Thursday, December 07, 2006

Remembering Pearl Harbor

[Please see this post on forgetting Pearl Harbor.]

We've all learned about Pearl Harbor, but here are some details that I found especially interesting in light of 9/11. Despite having a lot of information that a Japanese attack was coming somewhere, some time soon, the military and the government really couldn't pin down the specifics. This made preparedness very difficult. Sound familiar? It seems to be the nature of the beast.

From Wiki:

U.S. signals intelligence, through the Army's Signal Intelligence Service and the Office of Naval Intelligence's OP-20-G unit, had intercepted and decrypted considerable Japanese diplomatic and naval [citation needed] cipher traffic, though none of those decrypted carried significant tactical military information. Decryption and distribution of this intelligence was capricious and sporadic, and has been blamed on lack of manpower. At best, the information was fragmentary, contradictory, or insufficiently distributed. It was also incompletely understood by decision makers, and poorly unanalyzed. Nothing pointed directly to an attack at Pearl Harbor, and lack of awareness of the Imperial Navy's capabilities led to an underlying belief Pearl Harbor was safely out of harm's way. Only one Hawaiian message (6 December 1941), in a consular cipher, included mention of an attack on Pearl, and it was not decrypted until 8 December 1941.

I hadn't realized--although it stands to reason--that a good many casualties were from friendly fire. This is one of the sad and inevitable ironies of war:

Ninety minutes after it began, the attack was over. 2,403 Americans died (68 were civilians, many killed by American anti-aircraft shrapnel and shells landing in civilian areas, including Honolulu)...

My elderly mother was an adult at the time of Pearl Harbor. She'd always been interested in history (her major in college). Later, she often reminisced with me about historical events she'd lived through. In fact, her earliest memory was of booming guns going off in New York Harbor to celebrate the end of WWI--they frightened her, but the adults chuckled and told her not to fear, the war was over.

In fact, all war was over--it was "the war to end all wars." My mother recalled being taught in her early teens that her generation was the luckiest on earth. Why? because the Kellogg-Briand Pact had just outlawed war.

Well, that'll teach you to listen to your teachers. Because, of course, her generation faced World War II not all that many years later. And, because my mother lived to see 9/11, she was able to tell me that this would be worse than Pearl Harbor and World War II.

It remains to be seen whether she was correct. Both of us would like to think she wasn't.

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