I failed to mark the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor yesterday, an error made worse by the rapidly diminishing numbers of people who were there and remember the attack first-hand. In 2016, the attack that precipitated U. S. involvement in the (already two years on) Second World War is almost as remote in time as Spanish-American War when I was in High School, and exactly as long ago as the Philippine-American War, which I never even knew of up until this morning.
While there's small danger of WW II being lost in a footnote, recent history rests on the shifting sands of fools and hasty thinkers; one TV network promoted their coverage in ads with a script that featured the line, "Seventy-five years ago, Pearl Harbor was under siege," which completely misstates the event with a single word: Japan was in no shape to stage a siege and never planned on one. Pearl Harbor was a hit-and-run effort. They'd hoped to cripple the U. S. Pacific fleet with a single stoke, leaving that ocean open to their advance. They nearly succeeded; British and U.S. possessions fell to Japan throughout the first half of 1942. It wasn't until the battle of Midway in June of that year that the odds began to turn.
There should be no need to point out the remarkable confluence of changing technology and pure luck that led to victory in the Pacific: all of the Navy's aircraft carriers were at sea on maneuvers on 7 December 1941. The submarine fleet was undamaged. Repair facilities and oil supplies were left largely intact. With those tools, and an angered nation (not to mention Congress!) behind the effort, Japan was beaten back. While submarine warfare was well-established in WW I, the airplane and aircraft carrier combination were still relatively new, a huge change for naval thinkers. They were able to adjust, with remarkable results.
Nevertheless, the attack was a major blow to the U.S. Navy. Admiral Hara Tadaichi summed up the Japanese result by saying, "We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war."
There are many lessons to be learned from Pearl Harbor; that may be the most important one.
4 months ago