This weekend, while procrastinating when I should have been working on that new novel, I read
about the Battle of Midway. I'm not much of a military historian, so if you are such a person please forgive any details I may have gotten wrong in the following. I'm sure I have the gist of it correct.
Of course there are any number of astonishing vignettes in this book as you would expect in a story about such an astonishing battle (in which an outnumbered force largely comprising green recruits defeated a much larger, combat-experienced force that had much better equipment). But there was one little vignette that especially struck me in the light of all the current mess into which Bush has put us.
This story is a little long and may appear off-topic, but I promise to bring it back to the 2004 Presidential election.
The heroic cryptographers of the Combat Intelligence Unit at Pearl Harbor had gotten wind of the Japanese plans to take the Midway Islands (two teeny-tiny islands in the middle of the Pacific on one of which the USA had an airstrip (the second island wasn't even large enough for a landing strip!)). Midway was vital to the defense of the US, because scout planes based there could detect (and attack) a naval invasion.
The Japanese had devised an assault plan based on overwhelming force. It involved a diversionary attack on the Aleutian Islands, and a main attack involving more than seven hundred aircraft from eight aircraft carriers, eleven battleships that could batter the islands from as far as twenty five miles at sea, an amphibious landing party of several hundred marines, and nearly 200 ships altogether -- 24 cruisers, 65 destroyers. On Midway there were about 50 outdated aircraft and a few hundred marines. It's really hard to even type this without crying. The Japanese armada, at sea, stretched out over 1,800 miles. On paper, the situation pretty much resembled the Death Star and Imperial Force Starships against Luke Skywalker and friends.
Two US Naval task forces, each with one aircraft carrier (Hornet and Enterprise), were far away in the South Pacific. One of these forces had been beaten up pretty badly in, and the other had arrived there just too late for, the Battle of the Coral Sea. A third carrier, the Yorktown, was in dry dock at Pearl Harbor being repaired from damage sustained at Coral Sea, where she suffered a direct hit from a big bomb and two near misses that had ripped apart her seams. After the two traumas of Pearl Harbor and Coral Sea, the United States Navy was not exactly chomping at the bit for another big battle quite so soon. The Japanese were counting on this.
It took a lot of energy for the guys in Combat Intelligence to convince the top Navy brass that something big was afoot. At first, the top people were too preoccupied with recovering from Coral Sea to even listen to the intelligence people. Frustrated, the intelligence boys did the military equivalent of running into Admiral Nimitz's office naked, painted blue, with their hair on fire, and thereby got his attention. So Admiral Nimitz sent his top intelligence officer to a meeting to hear what they had to say, and this fellow got the fear of God put into him. He went to Nimitz and said, "Holy shit, this is for real!"
This occurred on about May 15, 1942. The Japanese ships were scheduled to set out from Japan on May 25. The invasion of Midway was to happen June 3. The Yorktown didn't even arrive in drydock until May 27, and repairs were scheduled to take about three weeks. Admiral Nimitz ordered the repairs to be completed in three days.
(I won't even attempt to describe the heroics of the men who repaired the ship, other than to say it was 120 degrees farhenheit and they did not stop for sleep.)
Once he had been convinced that the invasion of Midway was for real, Nimitz ordered his operational people to devise a battle plan. The surest way to ambush the Japanese armada would have been to sail to the southwest. But if they had done that, they would have left exposed Pearl Habor, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. So, the US fleet sailed northwest. In this way they could still set up an ambush, but if the intelligence was wrong they could still recover in time to defend Hawaii and the US's west coast.
So here's the vignette: after Nimitz had been convinced that the intelligence about the planned assault on Midway was for real, and after he had authorized his entire fleet to sail to meet it, he ordered a skeptical, pain in the ass, obnoxious intelligence analyst to pester and challenge the Combat Intelligence Unit, 24/7.. In other words, even though Nimitz believed that the intelligence was correct, and even after he had sent all his ships to sea, he was acutely aware of the danger to the US if the intelligence were wrong. The Japanese had used deceptive radio signals to set up the attack on Pearl Harbor, after all, and Nimitz was not going to be fooled again.
If the USA had lost Midway, it might have been forced to sue for peace with Japan.
But imagine that: a senior person acted as if intelligence was a matter of life and death, as if the fate of the nation depended upon it. Not only did he not solicit "what he wanted to hear" from his intelligence units, he explicitly commissioned senior people to prove him wrong.
It kind of makes you want to weep doesn't it?
Imagine if George Bush or Donald Rumsfeld or Paul Wolfowitz or any of those pigs had said to the CIA and all the other sundry intelligence units: "if I'm wrong, I want to know it! The fate of the nation is at stake! The ONLY thing that matters is the truth!"
I don't know how many US soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines died in the Battle of Midway, but it was of the same order of magnitude as the number of men and women who have been killed in Bush's war. I don't believe that those who died in Iraq were any less brave or noble than those who fell at Midway.
Wouldn't it be nice if I could think the same about their leaders.