Seventy years have passed since the Imperial Japanese Navy was severely battered by the U.S. Navy in the Battle of Midway on June 4-7, 1942. With the loss of four fleet aircraft carriers, many aircraft and its most experienced air crews, Japan lost its dominance and strategic initiative in the Pacific, which it had enjoyed following its tactically successful attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 8, 1941. The battle offers valuable lessons to present-day political leaders, bureaucrats and company executives.
A big lesson is that a big success in the recent past can make people conceited and too sure of themselves, leading them to forget to prepare for new problems or challenges that may crop up. The apparent success of the Pearl Harbor attack may have had such an effect on some of the staff officers in command of the Japanese carrier strike force that took part in the Battle of Midway.
The same thing can be said about postwar Japan. During the high economic growth years, everything appeared to be going well. But political leaders apparently failed to prepare for the next stage. For example, they should have built a sustainable social welfare system while Japan was enjoying high growth so that the Japanese people could have a foundation on which to endure and overcome possible future difficulties. But they did not.
Japan managed to overcome the oil crises of 1973 and 1979 and established a production system with high energy efficiency. But because of this success, Japan failed to seriously develop renewable energy sources to make itself resilient to future upheavals that may impact the nation’s energy situation.
The failure to free oneself from the shackles of past experience as well as the easy-going assumption that the past will repeat itself can lead to grave consequences.
A case in point is Japan’s nuclear power establishment: Assuming that things will go as before, it did not make any serious preparations for a worst scenario. What Japan got was the Fukushima nuclear catastrophe.
The Battle of Midway shows the importance of gathering information (U.S. “Magic” intelligence on the planned Japanese attack) and making a bold decision, sometimes the second-best decision (like the one by Vice Adm. Tamon Yamaguchi aboard the carrier Hiryu to attack the U.S. carrier Yorktown with land-attack bombs because of insufficient time to switch to torpedoes).
One wonders whether our current political leaders and bureaucrats truly understand the difficult situation most average people are facing. Making a decision is important. But they have to first scrutinize whether the mission they have set is correct.
Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda should realize that his self-imposed mission to raise the consumption tax in the midst of the long period of deflation is misguided.
One also wonders whether current national leaders are ready to take responsibility for the consequences of their decisions as Vice Adm. Yamaguchi did. He shared the fate of the scuttled Hiryu, taking responsibility for sending his men into the jaws of death.
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