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Lessons of War: What We Should Have Learned

What led to our use of atomic power?

Japan’s attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor brought the United States into the war, which had been raging in Europe for several years. Major hostilities were initiated by Germany through its invasions and attempted invasions of many of its neighbors. Germany also had an arms pact with Japan, so when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared a state of war with Japan after Pearl Harbor, Germany was automatically an added enemy. Unknown in Washington at the time, Germany’s Fuhrer Adolf Hitler had already drawn up plans to invade the U.S. mainland if the war had gone his way. And his scientists were working frantically and well along the way in developing a nuclear bomb of its own. Japan also had a fledgling nuclear program, but it was not even close to fruition.

The United States and its Allies had won the war with Germany and plans were made to receive its surrender. The Allies then created its Potsdam Declaration on July 26, 1945, seeking unconditional surrender of the Imperial Japanese armed forces. Japan was told it would suffer “prompt and utter destruction” if it did not sign.

Japan ignored the ultimatum and the war continued.

Interestingly the U.S. had to seek permission from the United Kingdom to use nuclear weapons, according to a mutually agreed upon contract known as the Quebec Agreement. Permission was granted. The result came in August when a modified B-29 dropped Little Boy, a uranium gun-type bomb, over Hiroshima. When Japan continued to refuse to surrender, another B-29 dropped Fat Man, a plutonium explosion bomb on Nagasaki. Hundreds of thousands of individuals died. To this day, it remains the only military use of atomic weapons in a wartime situation. Excerpted from:


By the time of the Potsdam Declaration and Japan’s refusal in late July, 1945, Japan’s cities were in ruins from massive B-29 conventional and incendiary bombing. There was little left to be destroyed. Still, Emperor Hirohito and his generals believed their place in power within Japan’s imperial state could be preserved by winning peace through a “no surrender, fight to the death” defense of an inevitable US ground invasion of the Japanese mainland. Japan had an army of 2 million soldiers on the homeland guarding against invasion and Hirohito was prepared to conscribe 20 million of its citizens to assure victory. Facing a projected loss of one million American and ten million Japanese lives from a Normandy-type amphibious landing and yearlong ground war, Truman decided to drop the atomic bombs to end the war quickly and save lives on both sides. Ironically, the US demanded surrender conditioned on the Emperor staying in power to assure ordered transition and reconstruction of Japan into a peaceful nation.



‘Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it'” – Winston Churchill

Nations throughout history have built dominating militaries to impose their will on weaker nations to expand influence, territorial, offensive, defensive and economic advantage, impose government and religious systems, gain natural resources and other benefits. This was true of Germany and Japan in WWII, and true of Russia, China, Iran, Israel and other countries today. The lessons of the Pacific War are found in how and why we entered the war and how we won it.



Just two years before Pearl Harbor, the U.S Army ranked 17th in the world1. The U.S. had let its guard down, was struggling through the Great Depression and remained pacifist and isolationist following WWI. Roosevelt’s military investment and 1940 draft proved insufficient and too late. Japan had built a superior military, battle-hardened through Asian campaigns of expansion and hungry for conquest. The U.S. Navy’s formidable Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor represented its primary obstacle for Pacific domination. The Japanese mistakenly viewed the U.S. as soft and lacking willingness to enter a protracted war. They had general disdain for the U.S. military, supreme confidence in their imperial code of battle ethics and viewed the momentary lack of U.S. preparedness as an opportunity to attack U.S., British and Dutch Pacific territories, hoping initial overwhelming victories would cause the U.S. to sue for peace. The U.S. emerged WWII as the world’s military and industrial superpower with a demonstrated willingness to protect its interests, major deterrents to would-be aggressors. No U.S. territory has since been the subject of foreign aggression.

