I’m reading a fascinating book right now, The First Heroes by Craig Nelson. It’s the story of the famous Doolittle Raid on Tokyo, America’s response to the attack on Pearl Harbor. As I’ve read this book and studied a little about the beginning of World War II, I’ve discovered that America, for the most part, was asleep at the wheel.
Caught up in a tough economy, having endured the Great Depression and “Roosevelt’s Recession” in 1937, America was in no mood to act or react to the growing tensions in the world. Neither Germany nor Japan feared the United States. Our Army and Navy were still using weapons and planes left over from World War I. We were ranked 14th in the world as a military power, behind such nations as (believe it or not) France (which fell in six weeks to Germany), Britain, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden (Who knew they even had a military?), and Switzerland. Germany had 6.8 million soldiers while America only had 504,000. We were unprepared, ill equipped, and poorly led.
Of Pearl Harbor’s nearly 800 anti-aircraft guns, 75% of them were unmanned, and much of the ammunition was stored in depots far from the firing lines. But that wasn’t the reason for the “surprise” attack. Rather, we were lethargic and didn’t heed the warning signs. We had poor communication and a lack of cooperation within the chain of command. Several direct orders from President Roosevelt for more planes were ignored in the years leading up to Pearl Harbor.
We knew it was coming, but we pulled the shades down and hoped it would all go away. While the Japanese were being trained to bayonet a human being, American soldiers were visiting the bars in Hawaii. The Japanese had a policy called “senko-saisaku” meaning “Burn all, seize all, kill all.” Between Pearl Harbor, the Philippines, Guam, and other areas of the South Pacific, the Japanese slaughtered entire cities, killing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Those who were raped, tortured, and slaughtered number nearly one million.
If anyone had been paying attention, we would have known something was up. In 1925, a novel was written describing a simultaneous attack on Pearl Harbor, Guam, and the Philippines. In 1936, another study was written which said if an enemy found the American fleet “berthed in Pearl Harbor, the idea should be to open hostilities by surprise attacks from the air.”
In 1941, signal flares were firing in all directions, but no one was paying attention. The Secretary of the Navy sent a memo to the Secretary of War in January of 1941 stating, “If war eventuates with Japan…hostilities would be initiated by a surprise attack upon the Fleet…at Pearl Harbor…might be initiated without warning prior to a declaration of war.”
All through the year, Japanese spies were taking taxis and tours down to the harbor to spy out ship locations and movements. The military was in such a rut that our moves were predictable to our enemies. Even with indications that Japan was aggressive militarily, we were changing nothing in our behavior and strategy.
The Japanese even knew the routes our ships had taken for the last ten years and knew they could move their attack fleet along a certain path and go undetected. The Japanese predicted they would “capture Manila by the New Year, Singapore by February 11, Java on March 10 and Rangoon on April 19.”
In August, a report was given to a key leader stating that because we had no strategy to do reconnaissance, a Japanese carrier force could get within 300 miles of Hawaii and launch an “early morning attack” unnoticed.
Also in August, a double agent delivered to the FBI vital information about plans to attack Pearl Harbor. But the FBI agent thought the plans were so precise that they couldn’t be real and ignored them. The double agent went to J .Edgar Hoover who had the same “can’t be true” response.
In September, Naval intelligence received information that Japan was watching every detail of the Navy’s movement at Pearl, but the information was considered insignificant. In November, Army Chief of Staff George Marshall informed TIME, Newsweek, The New York Times, and the wire services that we were on the brink of war with Japan. He went so far as to state, “The danger period is the first ten days of December.”
On November 27, the Secretary of War sent a message to every commander in the Pacific, “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning…an aggressive move by Japan is expected within the next few days.” On December 6, a female employee of the Naval Cryptographic Section in Washington decided to decode a backlog of un-translated information. She found material between Tokyo and their embassy in Hawaii about airfield locations, ship movement, and anti-torpedo nets. When she showed the information to two superiors, they blew it off.
