Pearl Harbor – Three Big Mistakes or God Taking Care?

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On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service attacked Naval Station Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, Oahu, Hawaii Territory, without warning and without a declaration of war, killing 2,403 American servicemen and injuring 1,178 others. The attack sank four U.S. Navy battleships and damaged four others. It also damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, and one minelayer. Aircraft losses were 188 destroyed and 159 damaged.

One little bit of history is recorded in a small book titled “Reflections on Pearl Harbor” by Admiral Chester Nimitz. Here’s the story:

“Sunday, December 7, 1941, Admiral Chester Nimitz was attending a concert in Washington, D.C. He was paged and told there was a phone call for him. When he answered the phone, it was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. He told Admiral Nimitz that he (Nimitz) would now be the Commander of the Pacific Fleet.

“Admiral Nimitz flew to Hawaii to assume command of the Pacific Fleet. He landed at Pearl Harbor on Christmas Eve, 1941 and found a spirit of despair, dejection, and defeat.

“On Christmas Day, Adm. Nimitz was given a boat tour of the destruction. Sunken battleships and navy vessels cluttered the waters everywhere. As the tour boat returned to dock, the young helmsman of the boat asked, “Well Admiral, what do you think after seeing all this destruction?”

“Admiral Nimitz’s reply shocked everyone within the sound of his voice. He said, “The Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could ever make, or God was taking care of America. Which do you think it was?”

“Shocked and surprised, the young helmsman asked, “What do you mean by saying the Japanese made the three biggest mistakes an attack force ever made?” Nimitz responded:

“Mistake #1: The Japanese attacked on Sunday morning. Nine out of every ten crewmen of those ships were ashore on leave. If those same ships had been lured to sea and sunk out there, we would have lost 38,000 men instead of 3,800.

“Mistake #2: When the Japanese saw all those battleships lined in a row, they got so carried away sinking them, they failed to bomb our dry docks opposite those ships. If they had destroyed our dry docks, we would have had to tow every one of those ships to America to be repaired.

“As it is now, the ships are in shallow water and can be raised. One tug can pull them over to the dry docks. We can have them repaired and back out at sea by the time we could have towed them to America. And I already have crews ashore anxious to man those ships.

“Mistake #3: Every drop of fuel in the Pacific theater of war is in above ground storage tanks five miles away over that hill. One attack plane could have strafed those tanks and destroyed our fuel supply.

“That’s why I say the Japanese made three of the biggest mistakes an attack force could make or God was taking care of America.”

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” Rom. 11:33-34

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Pearl Harbor and Hacksaw Ridge

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As you’ve no doubt gathered by now, the decision was made earlier this week to continue with another volume of Perspectives articles. Thank you for the encouragement expressed by so many of you for me to keep writing. It’s not a simple chore, so I do appreciate your appreciation!

This past weekend Terry and I watched two movies at home. Pearl Harbor was produced in 2001 with Ben Affleck as Capt. Rafe McCawley, a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot who bravely responded to the December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii.

Hacksaw Ridge was directed by Mel Gibson and released in 2016 with Andrew Garfield as Pfc. Desmond Doss, a Seventh Day Adventist who was ostracized by fellow soldiers for refusing to bear arms. In the Battle of Okinawa Doss risked his life, unarmed, to save 75 men.

Both films graphically and gruesomely show horrific realities of war. One such reality, in real life and also in cinematic portrayal, is the traumatic injury and death inflicted upon young men. Many are still teenagers anxious to serve their country yet unprepared for the powerful persistence of the enemy.

In that context, a quote originally attributed to Greek historian Herodotus was repeated by a soldier in Hacksaw Ridge: “In peace, sons bury their fathers. In war, fathers bury their sons.”

Though I am a son who has buried his father, I have not borne the pain of burying a son or a daughter or a grandchild. I have great empathy for parents or grandparents who have, including some of you.

As a Christian I’ve often marveled at God the Father’s experience of seeing his son buried. The song writer says it well:

How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure… that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.

Behold the man upon a cross, my sin upon His shoulders. Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice call out among the scoffers.

It was my sin that held Him there, until it was accomplished. His dying breath has brought me life. I know that it is finished.