Tag Archives: Defining a Nation

The Battle Of Midway, One of Many Great Battles To Remember On This Memorial Day

(These quotes come from Ben Bradlee’s essay, The Turning Point:  The Battle of Midway, included in Defining a Nation, edited by David Halberstam).

This is what they called a decisive battle.

On May 7, 1942 (five months after Pearl Harbor), American forces under General Wainwright surrendered in the Philippines.  The Americans gave up a “tactical victory” to the Japanese at the Battle of Coral Sea.

The scene was now set for the critical sea battle of World War II, the Battle of Midway.

On one side was the greatest sea force ever assembled – more than two hundred Japanese combat ships, including eight carriers, eleven battleships, twenty-two cruisers, sixty-five destroyers, twenty-one submarines, and more than seven hundred planes.  The fearsome Admiral Yamamoto was in command.  The size is no easier to grasp today than it was on June 3, 1942.  This armada was divided into three groups:  a four-carrier strike force approaching from the northwest; an invasion/occupation force approaching from the west; and a main battle force of the battleships between the other two.

On the other side, Admiral Nimitz had only three carriers, eight cruisers, and fifteen destroyers.  One of the carriers, the Yorktown, had been so badly damaged at Coral Sea that experts said it would take three months to repair her, but 1400 repairmen managed to patch it up in a Pearl Harbor dry dock in two days.  Nimitz split this force into two groups – one commanded by Admiral Fletcher, the other by Admiral Raymond Spruance, a last-minute substitute for Admiral Bull Halsey, who had come down with a severe case of shingles.  Many students of the Pacific war consider Spruance to have been its greatest American admiral.

Scene on board USS Yorktown (CV-5), shortly after she was hit by three Japanese bombs on 4 June 1942.

The rest of the essay tells the story of the battle.  The key “lucky break” for the Americans was an almost simultaneous attack on three Japanese carriers, all three of which happened to have planes and ordnance on the deck, loading fuel, making them sitting/defenseless targets.

Japanese planes on all three carriers were warming up for take off.  Gasoline lines snaked across all three decks.  Ordnance was stacked everywhere to reload returning planes…  In less than ten minutes time, the tide of the war would turn.

When the Japanese commanders finally learned that the Hiryu was sunk, the fate was clear.  The invasion of Midway was aborted.  The tide of the Pacific war had definitely turned.  The Japanese would never again be on the offensive.

I am certainly not a World War II expert.  In fact, I know few of the details.  I know that my wife’s father was a young, 20 year old signalman who watched his companion killed in front of his eyes from a direct hit by a kamikaze attack, just feet from where he was standing.  (No, he has never been able to talk about it with me).  But I know that the effort, the courage, the doggedness of countless people gave us our way of life, and, yes, many gave “the last full measure of devotion.”

And I also think this.  All progress, all victory, in war and in every thing else, is fought one campaign, one battle at a time.  We write the history in big phrases.  But it was the single pilot, flying next to the other single pilots, working together in first this battle and then that battle, with their individual acts of courage, that describe the “bigger named” battles (the Battle of Midway), that ultimately led to the biggest description – we won World War II.

It’s Memorial Day.  It is right to remember those who deserve our memories, and their memorials – those from the earliest days of this nation to the ones who carry on with individual acts of courage in places far from home today.

And so, as always, we remember these words from Lincoln, after one so very costly battle – one single battle that cost nearly as many lives as the loss of American life in the entire Vietnam War:

It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom— and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Personal note:  if you made me clear out my library of all but a handful of books, one that I would keep is this volume edited by Halberstam.  You can buy it used from Amazon for as little as $4.00, including shipping.  It is a great volume!  I encourage you to order a copy, and read it slowly.

Fantasy vs. Reality – Will there ever be enough Green Jobs to make a Difference?

Hot Flat and CrowdedThis is a blog primarily focused on business books.  And one of the biggest best selling books of the last couple of years is Thomas Friedman’s Hot Flat and Crowded:  Why We Need a Green Revolution – and How it Can Renew America.  In it, he argues – he is convinced! – that we need a lot, a whole lot, of new green jobs to jumpstart this stalled economy.  Here’s an oft-repeated quote from the book:

Green is the new red, white, and blue because it is a strategy that can help to ease global warming, biodiversity loss, energy poverty, petrodictatorship, and energy supply shortages – and make America stronger at the same time.  We solve our own problems by helping the world solve its problems.  We help the world solve its problems by solving our own problems.
If climate change is a hoax, it is the most wonderful hoax ever perpetrated on the United States of America.  Because transforming our economy to clean power and energy efficiency to mitigate global warming and the other challenges of the Energy-Climate Era is the equivalent of training for the Olympic triathlon:  If you make it to the Olympics, you have a better chance of winning because you’ve developed every muscle.  If you don’t make it to the Olympics, you’re still healthier, stronger, fitter, and more likely to live longer and win every other race in life.  And as with the triathlon, you don’t just improve one muscle or skill, but many, which become mutually reinforcing and improve the health of your whole system.

Van Jones, the now former (and very controversial) former Obama green “expert,” described it this way in his book The Green Collar Economy — How One Solution Can Fix Our Two Biggest Problems:Green Collar Economy

When you think about the emerging green economy, don’t think of George Jetson with a jet pack.  Think of Joe Sixpack with a hard hat and lunch bucket, sleeves rolled up, going off to fix America.  Think of Rosie the Riveter, manufacturing parts of hybrid buses or wind turbines.  Those images will represent the true face of a green-collar America.
From new transit spending and energy audits in inner cities to windmills and biomass operations in our nation’s heartland, green jobs mean a reinvestment in the communities hardest hit in recent decades.

Now comes the argument that there will simply never be enough green collar jobs to truly revitalize the jobs market.  Andrew Sullivan blogged about it here in his post Are Green Jobs A Myth?, with a number of links to other articles in his post.  (check them out). According to Kevin Hassett’s Hand Over Your Job If You Want to Dream in Green:

The president has promised to create 5 million green jobs. If he succeeds, then it will cost 11 million jobs in other sectors, and the medium-term increase in unemployment will be 6 million jobs.To put that in perspective, the number of unemployed Americans has increased in the past two years by 7.6 million. Creating 5 million green jobs would do almost the same amount of net harm.

The Economist runs a partial response here.

Defining a NationHere’s my two cents worth:  I don’t know if the new green collar jobs will provide enough work to revitalize our economy or not.  But I remember how much I liked the David Halberstam edited collection of essays:  Defining A Nation:  The Remarkable Circumstances that Shaped the American Character.  It trumpeted the hard work done by this great country of ours, seen in many projects and accomplishments:  we built an Interstate Highway system, a car culture, a media golden age.  (Look carefully at the picture on the cover — the Statue of Liberty in the back of a pick up truck on some dusty road — spreading across America.  Great image!)  Some of those projects provided jobs for very many Americans.  But today, we simply do not have any Interstate Highway Systems left to build.  (And if we did, with modern building machinery and technology, it would provide far fewer jobs).    The new projects are going to have to be something – new.  Will green jobs provide such a massive infusion of new jobs?  I don’t know.

And I do think we are in for a rough time for a while.  (See my post about a slip down Maslow’s hierarchy).  But underneath it all, as I reflect on Halberstam’s collection of success stories, the more convinced I am that we will build/discover/grow our way out of the current seemingly dire circumstances.  Green collar jobs may be part of the solution.  And if they do not provide enough, then we will have to find something else.  And we will — we always have.