I’ve read at least five books on the Battle for Guadalcanal. I’ve read so many books, I can now spell the name of the island without spell check looking at me like I’ve just burned a joint and pressed keys at random. Each author brings to the table a different perspective on each individual engagement, and because these works were written independently of one another, some using the same sources, it’s a challenge to figure out what happened and why. But the evidence is there and given enough of it, a much clearer picture of our mistakes, and the Japanese mistakes, emerge.
War is basically a series of events that lead to mistakes being punished by death. The Japanese sent four carriers to Midway in June of 1942, and an undersized and overmatched American force sent all four to the bottom of the ocean. The American intelligence gathering community had gleaned enough information about the Japanese intent to set up an ambush.
One of the most remarkable techniques for gathering information on Japanese ship movement involved men (and likely women) who spend many hours every day, and many days each week, studying the telegraphic codes sent out by Japanese ships. None of these people spoke a word of Japanese, but they were able to identify individual operators of telegraph equipment through keying techniques. Each human being who operates a telegraph key does so with such individuality that it’s as clear as a fingerprint to those who study such things.
As it turns out, if you can establish how quickly an operator moves from one place to another, and we had ships that could triangulate where the signal originated from, then you could tell what sort of ship that operator was on. If he was on a destroyer then he would move quickly. If he was on an oiler he would move slowly. And by identifying how quickly these operators were, we could also tell who they were with, and the size of the force through that information.
Given we already knew enough about the Japanese codes that we could get about fifteen percent of the information we needed, and given the operators were known, we also had Coast Watchers, who spied on troop movements, planes taking off and landing, and ships leaving and entering ports on islands.
Given enough evidence, a clear picture emerged as to what was going to happen, where, when, and who would be there.
All of this had to be done quickly, and when presented to those men in uniform who made decisions of life and death over other men, the information had to be accurate or ships would sink and hundreds, maybe thousands, of men would be killed. Think about the amount of guts it took for someone to say, “The evidence indicates we need to move our forces to this place in the ocean and attack here, so we’ll win the battle.”
We’ve gotten lazy. We’ve become used to the idea that if we have an opinion, and we feel strongly about that opinion, it doesn’t matter if we can’t back it up with any more than a short news opinion by someone who doesn’t do their own research. We’ve lost our respect for those who study information and replaced it with a sense of awe of those who can scream the loudest. We’ve traded critical thinking for who we like more. We’ve given up on doing the hard work of research in order to put information out that’s judged not on content but on how many people will mindlessly repeat it.
Two opinions are not equal when one is based on evidence that has been cross-referenced and the other is based on how it makes someone feel.
Imagine the battle of Midway, based on feeling. Imagine a commander taking a poll of people and using the information from a group of people to make his decision rather than basing it on intelligence gathering.
That’s what we’re doing these days instead of seeking out facts, looking at historical data, and listening to people who have spent decades in research. To blindly go forth into the future having some sort of aversion, and even a disdain for knowledge is as dangerous as driving without headlights, or sailing without a compass, or going into battle without any idea what awaits.
This is an extinction level event. It will destroy us all, in the end, if we abandon thinking.