Pearl Harbor and 9-11 — Teaching your enemy how to fight

Today, December 7th, 2012, is the 71st anniversary of the infamous day in 1941 when Dai-Nippon Teikoku Kaigun, the Imperial Japanese Navy, attacked the United States’ Navy’s Pacific fleet anchored at Pearl Habor.

The strike itself, referred to as Operation Z during its planning phase, conducted over 90 minutes, and principally aimed at the Pacific fleet’s capital ships, involved 408 aircraft launched from six aircraft carriers that had traversed approximately 4,000 miles of the Pacific Ocean without being discovered in spite of the fact that the volatility of the United States and Japan was clearly appreciated by the United States military and the fact that Pearl Harbor was recognized by the United States’ Navy as a potential target for hostile carrier air power.

Pearl harbor - December 7, 1941

Pearl harbor – December 7, 1941

Tactically, the strike was a success, causing 2,386 American fatalities and 1,139 American wounded, 18 ships sunk or run aground, and 188 aircraft destroyed and 159 damaged against Japanese losses of 64 fatalities and one captured, 29 aircraft lost, and 74 aircraft damaged.

Strategically, however, the attack was a failure, failing to achieve its two objectives: (1) the destruction of the Pacific fleet, causing at least a two year set-back in American ability to operate against Japan in the Pacific Ocean, and (2) the issuance of a severe blow to American morale, sufficient to discourage Americans from committing to an extended war with Japan.

In fact, due to the Imperial Japanese Navy’s inability to locate and sink any of the Pacific fleet’s three carriers and its complete lack of attempt to strike against United States submarines and submarine facilities at Pearl Harbor, the United States had retained intact the one group of capital ship and a substantial submarine force, which combined would enable the United States to project naval and air power across the Pacific Ocean, and the attack galvanized the American public

Perhaps Admiral Hara Tadaichi said it best when he summed up the situation by saying that:

“We won a great tactical victory at Pearl Harbor and thereby lost the war”

1919 – 1925 — Learning from the United States

The ultimate outcome of the attack and the resulting war between the Allied forces and Japan is, of course, well known today. What is less known and understood is that the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1941 was rated as the third most powerful navy in the world. Moreover, because of its emphasis on carriers as capital ship above battle ships, its related development of high-grade aircraft, and its unique situation of being a one ocean-navy, the Imperial Japanese Navy was, de-facto, the most powerful navy in the world.

From a military historical viewpoint the Japanese focus on carriers is exceptionally interesting. It was caused by a number of factors, including a case of unintended consequence of the Washington Naval Treaty, also known as the Five-Power Treaty, which severely limited naval construction, particularly impacting battleship construction and tonnage. Whereas the Italian, British, French, and American navies responded to the restriction of the treaty by cramming more goods into smaller packages, the Japanese Navy focused on building carriers.

In an odd twist of fate, the innovation of carrier-based naval warfare originated from the United States with Major General Billy Mitchell’s tireless lobbying for air power to be a predominant force of war on par with united entirely in an independent air force equal to the United States Army and United States Navy, culminating in a powerful demonstration of air power through the sinking of the ex-German World War I battleship, Ostfriesland, and obsolete United States battleships Alabama, Virginia, and New Jersey in the period immediately after World War I, starting in 1919.



The sinking of the ships of the prestigious class of battle ships by relatively inexpensive and technologically primitive aircraft with limited range and armament would so offend and threaten the United States Navy that it failed to invest adequately in a carrier force until immediately before the outbreak of World War II.

The Imperial Japanese Navy on the other hand took notice of the much publicized American tests and, recognizing that it had been provided with a tool to defeat the United States, which could be applied in a manner consistent with its doctrine of kantai kessen, whereby Japan’s naval enemies would be drawn into and defeated in a decisive naval battle near the Japanese home land, accelerated its carrier fleet development, starting with the development of the Hōshō, the first purpose-designed aircraft carrier in the world. Ultimately, in 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy would have a carrier fleet second to none.

Rear-admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan

Rear-admiral Alfred Thayer Mahan

Interestingly, kantai kessen, the Decisive Battle Doctrine of the Imperial Japanese Navy, stipulating that an enemy of Japan — principally the United States — would be drawn into a decisive battle near the Japanese homeland after first having been reduced in force (or bled, if you will) while traversing the Pacific Ocean, originated with Alfred Thayer Mahan, a Rear-admiral in the United States Navy, whose teachings also influenced the United States Navy, causing the development of War Plan Orange, calling for the massing of an American fleet in California, followed by cross-Pacific Journey, a decisive surface fleet battle with the Imperial Japanese Navy somewhere near Japan and a subsequent blockade of the Japanese homeland.

The Imperial Japanese Navy had fully embraced kantai kessen after the Russo-Japanese War in the years 1904 and 1905, where the Russian Navy’s Baltic fleet, after having sailed 18,000 nautical miles, were virtually annihilated in the Tsushima Straits, losing eight battleships and all but of the remaining part of the fleet except three vessels and incurring more than 5,000 casualties against negligible Japanese losses. However, opposition to the doctrine within the Imperial Japanese Navy grew in the 1930ies, as the full impact of submarine and naval aviation became clear to naval planners, and — ironically — the doctrine only survived because of the existence of War Plan Orange, which, of course, in itself had become obsolete — although it was not yet recognized as such.

