Imagine for a moment that you are a 19-year-old kid again. You grew up in a little town in PA, where there wasn’t much work, so you joined the Army. That was 16 months ago. You went through boot, and basic radio operator training, and then got assigned to man a radar post up on some mountainside in the back of beyond. Oh, and they’ve been messing with your shifts because a country that the US has been yelling at, and now has a trade embargo with, (much like we now have with Russia, and are threatening with China) pulled their fleet out to sea, and the spooks promptly lost them.
Your shift got over about two minutes ago, you’re supposed to shut down the radar and grab the duty vehicle for a ride back to base, and breakfast. But your other watch-stander, who is even more junior than you, says “Hey, I just got a huge return! It looks like a whole fuck ton of aircraft coming in from the north.” You check the gear, and it’s working fine, you try to call your Sargent, but he isn’t answering the phone… The dude’s probably sleeping it off, while you have been up on watch all night long, pulling a 14-hour shift staring at nothing! Well, there’s this new “Intercept Center” that they just stood up, maybe you should call them?
Or, maybe you’re a 32-year-old musician, born in Robinson Creek KY, graduated High School in Bremerton WA, and took some classes at UW before it became too expensive… you joined the Navy, and you found a home there. You have been in for 15 years and you’re very good at your job. You got married, they brought you to The Navy Band Headquarters, had you form a band, and sent the entire band out together to a ship. Last night you watched some of the other Navy Bands compete in the “battle of music” for the Pacific fleet title. This morning you have the boys lined up to perform the national anthem on the fantail of your ship.
It could be you’re a 31-year-old Chief Warrant Officer Machinist, and you’ve seen action with the Marines at some place in the Caribbean ten years ago. Why you ended up with them, fighting on shore, is a story in itself! you’ve served on every class of surface ship the Navy has. You are one salty bastard, but you’re stuck with the duty on a Saturday and are eagerly awaiting your relief Sunday morning, so you can go home and get some sleep.
Or maybe, you’re a 28-year-old pilot, a First Lieutenant, who’s been in the Military for five years. you just got to your new duty station, as the XO of a squadron, you’ve been there a whole two days! Oh, and they told you that you have the duty as the Officer in Charge of a new “intercept center” but no one told you what to do, you never qualified on this, and your boss basically said “fuckin handle it, I’ve got a golf game and a girl to bang, not necessarily in that order. You’re a Lieutenant, figure it out!”
You know that there’s a lot of unhappiness going around in the Pacific, the Spooks are all talking about war or something like it, with a country on the other side of the pond that has been beating up on their neighbors for the last 10 years. Now you have some 19-year-old kid calling you on the phone, saying he can’t get ahold of his boss, but his radar is showing a large group of aircraft 132 miles out, coming in from the north. You know there’s a flight of bombers inbound from Edwards, and the Plotting guys have all gone home. There’s no Standard Operating Procedure to fall back on because it hasn’t been written yet. Eh, it’s gotta be that flight of bombers from Edwards, right? You tell the kid “Don’t worry about it.” and go back to doing your paperwork, and trying to figure out how to start this unit up.
The 19-year-old’s name is Private Joseph Lockard, a Specialist third (eventually Second Lieutenant Lockard).
The Band leader’s name is Musician First class Frederick Kinney, he died running to his battle station when his ship was struck multiple times by torpedoes and bombs, sinking in 14 minutes.
The Warrant officer’s name is Donald K Ross (eventually Captain Ross.) His actions in keeping the engines working while the dynamo room was burning around him, passing out twice, being revived, and going back in, saved his ship from sinking and blocking the approaches to the harbor. For these actions, he received the Medal of Honor, and I had the privilege to know him.
The First Lieutenant is Kermit Tyler (eventually Lieutenant Colonel Tyler) He was exonerated by an investigation due to a lack of training and experience. He stayed in the military until 1961 and doesn’t appear to have done anything else of note in his career.
The place, of course, was Pearl Harbor. 81 years ago, as I write this, we were attacked without a declaration of war, with a strike that was intended to disable our offensive capabilities long enough for the Empire of Japan to achieve their goals in the Pacific, after which they believed they could get us to agree to a peace in place, leaving them the sole owners of the West Pacific out to at least Wake or Midway island. We had plenty of warning that we were going to end up at war with Japan, even though we weren’t sure when.
We firmly believed we could convince them that going to war with us was a losing proposition. That we could “Find a middle ground.” That they would be reasonable. (Which means do it our way.)
We also believed that we would get plenty of warning, by benefit of a declaration of war. In spite of all of these beliefs, we started a naval build-up in 1933. Prior to ‘33, we had kept our fleet well below the size permitted under the Naval Treaty of 1922. In ‘34 we elected to build up to the limits of that treaty, and the keels were laid down for 6 cruisers, one carrier, 65 destroyers, and 30 submarines, along with 1184 naval Aircraft.
