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History lessons apply today

Right Here, Right Now

Posted: April 7, 2008 7:28 p.m.
Updated: June 8, 2008 5:02 a.m.
 
Many folks today don't seem to care about history. It seems like our younger generation knows more about Britney's latest mental breakdown than Britain's great struggle against fascism. They would prefer to listen to their iPods rather than stories about the war for iNdependence. An evening of playing Guitar Hero is more desirable than watching "To Hell and Back," the true story of a True Hero - Audie Murphy. Much is lost by not observing history and learning from it.

Sixty-six years ago, things were unraveling rapidly for the United States in the Pacific. Several months
after the December 1941 surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, which badly damaged the American surface
fleet, the U.S. was staggering from a series of losses in the Philippines, the Dutch East Indies, and the Coral Sea. The mighty Japanese Imperial Navy had no equal as it quickly seized large amounts of territory in the western Pacific.

Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto had at his command one of the largest and most technologically advanced fleets in the history of man. At the beginning of 1942, he decided on a masterstroke to end the American presence in the Pacific and give Japan free reign to build its Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere. The plan involved the destruction of the U.S. fleets at an island called Midway, a small atoll about 1,300 miles
west of Oahu in the chain of Hawaiian islands.

Naval warfare had been revolutionized by the introduction of the aircraft carrier. In older times, ships would exchange fire directly using large guns.

However, combatant navies in World War II often never saw one another, doing battle instead with torpedo
planes and dive bombers.

Yamamoto left Japan knowing that the U.S. could only field two functional aircraft carriers, and his fleet
sailed towards Midway with four. His fleet also contained seven battleships and 150 support ships,
including numerous heavy and light cruisers.

Most of the American battleships were still sitting on the bottom at Pearl or were in dry-dock for repairs on
the U.S. West Coast. The U.S. Navy could only muster 50 ships to support its two carriers. Yamamoto was
confident that victory was his.

Lesson for today: No matter how superior your force, never underestimate your enemy. The surge has worked in Iraq specifically because we were able to overwhelm and destroy the fundamentalist insurgents. If we draw down too soon or run, we give our enemy the chance to regroup and come back. This is not good for Iraq or us.

Yamamoto thought that the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier, had been sunk at Coral Sea. He was wrong. The Yorktown made it back to Pearl Harbor badly damaged and in need of several months' repair work. However, the shipwrights at Pearl worked a miracle and made her seaworthy again in 72 hours. Welders and repairmen from the USS Vestal stayed aboard the Yorktown as she sailed into battle, continuing to make repairs and keep her afloat.

Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, the commander of the U.S. Navy Pacific forces, was able to field a third carrier.

Lesson for today: Never give up even though the job seems impossible. It would be easy for us to turn away from Iraq and say, "We can't fix it." But, we have seen success, and our repairs are making the Iraqi
government seaworthy, even battle-worthy.

In war, much depends on the security of communications to have military success. The Japanese Imperial Navy operated under the assumption that its command and control was completely secure and hidden.

However, American cryptologists had broken the JN-25 code, and all of the Imperial Navy communications were seen by Admiral Nimitz. Without this intelligence, the Battle of Midway may have turned out far differently.

Lesson for today: Terrorists use cell phones and e-mail to communicate. We can break their codes and
gain intelligence on their operations by protecting companies that cooperate with the U.S. government. The
Democrats' cowardly delay of the FISA bill denies our nation vital intelligence to fight terrorists.

As the battle began, it became readily apparent that the Japanese fleet had the advantage. The initial U.S. attacks were easily swept aside by the excellent Mitsubishi Type Zero fighter aircraft that were protecting the skies above the Imperial ships.

But the confused situation caused the Japanese commanders to make a fateful mistake by attempting to
refuel and rearm their airplanes and deviate from the initial battle plan. The American bombers found
aircraft carriers laden with fuel lines and exposed ordinance on their decks. The resulting attacks
shattered the Japanese carriers, and with them the hopes of Imperial Japan in World War II.

Lesson for today: See the long-term picture and try not to deviate from the plan. We must retain the
strength of character and fortitude to see the future benefits for our children and grandchildren by pursing
democracy and stability in areas of the world not accustomed to these ideas.

Finally, our last lesson is gratitude. The brave sailors, marines, and aviators who won the Battle of Midway will forever be heroes in the annals of U.S. history. Likewise, our servicemen returning from Iraq and Afghanistan are also heroes and should be viewed with the same gratitude and reverence as the heroes
from 66 years ago.

Steve Lunetta is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views, and not necessarily those of
The Signal.

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