It’s in all the papers; today is the seventieth anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

All the TV stations will show the familiar footage – the USS Arizona, ablaze from several bomb hits, exploding, spewing a geyser of greasy smoke hundreds of feet in the air, killing 1,000 men in a matter of seconds; the blazing and capsized battleships on Battleship Row…

…the rows and fields full of wrecked aircraft…:

All that’s true.

One thing Americans rarely see, or have to study, is that Pearl Harbor was just one of many similar attacks all around the Pacific Rim.  At the same time as the Japanese carrier-based planes were attacking Pearl Harbor, more planes, launched from Taiwan (then called Formosa) attacked America’s huge base at Clark Field, in the Phillipines:

25 US bombers and dozens of fighters were destroyed on the ground.

:The Japanese also captured Hong Kong, crossing from occupied China and taking the British colony (with its garrison of Brit, Canadian, and Chinese troops) in a short, sharp, brutal battle:

Singapore – Britain’s easternmost colony and naval base – was attacked.  More devastating to the Brits, the naval expedition they sent to reinforce Singapore, the battleship Prince of Wales and battlecruiser Repulse, were sunk off the south coast of Malaysia by Japanese torpedo bombers:

The Prince Of Wales and Repulse (background) burning on the left side of the photo. The ship moving in the foreround is a British destroyer.

At the same time, the Japanese invaded Guam…

..and attacked Wake Island, of which more later this month.

It was, in short, the the biggest – in terms of area covered – attack in the history of warfare.  And it plunged the half of the northern hemisphere that wasn’t already at war with Hitler into the greatest session of human bloodletting in history. This blog focuses mostly on the smaller stories, and the unknown ones, in the war.  There were many at Pearl Harbor – most notably to this blog’s audience, the fact that the first shots fired that morning were fired by Minnesotans.  A gun crew of Minnesota Navy Reserve sailors from Saint Paul, crewing a cannon on the U.S.S. Ward, a refurbished World War I destroyer on antisumbarine patrol off the entrance to the harbor, spotted a Japanese midget submarine that was attempting to infiltrate the harbor.

The crew of the starboard four-inch gun on the USS Ward. Some of the men, mostly from Saint Paul, are still with us, thank God. Their gun is on the state capitol grounds, on the frontage road by the Vets building near Wabasha street.

The Minnesotans – using the very cannon that currently sits in the yard at the Veterans building, at the foot of Capitol Mall in Saint Paul – hit the submarine twice, sinking it before it could get into position.  I wrote about them four years ago.

Here’s the long and short of it; to a generation of Americans who think – with reason – that 9/11 was a catastrophe…well, it was.  But our nation’s power and ability to respond to the aggression was not affected.  Clearly not – our military riposte was sudden and overwhelming.

Now – imagine an attack that sank three or four of our Supercarriers, the mainstays of our Navy, in the matter of an hour, and cut off and isolated, say, Korea, leaving its tens of thousands of American troops isolated, cut off from supplies, devoid of air cover, and pretty well helpless, and left us more or less unable to respond in kind without massive effort and sacrifice, at all?

Because that, adjusting for modern military doctrine, is what happened on December 7.  That was where this nation was at seventy years ago at this hour; not just bloodied, not just beaten , but truly unable to respond.

And very few Americans alive today can imagine that.

8 thoughts on “Infamy

  1. Mitch,
    If you take a look at the geopolitical landscape of the time, there are frightening parallels to what is going on today. The country was coming out of the Great Depression and still very inwardly focused, choosing to put money into social programs at the cost of a strong international presence and military. I would submit that if our adversary were smart (like say…China), they would give us a couple more years to either implode our own economy, have another terrorist attack do it for them, or, even if there is a turn around in DC, watch how the new party cements its power by focusing inwardly while they (China) maneuver on the international stage, then strike quickly (good-bye Formosa. Sorry but we can no longer ‘get there from here’ in an access denial environment) and widely, shoring up their new gains before we can shift our inward focus back to the international arena. Prediction: significant drawdown (cuts so deep that even the ‘elite troops’ are hamstrung) of the force post-Iraq/Afghanistan (think WWI or any other conflict) combined with shifting of funds from new weapons acquisition to ‘paying our Social bills,’ all on top of a defense industrial base that has been brought to its knees and cannot react like we did in WWII. I think we are entering a decade of serious national risk where we had better keep our fingers (no pun intended) crossed that none of our peer competitors have the urge to implement their newly developed power projection plans.
    that is all

  2. ~2000 killed at Pearl Harbor
    ~3000 killed in lower Manhattan on 9/11
    Ships and planes can be replaced as long as the American economic machine remains strong. Is $15T of debt a ‘National Security Threat?’
    You betcha!