And, so, in line with rear Rear-admiral Mahan’s theory, which stipulated that the objective of the weaker opponent in the struggle would be to delay the decisive battle for as long as possible, the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1941 set out to delay the United States Navy’s massing of surface ships by destroying its principal fleet at the Hawaiian islands, and, subsequent to the Pearl Harbor attack, limited its submarine and carrier elements to a role of defense and harassment rather than the much more appropriate role of an aggressor, which the United States Navy would impose.

As it happens, the United States Navy would prevail — principally because it in the aftermath of the Pearl Harbor attack took a hard look at it Mahanian doctrine and discarded it in favor of a leapfrogging doctrine whereby the American forces would move from island group to island group, slowly choking Japan’s industrial production and paralyzing its navy.

1983 – 1992 — Learning from Lebanon

This chain of events, whereby the United States with its elaborate system of checks and balances, extensive transparency, and powerful and unrestricted press would provide its principal enemy with information about how to best strike against it would be repeated again and again through the years, including the period from February 26th, 1993, through January, 2001, where information about the short-coming of the Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Ali Fadden financed bombing plot against the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City would, unbelievably, be voluntarily and amply available to extremist groups across the globe.

The 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center followed a well-established formula of using trucks as crude, but effective delivery mechanisms for large amounts of explosives, as, for instance, it had been done in Beirut in 1983, where two trucks, holding a combined equivalent of more than 12,000 pounds TNT of explosives, leveled one four story building and seriously damaged another, eight story building.

The bombs applied in Beirut were powerful and although unsophisticated in some ways they were exceptionally sophisticated in other ways, for instance creating a create fuel-air and thermobaric effect through the use of compressed gas cylinders and applying a layer of concrete covered with a slab of marble to direct the blasts upward, and certainly they were effective, and, so, it is not a surprise that the mastermind behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, Ramzi Yousef, would believe that a similar approach could bring down the North Tower of the World Trade Center.

World Trade Center North Tower garage after bombing in 1993

World Trade Center North Tower garage after bombing in 1993

Fortunately for the tens of thousands of workers in the North and South Tower on 12:17:37 p.m., EST, on February 26th, 1993, Mr. Yousef was not a structural engineer, and although he was assisted by Iraqi bomb maker Abdul Rahman Yasin, and managed to create a complex and very powerful, 1,310-pound bomb from a urea nitrate main charge surrounded by aluminum, magnesium, and ferric oxide particles complemented by three tanks of bottled hydrogen (the bomb had an explosion velocity of 15,000 feet per second,) and had strong notions of structural strengths and weaknesses (he intended to place the truck in a location in the North Tower that would ensure that the North Tower would fall onto the South Tower, collapsing them both,) he did not fully understand the structural strength of the World Trade Center, which was far superior to that of the structures in Beirut.

… and, so, the towers did not fall.

1993 – 2001 — Learning from America

Unfortunately for the the tens of thousands of workers in the North and South Tower on September 11th, 2001, Mohamed Atta, an al-Qaeda operative, and Khalid Shaikh Mohammed Ali Fadden would benefit from the press-coverage following the 1993 bombing and the subsequent public trials in 1997. From this press coverage and the public trial, anyone could first learn that the towers’ structure made the truck-based approach unlikely to work and that new security measures were in place that in all probability would make it impossible to get a truck in position again.

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

World Trade Center on September 11, 2001

More importantly — and rather unfortunately — one could learn that one way to attempt to achieve the same objective would be to fly wide-body jets, loaded with 10,000 gallons of jet-fuel into each tower at a speed approaching 600 miles per hour.

From post-1993 discussions one could gather that even if the enormous amount of kinetic energy released in such impacts (in excess of 4.5 billion feet pounds of force — or more than 6 million kilojoules — for fligh United Airlines 175, which hit the North Tower) was not sufficient to bring a tower down, the misting of 10,000 gallons of jet fuel, burning at up to 980 degrees Celsius, might very well do the job, and, as a minimum, would cause extensive damage and casualties.

One could even have learned that the towers were designed to have asbestos insulation on the columns, to delay any melting of the steel, allowing the columns to continue to bear their loads for up to four hours of serious fire, but — unfortunately — environmental concerns had caused the World Trade Center towers to be construction with non-asbestos based — and presumably inferior — insulation for the columns on floors 65 and above.

… and, so, the towers fell.

Business Implications

There are many business lessons to be learned from the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941, and the attack on the World Trade Centers in 1993 and 2001. Principally, we can learn how dangerous it is to share information freely with the market — and, therefore, with your competitors, how a competitor will adapt if we allow the competition to drag out too long, and how a well thought-out whole-sale abandonment of one business strategy in favor of another can entirely shift the balance of power from our competitors to us.

Support us

This is the opportunity for you to show your support by donating via PayPal right now. For this type of posting a one-off donation of $15 is suggested.