July 28, 2020]  Date: the early morning hours of December 7, 1941.  This day was beautiful by any standard.  Most wars start with a surprise attack.  When the Japanese attacked ships in Pearl Harbor and planes on the airfields of Hawaii, things happened elsewhere too.  You have probably never heard of the Battle of Schofield Barracks.  Maj. Gen. Aubrey “Red” Newman, U.S. Army, was there and related what he saw and some lessons learned.1

That historic Sunday morning, Gen. Newman was sitting in a bed located in Schofield Barracks, Hawaii.

At about five minutes before 0800 hours, there was an explosion, with the feel of a real concussion.  Another explosion.  Then a sharp staccato sound, unlike any other in the world. This snarl of sound – unmistakable to the profession ear – was a burst of machine-gun fire as the plane which dropped the first bomb strafed the off-post town of Wahiawa.

Gen. Newman discusses the initial one-sided combat as the Japanese naval planes attacked the military installations around the island.  His recall is clear; he was there to witness the attack with a ringside seat.

One of the first bombs hit the oil storage at Wheeler, and a mushrooming cloud of black smoke boiled upward…  On each wing of the airplane, sharp and clear in the morning sunlight, was a red disk – the Rising Sun of Japan.

There were irrational reactions to the attack.  Such a reaction occurs when the surprise is sudden and accompanied by large-scale devastation.

Such war stories abound and are often retold as a lesson for less experienced military personnel.

Like the supply sergeant who wanted receipts before he would issue arms and ammunition.  Or the young lieutenant who shouted to soldiers setting up a machine gun in the barracks quadrangle, ‘Don’t shoot or they’ll shoot back.’ 

Incoming reports were coming into the headquarters were often inaccurate.

There were reports of troops landing by parachutes and gliders.  This was a “confirmed” report.  One artillery OP reported a submarine offshore and called in fire.  He reported “on target” and next that the target had fired back.  Later it was determined that the OP had spotted the back of a large porpoise.

Anyone who has been in combat knows that once an attack begins, information is often wrong or exaggerated.

By 2200 hours that night I didn’t believe what nobody said ‘bout nuthin’ – when the blacked-out door to headquarters was yanked open by the middle-aged chief of a technical service staff section.  He was fat, white-faced, out of breath, and gasped, “Gas! Gas!” as he staggered across the room and into his gas mask.  It was also a false warning.

Now, as to lessons learned:

First, the mental and emotional shock resulting from a sudden and unexpected attack is often far more devastating in effect than the physical damage justifies.  Thus, one of the principles of war is Surprise.

Second, you can’t depend upon human vigilance alone.  There must also be passive protection, as well.  The Navy’s ships and Army Air Corps planes on the ground were tightly packed together.  Dispersing the ships and aircraft would have sufficed to reduce the level of destruction.

————–

  1. https://www.amazon.com/What-Generals-Made-Aubrey-Newman/dp/0891412689
Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.

21 thoughts on “I Didn’t Believe What Nobody Said ‘bout Nuthin’

  1. Len Jakosky

    Good lessons learned. I would like to see Gen. Satterfield elaborate more on these type of lessons in the future. That is what makes this leadership website so easily read and understood.

    Reply
  2. Bryan Lee

    I never heard of the Battle of Schofield Barracks. The attack on Pearl Harbor overshowed it. Lessons even when we are at the edge of chaos (e.g., war).

    Reply
    1. Jonnie the Bart

      I hadn’t either Bryan. So many things happen in daily life that we can never know them all but we can pick out those that best give us important lessons. Here is another one by Gen. Satterfield as told by Gen. Newman that says something important about human nature.

      Reply
    1. Eric Coda

      Thanks Danny for the reference. You are right that Schofield didn’t get the brunt of the Japanese attack on the island but the attack itself was meant to mean more than simple destruction of base facilities, ships, and aircraft. It was meant mostly as a shocking message to the leadership of the United States that they were dealing with a determined foe that could rain down destruction any time, any place, at any moment they wanted. The Japanese were sending a psychological message as well. That is a point that Gen. Satterfield makes at the end of the article.

      Reply
      1. Greg Heyman

        Correct, and the second message is that humans are infallible and will always be that way. Thus, we need to have in place systems that help us out when we are not vigilant.

        Reply
  3. Willie Shrumburger

    Wonderful article that lays out some of the principles of leadership. Thanks.

    Reply
  4. William DeSanto

    Appreciate the sharing of GEN. NEWMAN’s chapters on what it takes to be a General (or any senior leader). Maybe you can give the book a review in the future. 😊

    Reply
    1. KenFBrown

      Yes, a book review of Newman’s writings and not just this book would be great.

      Reply
  5. Valkerie

    Excellent article you have here General Satterfield. Thank you.

    Reply
  6. Max Foster

    Once again, Gen. Satterfield, you have an article that is not just worth reading but also valuable to share with others. Well written. I would like to go out and get the book that you wrote about the other day. “What are Generals Made of? ” Also, thanks for clearing up the idea that he was for believing that leadership is inborn. Too many make this mistake while we are discussing personality traits that are largely inborn. Those traits make it easier or harder to develop leadership skills.

    Reply
    1. JT Patterson

      Great analysis and you have touched on something that is both overlooked and often denied.

      Reply
    2. Sadako Red

      Max, yes! Too many times, we all do this, we misinterpret what others say or write or think. Communication can only be good when we act (and listen) as if we can learn something from another person. We are “taught” to think we are morally superior to others and thus have little or nothing to learn from them. Sad.

      Reply
      1. The Kid 1945

        Hi “Red”, great to hear from you. I’m a big fan. I look forward to reading any article written by you. It will make my day.

        Reply
  7. Doug Smith

    Great article title and one that I hope is not misunderstood. Expect the real person to come out when faced with extreme stress. Like we saw during the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, 7 Dec 1941.

    Reply
    1. Darwin Lippe

      Yes, I agree with you Doug. It is only a matter of time before we are ‘tested’ as humans. What will we do? Will we run from the problem (cowardice) or stand up to be heard (bravery). Personally, I don’t want to be seen as a coward but cowardice is encouraged these days.

      Reply
      1. Yusaf from Texas

        The title attracted me to this article and it was great to read more about Gen. Newman. Thanks Gen. Satterfield for sharing with us the experiences of the war that Newman saw.

        Reply
    2. Kenny Foster

      … and like we are seeing today in the streets of big cities in American with the rioting, looting, and arson. Many politicians refuse to ‘see’ what is in their face. And thus refuse to acknowledge that they own inaction is the cause of death and mayhem.

      Reply

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