  3. Fingers, I know where you are coming from. Most people now are worried about the economy, global warming (or at least the social and economic costs associated with AGW), or . . . whatever. Racism. A quasi-socialist congress and President.
    What hits us next may be something entirely out of the blue — literally. An asteroid on a killer path towards Earth. Or a mega volcano erupting, or a Pearl Harbor style attack by North Korean missiles. The greatest conceit of both the GOP and the Dems is that they can extend existing trends into the future and by doing so we can control our own destiny.
    Leda and the Swan (Yeats):

    A sudden blow: the great wings beating still
    Above the staggering girl, her thighs caressed
    By the dark webs, her nape caught in his bill,
    He holds her helpless breast upon his breast.

    How can those terrified vague fingers push
    The feathered glory from her loosening thighs?
    And how can body, laid in that white rush,
    But feel the strange heart beating where it lies?

    A shudder in the loins engenders there
    The broken wall, the burning roof and tower
    And Agamemnon dead.
    Being so caught up,
    So mastered by the brute blood of the air,
    Did she put on his knowledge with his power
    Before the indifferent beak could let her drop?

    No one can see the age that is coming.

  4. Mitch: We just came back from the Minnesota Historical Society’s presentation on Pearl Harbor. It was terrific. Richard Thill who was on the USS Ward that morning spoke. What a corker! We took the 25 year-old’s and 10 and 12 year old to hear him speak too. I told them that in 50 years on the 120th anniversary of Pearl Harbor they can tell their grandchildren about listening to a live veteral tell of his experiences. The MNHS is to be praised for putting together a fine film and program about the event. As much as I hate the legacy tax, at least a bit of it went to a highly laudable cause such as funding this program.

    Even more amazing was there was a color guard presenting and retiring the flag. Still MORE amazing is that a chaplain gave an invocation and a benediction. Praise God for liberty.

    There was a small plug for honor flights, another very laudable program.

    They also plugged their new program where over the next 4 years (corresponding to WWII) they will show the newpaper headlines for each day. Several MN newspapers will be shown. Go to to see today’s first edition. Hats off to the MNHS for the memories they honor with this project.

    Your friend,
    Brian in Minneapolis

  5. fingers/Terry;

    The attacks are being waged daily in cyberspace. Literally thousands of hack attacks per day are launched against financial institutions, defense companies, our military and Pentagon and critical infrastructure originating from China, Iran, North Korea and several areas of the former Soviet Union. I submit that the next attack will be waged via computers and it will be against something like our vulnerable power grid, Hoover or some other major dam or our telecom infrastructure. This is the scariest thing of all, because many companies will sacrifice security if it eats into profits, weighing the liabilities of a breech against them. It is not out of the realm of possibility that if our entire emergency response system is in disarray with enemy ships off of our coasts or massed enemy armies in Mexico, Cuba or other central american countries, that we could again face a military confrontation.

  6. Terry–The Black Swan is almost required reading in my circles. I think you’re right the next one (as it usually does) will come out of the blue becuase we’re so over-prepared to fight the last one. Our failure of imagination will once again be trotted out for the world to see and the “thinkers” will be blamed, though they probably pushed their ideas as far as they could, but were overwhelmed by the financial environment and the efforts of ‘great americans’ to save what capabilities they have at the cost of preparing for the possible. We hear every day how our people are our most valuable resource and then we are forced to link every request for resources with concrete (historical) requirements.

    Boss–you are spot on! We are already ‘at war’ in cyberspace and continue to fail to acknowledge the fact because we don’t dare rock the boat of ‘geo-politics.’ Computers will likely be used extensively by our adversaries in Phase II operations in order to give them a chance in Phase III (deceisive conflict) where they would normally stand little chance against the best trained, equipped, and seasoned force in the world!

  7. Pingback: Pass as Prologue | Shot in the Dark

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