By 1934 15 new cruisers and a carrier were commissioned (the Carrier was USS Ranger). By 1936, 6 more cruisers and 2 more Carriers were authorized (Yorktown and Enterprise) in ‘37 two more Battleships were authorized, and in ‘38 an additional two (as replacements for obsolete BBs) were ordered. Then came the “Naval Expansion act of 1938” and between it, the “Naval Expansion act of June 1940, the Eleven Percent Act” and the “Naval Expansion act of July 1940- the Seventy Percent Act” the vast majority of the Second World War fleet was authorized, and building started before the war. 22 of the 33 Big carriers the US had in the war, were ordered and construction had started, or they were already in commission when the war started.
For the Battleships, the keel was laid or they were already in commission, for every battleship the US had, except the Missouri and Wisconsin. They were ordered, but the keel had not been laid yet.
So why am I going on and on about this?
When I originally described a few of the people involved in the start of the war, I avoided mentioning where they were for a reason. They could just as easily be manning posts today. We would like to think that we learned from our mistakes prior to WWII, but based on facts on the ground, we didn’t. We have the same warnings of wars and rumors of wars RIGHT NOW, that we did in ’35 through ’41.
Almost exactly the same. There’s a war going on in Europe, between a dictator, and a country that was minding its own business until invaded. There’s a group of crazies in the Pacific that seem hell-bent on world domination, or at least control of the Pacific. The crazies in the Pacific are of the firm belief that they are a superior race and ideology, and that they are the natural rulers of the world, just like Imperial Japan. They have been building up their navy for the last 20 years, just like Imperial Japan. The war in Europe is a war of conquest, just like Nazi Germany, and the leader of the attacking nation has declared that his goal is the subjugation of Europe, just like Nazi Germany.
What is different is the US behavior. In the lead-up to WWII we had shipbuilding concerns up and down both coasts: We had 15 Naval shipyards and close to 100 private yards. We had keels laid down and ship orders for a fleet of a size the world had never seen, and we could build a ship in (at max speed) 59 days. Today we have 4 naval shipyards, none of which can build a ship from scratch, we have 19 shipyards of any type in the nation that can build vessels. (That’s vessels down to Patrol Combatant size stuff. The bigger ships we have even less capability for.) It takes us up to ten years to build a ship now. If it isn’t already in the pipeline, you are NOT going to get it in time to matter.
We haven’t ordered any build-up, or upgrade in manpower, convincing ourselves that “quality beats numbers.” So far, in Ukraine, that’s proved true, but do we really want to test that against China in a winner take all battle for the world?
On a related topic, I was asked a question in Quora today that is sort of pertinent to this discussion, and I’ll quote it in full here.
“What is the meaning of the explosion at Kursk, Ryazan & Engels Airbase?“
If it was Ukraine and not an internal dissident group, I would say the meaning is similar to the meaning of the General Dolittle Raid on Tokyo in ‘42. “You are not untouchable, you can be reached, you can have to happen to you, what you have done to us.”
The ambiguity on who did it, is I am sure, intentional. Russia has been big on claiming any of their attacks, except when they were attacks against civilian targets. They’ve claimed attacks that weren’t even actual attacks. They’re big on “see how big and bad-ass we are, you should just despair, and surrender.”
Ukraine on the other hand, likes to play the game of “Oh, something bad happened to your stuff and your people? Wow, what a shame, Karma is a bitch, huh? Wonder if you have an internal dissident problem?”
The Russian people could be Ukraine’s allies, I am not convinced that they (the people of Russia) want this war, at least not now that it is not the “short victorious war” that they were promised.
If Vlad and his security apparatus have to worry about internal threats, they will crack down harder. This often is a self-fulfilling prophecy. They create the very rebellion they seek to stifle. (Also known as why COIN is hard!) No government can operate without the at least tacit approval of their people in the long run, and in the long run, no government ever has.
In reality, since this war is a war of a nation, against a dictator, the most likely event that ends the war in Ukraine’s favor is the removal of the dictator, followed by a “look, this shit was his idea, he’s dead. How about we pull our shit out of your country and pretend this never happened?”
If Ukraine is smart, they’ll take that deal. Insisting on massive repatriation in the form of payments for damages is understandable, but not wise. This was the trap that the allies fell into after WWI, and set the stage for Hitler’s rise to power.
The next decade is the riskiest time since the start of the second world war for us and our survival. We have enemies abroad, and internally, that would like our nation destroyed, or altered beyond recognition. Whether they are successful or not, is controlled to a large part by our actions, govern yourself accordingly.