Pearl Harbor: Lessons from the Attack

By | December 7, 2018

[December 7, 2018]  There will be times when even the most successful will suffer from significant setbacks but only from those harsh lessons can great success truly emerge.  And so it was on this date, December 7, 1941, that the United States suffered greatly from the destructive attack on its naval base at Pearl Harbor.1

“It’s fine to celebrate success but it is more important to heed the lessons of failure.” – Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft

The epic attack at the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii was the event that propelled an isolationist nation into the most destructive war ever experienced by humankind.  What we must be careful to do is to never forget the hard-won lessons of an event that occurred almost 80 years ago.  If you ever have the honor to meet a Pearl Harbor attack survivor, please take time to speak with him or her.

As we find in any tragedy, there are lessons that can be learned.  They span the spectrum from tactical lessons (e.g., have more effective anti-aircraft guns) to operational (e.g., don’t put your battleships altogether at the same time) to strategic (e.g., be prepared for war at all times).  Here are a few lessons that no nation should ever forget:

First, know your enemy and never underestimate him.  The United States did not know or understand much about the Japanese at the time.  What was known was mostly inaccurate and tended to be based on racial attitudes of the times.  Anyway, how could such a tiny nation, already at war in China, attack a large, powerful nation and do it successfully?  This is the kind of thinking that also got the U.S. into trouble leading up to 9/11.

Second, political and social unanimity is a powerful force.  Leading up to the attack, the U.S. was isolationist, prone to divisiveness among the political elites and a citizen, overregulated, and was undergoing a general malaise.  The attack on Pearl Harbor shocked the nation and brought them together to become, amazingly fast, the most powerful nation on Earth.  U.S. citizens also were galvanized by the will to use their tremendous military and economic power.

Third, the signs of war are often generally visible for all to see well ahead of time.  Rising tensions between Japan and the United States had been going on for years.  The U.S. had restricted trade to Japan and was working with Japan’s enemy, the Chinese.  While reasons for the Japanese attack were multifaceted, the U.S. failed to prepare itself in anticipation of an attack.

While there are hundreds of lessons from the attack that could be gleaned from studying Pearl Harbor’s attack, the largest danger is that we will forget them.  War is a horrible thing, but the experiences of those who were there should never be ignored.


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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.

25 thoughts on “Pearl Harbor: Lessons from the Attack

  1. Yusaf from Texas

    The attack on Pearl Harbor was a sneak attack by the Japanese. Yet, this is allowed in war. The problem was that there was no declared war between the US and Japan. Ultimately the Japanese civilian population suffered greatly and came close to being wiped out.

    1. Jonathan B.

      Correct. This is something no longer taught to young people.

  2. Douglas R. Satterfield Post author

    Pearl Harbor Day is a special day for me. Not because it is a time to reflect upon WWII or because I know any surviving veterans but because this seminal event put the U.S. and the rest of the Western world on a trajectory that was for the good of all mankind. My respect goes out to those who made the victory possible.

    1. Billy Kenningston

      Good to see you’re still on here Mr. Kennedy. We look forward to your next article.

  3. Mr. T.J. Asper

    US Pres Franklin D Roosevelt knew in a general sense that the Japanese might launch an attack on American military positions throughout the wide Pacific, but he did not know that the naval base at Pearl Harbor would be targeted in the early morning hours of Dec. 7.

  4. Gil Johnson

    Here’s a sample from The American Pageant, a typical left-wing American history textbook widely used in American high schools:
    Officials in Washington, having “cracked” the top-secret code of the Japanese, knew that Tokyo’s decision was for war … Roosevelt, misled by Japanese ship movements in the Far East, evidently expected the blow to fall on British Malaya or on the Philippines. No one in high authority in Washington seems to have believed that the Japanese were either strong enough or foolhardy enough to strike Hawaii.

  5. Joe the Aussie

    All those at Pearl Harbor at the time have my special thanks and admiration.

  6. Scotty Bush

    On December 7, 1941 the Empire of Japan bombed the U.S. Pacific Fleet which was stationed in Pearl Harbor on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. In addressing Congress the next day, President Roosevelt called it “a date which will live in infamy.”

  7. Eric Coda

    If you are a college snowflake, just look away. LOOK AWAY. Hahahahahahahaha.

  8. Lady Hawk

    For those who don’t understand why Pearl Harbor attack by the Japanese Imperial navy was so important, just think why you have freedom today. Nuff said!!!

    1. Mike Baker

      There were guns involved? The horror! We should ban all guns! /sarcasm off

    2. Lynn Pitts

      Maybe we should have fought the Japanese and Germans with nasty letters and yelling at them.

    3. Martin Shiell

      Please don’t insult the snowflakes. They serve a good purpose. When you are looking for a job and they are your competition, you win.

    1. Tracey Brockman

      Thank a vet. Pres George HW Bush was a great man. Whacko liberals brutalized him while the president and now they say he was a great man. ???? Liberalism is a mental disorder.

  9. Max Foster

    Let’s not be too PC here. WW2 was a nasty, brutish war. War is not easy and not clean. It requires warriors and warriors want to do nothing more than kill the enemy. This brings us back to our basic human tendencies. Frankly, that is okay.

  10. Kenny Foster

    We owe so much to those who were responsible for helping defeat Nazi Germany, Japan, fascist Italy and the entire Axis Powers. Everyone there played a part.

  11. Greg Heyman

    Very good. Lots of respect for those who were there and those who died are to be forever remembered for their sacrifice.

  12. Army Captain

    Another lesson is that it is hard to predict some events. This was one of them.

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