On December 7, a day everyone knew was coming (but no one did anything to prepare for it), the “surprise” that wasn’t a surprise happened. In less than two hours, seven battleships, 11 support vessels, and 227 planes were destroyed, and 2,400 American lives were lost. At the same time, the dominoes across the South Pacific started to fall as Japan carried out its attack plan. In just five months, the Japanese empire stretched six thousand miles.
Move forward to September 11. We were “surprised,” but not really. Terrorists had been attacking the United States for years. The Clinton administration had responded weakly to the attacks on the USS Cole, among other things. There had been one failed attempt on the World Trade Center. It is said that at one point we had Osama Bin Laden in our sights, but he got away because the president refused to be disturbed while watching a golf tournament.
Recently, President Obama has said he believes America can “survive” another attack. We’ve thwarted many, but the enemy still keeps trying to take us down. With persistence that would have made the Japanese and Germans of World War II proud, they keep trying to figure out ways to get to us.
Politicians use all this to position themselves, while at the same time trying to cover their backsides. They know more than we know, but they seem to pretend we can negotiate with terrorists. They want Israel to negotiate with countries bent on their destruction. What we’ve learned from history is that we learn nothing from history.
Now what’s the point? It’s simple. You’ll either get it, or you won’t. You’ll either respond like the U.S. Military prior to Pearl Harbor, or you’ll be prepared for what’s coming. It’s simple, either we live in a state of readiness or we don’t.
Satan is like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. He hates the church and everyone who names the name of Jesus. He is bent on our destruction. We cannot negotiate with him. He is armed to the gills with weapons to attack our mind, body, and soul. He is out to get you, and he is out to divide and destroy or at least cripple the church.
In many churches and among many believers, he is winning. If he can get a church to fight and fuss, he wins a battle. If he can get a church to only be concerned about “What’s in it for me?” he wins a battle. If he can get a church to lose its heart for outreach and missions, he wins a battle.
If he can get a church to just be content to do the same thing it’s always done, he’s won, for time is on his side with that kind of church. Death is inevitable. Most of the churches in my denomination are dead or dying. The majority are in decline. The enemy knows how predictable and lethargic we are by our folded arms during singing and our empty altars during the invitation.
He wins every time another preacher falls into immorality. He wins every time the church ignores the poor and needy and is content to just reach “our kind.” He wins in every church where every tribe and tongue and race is not welcome. He wins every time a so-called Christian refuses to tithe and spends their resources on pleasing themselves. He wins every time a church fails to understand the battle we are in.
This war has been going on since the Garden of Eden. It will not end until the Lord returns. We know that in the end we win—Jesus rules and Satan is cast into hell. By why in the name of all that is holy are we content to let him win battle after battle? Does the future of the church, your children, and your grandchildren mean nothing to you? Does it not break your heart to see our defeated foe running wild in this world? Does it not stir you to put on your full armor in light of all those you personally know who have fallen into sin?
The battle rages. We don’t need a New Year’s Resolution. We need a New Year’s revival that will lead us to be the army that hell should fear.
(Material for this article was drawn from The First Heroes by Craig Nelson, published by The Penguin Group, 2002. I have sought to make it obvious when I was taking any direct quotes from the book. It is a book I highly recommend if you want to learn the history behind one of the most famous raids in American history.)
Copyright 2011, Michael Catt
Michael served as the President of the Large Church Roundtable, the Southern Baptist Convention as an IMB Trustee, President of the Georgia Baptist Convention’s Preaching Conference, Vice President of the Georgia Baptist Convention, and President of the 2008 Southern Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He has spoken at conferences, colleges, seminaries, rallies, camps, NBA and college chapel services, well as The Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove. Michael is the recipient of The Martin Luther King Award, The MLK Unity Award, and a Georgia Senate Resolution in recognition of his work in the community and in racial reconciliation.
Michael and his wife, Terri, have two grown daughters, Erin and Hayley.