When you get your butt kicked all sorts of lessons from history come to mind. But when that butt-kicking is self-imposed the analogies narrow
The lessons most important from the Republicans’ self-immolation in the failure of their Obamacare repeal (sic) are that our own history proves these are sometimes unavoidable, but necessary, losses to point out weaknesses in our old thinking about things, and how we have to change all that if we are to win in the end. Washington after Brooklyn Heights, Lincoln after the first Bull Run, both losses shaped future victories.
I’ll bet most of you never heard of Savo Sound.
One of my favorite themes has been the about-face the American military had to make after the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941. Thanks to the magic of radio, by the 8th the people of the United States had already gone all-in, and their representatives in Congress, especially the isolationist crowd, knew better than to challenge the people on this.
From that day, America’s prime directive going forward was “Finish it”, which we did with the surrender of the Axis forces in 1945, just under four years. That’s still my benchmark for how to do a complete about-face and win when the people speak with one voice.
As you can imagine, the American military was slower to react to this about-face, in part because while the ranks of enlisted swelled, the officer and NCO ranks were slower to grow simply because of the additional time it took to train them, but also because of all the things they had to unlearn, inasmuch as Americas had not actually been blooded in war for a generation. As with all democratic, peaceful nations, the re-learning of war was painful and costly.
While our history books aren’t flush with names of American military officers who lost their jobs in the first several months after Pearl Harbor because of their inability or unwillingness to adapt to the new credo, still, there were several, and some of them cost many American lives before they could be weeded out.
Many of those came at our first naval engagement with the Japanese fleet in August 1942, just nine months after Pearl Harbor. It was called the Battle of Savo Island, or Savo Sound.
Just three months earlier, June, 1942 we had won a major victory at Midway in a carrier-to-carrier action. This victory hastened a series of battles around Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Islands, for by securing that island a path direct to the Japanese homeland could be assured and the Pacific War would no longer be in doubt.
Some say the Navy had to have its Savo Sound, or, as Navy seamen called it, “Iron Bottom Sound” or “Five Sitting Ducks”, for the ships we lost there and just a little tongue-in-cheek snark. That site in the Solomon chain is still one of our Navy’s most sacred…for the men who went down, with 13 destroyers, 4 cruisers, several PT boats, and other support craft, all of whom still populate the bottom of that place.. And we still leave wreaths there every time a Navy vessel passes over.
Savo Sound was a total ass-whooping, and it would be seven months, February 1943, before Guadalcanal and Henderson Field could finally be secured and the route opened to Japan.
In the aftermath, what had to take place, what always has to take place, is that we had to cull some dead wood, and move forward with fresher faces and a clearer vision of the new mission the American people had defined for its military..
Admiral Kelly Turner, Chief if Naval Amphibious Forces in the Pacific later assessed why his forces were so soundly defeated at Savo Sound:
“The Navy was still obsessed with a strong feeling of technical and mental superiority over the enemy. In spite of ample evidence as to enemy capabilities, most of our officers and men despised the enemy and felt themselves sure victors in all encounters under any circumstances. The net result of all this was a fatal lethargy of mind which induced a confidence without readiness, and a routine acceptance of outworn peacetime standards of conduct. I believe that this psychological factor, as a cause of our defeat, was even more important than the element of surprise”. (Emphasis mine.)
American Army forces encountered the same kind of defeat in North Africa, at Kasserine Pass, in early 1943, (my dad was there) when Maj Gen Lloyd Fredenhall was totally outmatched by German General Irwin Rommel, but who had never bothered to read Rommel’s book. He was quickly “relieved and replaced” by Gen George S Patton…who had.
The losses were great, but the learning curve was simple, and as time went on, it’s speed almost immediate, no longer hesitating. All because of that original Prime Directive, “Finish it” issued by America’s final authority, on December 8, 1941.
Those same people issued the same directive in November 2016 to Congress because just like December 7th, 1941 it was the people who most quickly understood the magnitude of the existential assaults on their homeland. (We talk about that a lot here.)
The people sounded a clear signal to the political class that any deviation from their declaration of war against the political class who heve every uintention of stripping away all their freedoms, from Hillary-Lite, to Bernie-Dark to Barack-Mean, would be met with a string of punishments reserved for the people. That process has begun.
While the Japanese were shooting up China, only a few paid attention to what they were intending. The American people paid little attention. But once they hit our homeland, without any nuance, without any shades of grey, the American people knew, and immediately ordered, “they started it, we finish it”, or in Admiral Halsey’s words, to make sure “the only place the Japanese language could be understood would be in Hell.”
I lived in Japan for three years, love the people and the culture, so am glad Halsey’s prayer was not realized. But I also knew the generation who agreed with Halsey; those who lost loved ones at Pearl, or Savo, or s0-many other engagements, but who also felt it their duty to send their loved ones to end this. Even in my small town their gold stars adorned their porch windows where I dropped their newspapers.
I don’t wish Democrats, even their hard core, to be descended into Hell. Besides they’ve greased the slope pretty well all by themselves. But I do want Democrat-speak, the lies, the hate, to be a language known only in Hell, from whence it no doubt emanated in the first place. And right now a lot of Republicans use part of that playbook, perhaps not understanding that we’ve turned that page in our history.
We must remind those Republicans in Congress, at first gently, that they just had their Savo Sound and the necessary changes must begin moving out smartly.
Much like naval and army officers in 1942 who suddenly found their battle-line careers redirected to a desk jobs in Washington, or the Aleutians, or worse shortened by early retirement or out-and-out dismissal, once the people issue a new Prime Directive, what follows is a crap-shoot for those who don’t take it to heart. A black mark in the history books is never a nice thing to receive.
This recent miscue with the secretive roll-out of the purported repeal and replacement of Obamacare was so ham-fisted that it proved that every unlearned lesson outlined by Admiral Turner (above) are still unlearned today in a broad spectrum of the Republican Party leadership.
The fate of the Republic stands on the re-thinking of the Republican leadership or their quick replacement if they cannot be retrained. Whatever emerges, however arrived at, cannot contain a political elite with one foot still firmly planted in the swamp the people have ordered drained. The people are of one mind, and while the Republicans have always said they also are, clearly they’re not.
This must change, and quickly, or as I have outlined above, certain immutable laws apply. Donald Trump knows this already. The people have spoken, and if the GOP thinks “Finish it” is just a rhetorical device, well, at that point everything becomes a crap shoot, doesn’t it?
Publications: Famous Common People I Have Known and Other Essays
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