Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Strategic Overreach and Martha Coakley...

In June of 1942, Admiral Chuichi Nagumo was the commander of one of the most powerful fleets to have ever sailed the Pacific Ocean. His ships had initiated a war with the attack on Pearl Harbor in December, 1941, and then had gone on a rampage across the Pacific and Indian Oceans that had virtually swept the seas clean of American, British, Dutch and Australian warships. His aircraft carriers were stocked with the best planes and pilots in the world, second- to-none at the their deadly business of raining high explosives down on their targets, or shooting the enemy out of the skies.

Nagumo's First Air Fleet was perhaps the most brutal killing instrument devised by man up to that time. It was a precision instrument of national policy.

And then came the Battle of Midway. In a span of five minutes the heart was torn out of Nagumo's fleet; his carriers were destroyed, his pilots blown up or left to drown in the Pacific when their planes ran out of fuel. The best aircrews in the world were atomized when their ships exploded. Brilliant commanders and junior officers often chose suicide -- going down with their ships -- rather than face the humiliation of defeat, depriving their country of highly-skilled and motivated men who could have helped their country recover from such a defeat. The Japanese Navy which had been so brutally, ruthlessly efficient, was now overtaken by a sense of panic, shame and loss from which it never recovered. The Battle of Midway is, rightly, considered one of the turning points of the Second World War, right up there with Stalingrad and Alamein.

The reason why the United States Navy was able to catch Nagumo's ships with their collective pants down are generally recognized as the American ability to read Japanese communications (Admiral Nimitz was forewarned of the Japanese plan), but an incredible amount of luck made it possible for American dive bombers to arrive over the Japanese fleet at precisely the right time; between air strikes with their decks crowded with aircraft, their munitions haphazardly stacked out in the open, and just at the moment when the Japanese fighters that would have defended their ships were at the wave tops chasing the last of the all-but-slaughtered American torpedo planes.

But the true reason why Nagumo lost that battle begins 2,500 miles away in Tokyo, where his superior, the brilliant Admiral Isoroku Yammamoto planned the invasion of Midway Island, and the destruction of the remnants of American Naval power in the Pacific. Yammamoto planted the seeds of defeat, which Nagumo then had to cultivate, by giving him two contradictory missions; the first, was to find the American Fleet and destroy it, the Second was to provide support for an invasion of Midway Island. One mission required him to have complete freedom of movement, the other tied him to a particular location on a particular schedule. When events unfolded that made Nagumo believe that he could not keep to his schedule, or when circumstance had conspired to present him with problems for which had no contingencies for, he hesitated. He over-thought his predicament and his options. He tried to kill two birds with one stone, and wound up hitting neither. Deprived of information and orders, hamstrung by radio silence, unable to contact his higher headquarters for assistance, and lacking the skills and mindset to improvise a new strategy on the spot, Nagumo guessed at what was the best option available to him...and lost the battle.

Nagumo's defeat was ultimately the result of Strategic Overreach; the Japanese had finally pushed out too far and aimed for a target that had they even succeeded in taking (Midway Island), would have been of little use to them without a corresponding defeat of American sea power. They had failed of their strategic objective (destroying the American Navy) by placing equal importance on an administrative one (keeping the invasion schedule) . Midway would have ultimately been yet one more diffusion of effort in a war that saw the Japanese diffuse many efforts across hundreds of tiny islands where men died horribly from starvation before they ever even saw an enemy soldier. We Americans celebrate the bloody battles of the Pacific War, like Iwo Jima and Okinawa, we celebrate the bravery of the Americans who stormed ashore and fought tenacious foes willing to die and who would not surrender, and rightly so. But the truth of the Second World War in the Asian-Pacific Theatre was that almost 2./3 of the Japanese Army stationed from Korea to Indonesia, never saw an enemy soldier, ever. When the war finally ended, most Japanese soldiers had never even fired a shot at anyone.

What ultimately doomed Japan was the idea behind it's basic strategic concept for the war; Japan, being the weaker power, believed that if it could quickly overcome it's opponents in a swift and decisive manner, the shock of defeat, the very awe that such a rapid conquest would inspire in it's enemies, would make them recognize the superiority of the Japanese fighting man and realize the futility of resistance against such an invincible force. Having been sufficiently beaten and cowed by an obviously-superior enemy, and convinced of the hopelessness of their cause, the Allies were then to -- logically -- surrender to Japan.

And that was the Japanese way for the remainder of the war: they would always just need "One Great Victory", and the Americans would quit. When that failed, then all that was needed was to make the Americans thoroughly sick and tired of the bloody effort required to dig the Japanese out of every cave and jungle. When that failed, the Japanese turned to suicide attacks, aiming airplanes, boats and even their own bodies at the enemy and committing glorious (if futile) suicide.

Every attempt to bring about "the One Great Victory" caused the Japanese to reach further and further beyond their capabilities, often in a state of panic, rushing to create the circumstances that would deprive the enemy of the will to fight. Every kamikaze simply made the Americans that much more determined to win the war, not because they were afraid of the Japanese and frightened by the prospect of continuous, bloody battle to the death, but because killing Japanese -- depriving them of the weapons of war, destroying their bases and stockpiles of equipment, ruining their industry - brought the end of the war one inch closer with every dead man.

The Japanese sin was to not recognize defeat and reformulate their strategy, but to redouble their losing efforts. The results of those misguided attempts to tilt at windmills was a pair of mushroom clouds over Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and even then there were those who would not surrender, even going as far as to attempt a coup against their Emperor, just to keep fighting for reasons that are seemingly stupid to us.

There is something of the Battle of Midway in the special election which will take place today in Massachusetts. The democratic party, like Admiral Nagumo, has contradictory missions: it must keep it's 60th Senate vote to pass health care nationalization plans that the public so obviously does not want, and keep[ itself in power. It has ignored the wishes of the public on the Stimulus Bill, the Omnibus (Porkulus) Bill, the GM and Chrysler Bailouts, Cap-and-Trade policies, and so many other issues that one can only surmise that they are willingly blind to the realities of American life and politics. They are simply pushing an agenda at all costs, like the Japanese Generals and Admirals who kept searching for their "Last Great Battle".

Today, Martha Coakley will most likely play the part of Admiral Nagumo. Today, if Scott Brown wins this special election, it will be, like Midway, a turning point in a war. The Democratic party has engaged in a bit of Strategic Overreach when it comes to carfting a bureaucracy to deliver eye drops and band aids to it's favored 'victim' groups; Scott Brown just might be the dive bomber who arrives at just the right time to turn the tide. And just like Admiral Nagumo, Martha Coakley's destruction will have been engineered a thousand miles away in Washington, D.C., where she has been nailed to an inflexible plan by the clueless Harry Reid, and finding the same inability to improvise for her own protection. Be certain that Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama will redouble their losing efforts, should Coakley lose today, just like the Japanese of yore. If they lose today, much like the Japanese Navy at Midway, expect a sense of panic and loss to overcome them from which they will never recover.

It is the same exact mindset at work.

There will be metaphorical mushroom clouds over Boston this evening, but this will indicate a bit of salvation rather than total destruction; they will be a sign that the people of the Massachusetts have awakened from a long slumber, and did what neither Admirals Yammamoto or Nagumo could not do; change the plan in mid-stream and snatch victory from the jaws of defeat.

And that's a good thing.

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