U.S. Strategic Bombing Survey


The Pacific War was won in large measure to the willingness of the United States to invest in the invention of game changing technologies: radar, sonar and notably the B29 long range bomber and atomic bomb. This, in turn, was the result of our historic commitment to higher learning (including our military academies), our openness for new ideas and willingness to work with like-minded people from other countries, such as Albert Einstein. Technology advantage dramatically shortened the war and ultimately saved lives over the otherwise planned allied land invasion of Japan. Maintaining a technology advantage requires a well-educated population and resistance to the efforts of some to replace education with ideology.‬‬‬‬‬


The successful surprise bombing of Pearl Harbor was a failure of U.S. intelligence to understand the capabilities, movement and intention of the Japanese military. U.S. code breakers were vital to the defeat of both Germany and Japan, making turning point victories like the Battle of Midway possible. Our current investment in satellite and intelligence resources allows us to monitor developments around the world. Even the best intelligence, however, can be subverted by politics requiring vigilance to insure the quality of intelligence.


Perhaps more than any other factor, WWII was won through the superior industrial might and production capacity of the U.S., the largest in the world at that time. This included not only plants and equipment, but people skilled in all aspects of manufacture. American industry provided almost two-thirds of all the Allied military equipment produced during the war: 297,000 aircraft, 193,000 artillery pieces, 86,000 tanks, two million army trucks…over four years, more war materials than the Axis powers combined. For every ship, plane, tank….lost there was one waiting to replace it. Following the attack on Pearl Harbor, American civilian manufacturing industries were quickly transformed and mobilized to the war effort. Manufacturers shared designs and techniques through inexpensive licenses with other companies, allowing essential items to be mass produced on multiple production lines, simultaneously. As many as ten B-29’s were produced per day. The incredible logistic accomplishment to transport this industrial might to far-flung theaters of war on two sides of the globe was also a critical factor in winning WWII. Since the war, the U.S. has unwittingly lost and transferred much of its manufacturing industry, capacity and expertise to foreign production, particularly China. Returning that manufacturing might to U.S. shores is imperative to national security.

The Home Front was Critical to Winning WWII


In 1940, the United States produced two of every three gallons of fuel made in the world2. It was oil independent. With Japan’s total dependence on foreign oil and U.S. disruption of import supply lines, Japan’s reserves began to run dry in 1943, significantly disabling its military effort. The Axis powers, as a whole, were heavily dependent on import of war materials (oil, metals, and minerals), readily cut off by Allied forces. A nation’s security is heavily dependent on its domestic sources of the materials of war.

Destruction of the Japanese Fleet


Following the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, 16 million American men and women3 were quickly mobilized, trained and deployed, most significantly to ground combat in Europe and the Pacific. Having a fit, qualified military age population was essential to the war effort, the ability to fight on multiple fronts and easily replace losses. According to the Pentagon, a high percentage of Americans age 17 to 24 today are ineligible to join the military. Nearly 50% are overweight, while others are too poorly educated or have records of serious crime or drug abuse4.


WWII demonstrated the importance of strategic cooperation among Nations. The Allies (U.S., Great Britain, France, the Soviets, China, Australia…) coordinated their efforts to defeat the Axis Powers. This included coordination of the different branches of the military. Great leaders emerged (Nimitz, Spruance, Halsey, LeMay, King, Eisenhower, Patton, MacArthur, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Winston Churchill) providing strategic vision, objectives and wisdom necessary for the fight and win. The three main Axis states (Germany, Italy and Japan) each fought their own wars for regional dominance and shared little with the other Axis powers during the course of the war. The Japanese lacked effective leadership, committed major strategic blunders, had poor coordination between its armed forces and unnecessarily subjected its population to horrific annihilation to keep the Emperor in power.


No democracy can long sustain a war or present a credible deterrent without the united support of its people and government. The attack on Pearl Harbor galvanized the US population and Congress more than any war since, inspiring people to pull together for a common cause, to sacrifice and re-train for the war effort.

The Home Front was Critical to Winning WWII

Today, American adversaries invade the very freedoms of our democracy, freedom of speech and (uncensored) media, to covertly inject toxic political divisiveness, influence elections, create social unrest and the subversion of America’s greatness through platforms like social media. The lessons of WWII, recast as superior cyber deterrent, technology, intelligence, security, leadership, ally coordination and national unity in recognizing the threat are essential for preserving national security and way of life against this new form of warfare.