WWII


I’ve recently finished a book, On Borrowed Time, and I can’t help but recognize similarities between how Hitler and Goebbels manufactured reasons for each of Germany’s advances into countries, and how Putin and Medvedev have used the plight of Russian citizens in Georgia for invading. Are these two situations similar? Is this something politicians do as a rule prior to invading? Or is it just a case of the coincidence of proximity: we see more examples in real life of something we have recently read? Sort of like when you want to buy a new car, you suddenly see that model everywhere you drive.

Then today in the New York Times online there is an article on how the French brokered “cease fire” actually gave Putin/Mevedev justification to continue to push farther into Georgia. More coincidence, France is involved in negotiating for the appeasement of a belligerent. I wonder what stand Britain will take? But I do know, that despite Bush’s response, I doubt the citizens of the United States are interested in a war in Georgia. All this really sets up the perfect time for Putin to push to begin restoring the Soviet Union.

It seems like Putin is using the Hitler playbook.

Sometimes, without an easily identifiable enemy, it’s hard to remember we’re at war right now. I have listened to numerous people complain about the wiretapping the government is currently engaging in, but this line from a book I just started caught my eye. The passage is describing the early days of WWII and U-boat attacks off the Atlantic coast:

“As the attacks against merchant ships along the coast continued, the U. S. Navy got away with hiding them. Merchant mariners were ordered not to talk about it. Keeping a journal aboard ship was a violation of the Trading with the Enemy Act, punishable by ten years in prison” (p. 21). (Emphasis added by me.)

Are we more concerned with the rights of each and every individual in the United States rather than the rights of all of us not to live in fear? If we were at war with a nation, an easily identifiable foe with geopolitical borders, would we be as concerned with wiretapping aimed at catching spies and agents of that country in the United States?

— Moses, S. (2006). At All Costs. New York, NY: Random House Trade Paperbacks.

In finishing the book Sea of Thunder by Evan Thomas, I was amazed at how many assumptions and mistakes were involved in the Leyte Gulf campaign that ended in the deaths of thousands of sailors on just our side:

  1. Admiral Halsey assumed that Admiral Kinkaid and his destroyers and aircraft carriers could handle the threat of both the Japanese attacking fleets (Adm. Kurita & Adm. Nishimura),
  2. Halsey assumed that Adm. Kinkaid had received and understood his dispatch that the Japanese were returning back through the San Bernardino Straight,
  3. Kinkaid assumed that Halsey had left his ‘Task Force 34’ at the entrance of San Bernardino Straight,
  4. Halsey and his intelligence staff overlooked the Japanese ‘Plan Z’, and the misdirection it called for, in chasing after Ozawa to the North, leaving the Seventh Fleet unguarded from the North,
  5. Capt. Mike Cheek, Halsey’s staff intelligence officer, didn’t press his opinions strenuously enough due to his extremely reserved nature,
  6. Due to the divided command between Nimitz and MacArthur, messages couldn’t be transmitted directly between Kinkaid and Halsey, but had to be relayed through a radio station 1,000 miles away and added a 1-2 hour delay between transmission and receipt,

I’m certainly not second-guessing the men who fought and led our side in WWII. As Evan Thomas put it, “Who can know what it is really like to stand, bone-weary, on the bridge of a ship in action, responsible for hundreds if not thousands of lives, unsure of the enemy’s strength and whereabouts, yet forced to make fatal decision?” (p. 354). The ‘fog of war,’ exhaustion, and sickness all led to the mistakes in the battle of Leyte Gulf. In the end, Halsey’s decision to chase the Japanese carriers to the North robbed him of the one thing he had been wanting all his life, a major sea battle. But his decision cost the lives of thousands of US sailors.

It’s a good reminder to those of us in business to always question assumptions. The stakes aren’t as high as in war, and most of the time someone’s life is not at risk. But assumptions can destroy a company, or leave it limping so severely as to be unable to compete. I’ve been in situations where my assumptions came back to bite me in the end. Luckily, when I have made assumptions, it hasn’t led to serious consequences, but I learned my lesson and always try to think through the situation and look for those hidden assumptions.

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One thing I’ll add upon reflection, is how much the mistake Halsey made tore him apart. The author does a good job of showing how much he cared for the men who served under him, and how much it hurt him to sign orders where he knew men would die.

— Thomas, E. (2006). Sea of Thunder. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster.

I’ve been reading a new book given to me for Christmas that is a first person account of life in the Coast Guard during World War II piloting landing craft (Higgins boats) during amphibious landing operations throughout the Pacific theater. The book, Lucky Thirteen written by Ken Wiley, is a wonderful glimpse into the everyday life of those involved in the war, and it reminded me of two books I read years ago, Ice Brothers and Pacific Interlude written by Sloan Wilson, a man I met briefly in Winter Park, FL when I worked with his wife. Anyone interested in engaging accounts from the average serviceman’s perspective will love Lucky Thirteen.

A passage from Lucky Thirteen struck me when I read it, and made me realize how much the world has changed in the past 60 years, and especially so in the last 30. This quote describes a part of Ken’s life in Itasca, TX in the depression era of the 1930’s. “Kids flocked out to the wagon and followed it for a block or two, knowing that Mr. Gibson, the driver, would let us have ice chips that popped loose from the larger blocks he chipped away to produce the size desired” (p. 8).

I can not imagine kids today being so easily thrilled with something as commonplace as an ice cube, but back then, it was a treat to enjoy. Back then, electric service was not prevalent in that portion of Texas, as I’m probably sure was the case in most of the rural areas of the United States, so even radios did not exist. How many of us today sit around helpless when the power goes out for an hour or two? We have to readjust to a world that requires us to think more, where entertainment isn’t at the flip of a switch. This is one reason why I always enjoyed camping when I was in my 20’s and 30’s. It was a time that allowed more introspection and reflection on the life I was living and my path before me. Even today, when I travel I seek out a hotel that offers free Internet access or I meet friends at a coffee shop that has free WiFi so I can access e-mail or do some quick work.

Maybe for our own sanity, we should all seek out an electricity-free day at least once or twice a year. A day of realizing that life doesn’t necessarily need to operate at the pace we live it, that our company’s can actually survive a few days without us checking our e-mail. Maybe our employees would enjoy it also, if we came back from a vacation actually refreshed, in a better mood, and with some fresh ideas of ways we can capitalize on our strengths or our competitors weaknesses that will give our company a new competitive edge. Similar to what Bill Gates does during his biannual retreats where he reads through proposals submitted by employees of Microsoft. This time would allow us to get away from the “busy work” of our personal and professional lives and think more creatively about the challenges we face.

— Wiley, K. (2007). Lucky Thirteen. Drexel Hill, PA:Casemate.