Remember the Lessons of Pearl Harbor - USAA Community.jpg


The picture of how World War II started begins for me with images of ships burning in an area of tropical beauty surrounded by incredible sacrifice for those men who fought valiantly to defend against a surprise attack by the Japanese Navy. December 7th, 1941 is a constant reminder for the importance of memory, preparation, and training so the military is always ready for war. 


The following are some of the major lessons from the Japanese attack on the US military forces in Hawaii on December 7th, 1941.


Lesson #1 – Surprise Attacks Will Continue to Be A Favored Tactic for America’s Enemies. Even at the start of World War II, the US Military possessed formidable military power.  The attacking Japanese knew that a surprise attack was essential to temporarily defeat the United States.  This lesson was reinforced during the 9/11 attacks when commercial aircraft were used as a terrorist weapon.  This lesson will continue to be relevant for both military and civilian defense as cyber, terrorist tactics, and new weapon technology continue to make surprise attacks potentially viable.  


Lesson #2 – Always Over Estimate the Abilities of Quick Win Innovations.   One of the major innovations that allowed the Japanese to be successful on December 7th, 1941 was the use of simple and highly effective military innovations.  The Japanese built and tested wooden modifications to aircraft launched torpedoes that allowed the torpedoes to run just below the water’s surface and to run over the top of deployed anti-submarine torpedo nets.  Japanese midget submarines allowed the Japanese to gather intelligence very close to the US Navy.  Innovation is often thought of a new when innovation needs to be creations that enable military effectiveness.  The Japanese took existing technology and applied a “quick win” idea to make them more effective.


Lesson #3 – Friends Become Enemies & Enemies Become Friends. At the end of World War, I, the Japanese were a distant ally and the new Soviet Union was an enemy.  At the start of World War II, Japan was the enemy and the Soviet Union was now an important ally.  The global structure of US allies and enemies is constantly shifting in both military, technology, and commercial affairs.  This lesson is essential for the United States to constantly develop multiple strategies with multiple sets of allies to win.


Lesson #4 – Passion, Innovation & Leadership Can Reduce Major Offsets. As the Japanese planes flew away from Pearl Harbor, it appeared that the US Navy and US Army were damaged for years.  Yet, only months later, the US Navy had raised, and repaired ships sunk in the Pearl Harbor attack, the US Army had bombed mainland Japan with the “Doolittle Raid” and the US Marine Corps was on the offensive against Japanese forces among the scattered Pacific island chains. All these critical military activities were created by leaders across the Pacific and the United States acting with passion, innovation, and determination to reduce the offsets of December 7th, 1941.


Lesson #5 – All Military Personnel Need to Be Trained as Leaders. The Japanese surprise attack exposed an Army and Navy leadership style that trained leaders to await orders.  Following Pearl Harbor, the US Military became a fighting force that used training, available military forces, innovation, and technology to create a style of fighting that prized initiative and independence to achieve military success.  In the Pacific, leaders down to the lowest level understood whether Marine, Sailor, or Soldier that every person needed to attack to ensure the defeat of Japan.


The best way to remember military history is not to judge the past actions of military leaders. Instead, military history and its lessons need to be understood and applied to the challenges of today so that every person is better prepared to succeed in the face of the challenges before them today.


Share Your Lessons from December 7th, 1941 in the comment area below.


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About the Author:

Chad Storlie is a Retired US Army Officer, the author of Combat Leader to Corporate Leader and has published over 360 articles in over 185 publications on military veterans, career advancement, business, leadership, strategy, education, financial planning, and national security topics.  Chad excels as an author, mentor, speaker, and teacher showing business leaders and military veterans how military skills make lives, careers, and businesses better.  Chad is an adjunct Professor of Marketing at the University of Minnesota – Carlson School of Management.  Chad has a BA from Northwestern University and an MBA from Georgetown University.  Follow Chad @CombatToCorp and