All The Time In the World

Before anything else, one should note that Spengler is now a Pajamas Express contributor. Shortly before he revealed his Secret Identity some Australian fans of his were secretly closing in on someone else, intending to unmask him as the suspected “Spengler”. The suspect was an academic whose writing style resembled Spengler’s somewhat. Fortunately they never got around to confronting the chosen suspect because they would have been wrong.

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On another subject,  I came across a hardcover edition of Shattered Sword: The Untold Story of the Battle of Midway a couple of years ago but the price at Borders (which still existed) seemed too high. Fortunately, it is now available at Amazon for much less. If you want to wreck your working week, as I nearly did, start on it. For drama, the Battle of Midway must rank with the story of the Titanic or the prelude to the Great War for sheer suspense.

The reason for its compelling interest is simple. While Parschall and Tully follow the Ki’do Butai as it sorties from its Japanese base en route to its rendezvous with destiny the authors exploit the fact that none of the participants knew how it was going to turn out. Since it tells the tale from the viewpoint of those to whom the future is still blank we are held in suspense as they were.

Yet there is a further dimension: the future  is never, as Barack Obama pointed out, completely blank. It is always imprinted with hopes and expectation. In 1942 the force which left Japan en route to the Central Pacific was hoping — unrealistically it now seems — to make an end to the Pacific War. But they did not realize this dream was even then beyond their grasp.  All they knew for a fact — an undeniable fact — was that they had the best aviators in the world.

But it did not save them. They were doomed from the start. Doomed, as Parschall and Tully demonstrate, from a “lack of time”. If any idea clearly comes across in the Shattered Sword it is the narrative of how the American air attacks, by continuously engaging the Ki’do Butai from the time it entered range, made it essentially essentially impossible for Nagumo get the necessary flight deck spot to hit TF16 and TF17, whose discovery and location depended on the availability of those very flight decks itself.

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Japanese accounts of Midway written after the war express convey this sense of elusiveness. If only Nagumo had had the time necessary to bring up the anti-ship strike force and launch it at Enterprise, Hornet and Yorktown then things would have been different!

The flight decks were the key resource and the proxy variable for their scarcity was time. And there was not time enough, even for the best naval aviators in the world, to attack Midway Island, find TF16 and 17 and handle both. “Like blood from a wounded patient, time-the lifeblood of decision and action-had been oozing out of Ki’do Butai all morning, slowly and inexorably. Now the patient was beyond recovery.” Eventually something the IJN had not the time to stop would show up. And it showed up in the guise of the steel fist of the dive-bombers.

Yet in a paradox which would have amused Einstein, Nimitz always seemed to have more time. The less-skilled US airwings took 3 to 4 times as long to launch; torpedo attack after torpedo attack failed; B-17 strike after B-17 strike hit nothing but water. Yet Nimitz always had more time to launch another strike, and another, and another.

Parschall and Tully demonstrate that Nimitz always had more time because he had made the right strategic choices. He had concentrated his force, achieved the element of surprise and had information superiority.  He had crafted his tactics on June 4, 1942 to be in concordance with reality. The IJN had designed their plan to conform to their hopes. The right choices gave Nimitz more time than the clock would show. Yamamoto’s blunders on the other hand, gave him no time at all.

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On the second day of his Midwestern tour aboard a multimillion dollar armored bus, President Obama called on Congress to ‘get in the game’, that is support his spending package. “There are bipartisan ideas — common-sense ideas — that have traditionally been supported by Democrats and Republicans that will put more money in your pockets, that will put our people to work, that will allow us to deal with the legacy of debt that hangs over our economy.”  The game metaphor invoked the element of time and ironically laid out the President’s greatest challenge. He’s running out of time. The window of Hope and Change is being rapidly closed by a host of changing conditions, and the President is blaming “bad luck”.

But over the last six months, we’ve had a run of bad luck, some things that we could not control. We had an Arab Spring that promises democracy and potentially a growth of human rights throughout the Middle East, but it also caused high gas prices that put a crimp on a lot of families just as they were trying to dig themselves out from the recession. Then we had a tsunami in Japan that disrupted supply chains and affected markets all around the world. And then in Europe, there are all kinds of challenges around the sovereign debt there, and that has made businesses hesitant and some of the effects of Europe have lapped onto our shores. And all those things have been headwinds for our economy.

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Nagumo blamed bad luck too. Yet Obama’s “run of bad luck” may be no more due to the vagaries of fickle fortune than the Ki’do Butai’s ordeal on the 4th of June. The run of “bad luck” may be due primarily to long-term trends which will have limited the viability of the Hope and Change strategy.

Is it possible to build a future of higher taxes, greater entitlements, and more multilateralism any more than Yamamoto could hope to beat an economy 8 times the size of Japan’s? Can the world imagined in the 1960s ever be constructed on the world as it now is? Or is the President condemned to desperately hold on to whatever “good luck” gave him at the outset; to cling to ‘progressive gains’ he has achieved against the trend of history? It all depends on what the real trends are, doesn’t it?  That is our blank slate upon which trends are projected. And we will know the truth soon enough.

The President own remarks suggested the reality of a closing window of opportunity. He almost sounds like Nagumo, possessed of the best-spin doctors in the world, the most powerful media practitioners who ever lived and yet not the time, not the opportunity to use them to effect.

And I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty frustrated about that. (Applause.) I am pretty frustrated about that because, given the challenges we face, we don’t have time to play games. There are a lot of folks, a lot of our neighbors, a lot of our friends who’ve been out of work too long. We’ve got too many small businesses that are struggling. I see a lot of young people in the audience here today, and they’re thinking about what are their prospects for the future — graduating from college knowing they’ve got a lot of debt, needing to find a job. They don’t have patience for the kind of shenanigans we’ve been seeing on Capitol Hill. They understand that now is the time for all of us to pull together and do what it takes to grow the economy and put people back to work. (Applause.)

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Why are people like Bachmann, Palin, Ryan — and even Ron Paul for pete’s sake — not giving him his shot at Destiny? But it is not altogether impertinent to ask why the President’s window is tending to close; why the necessary time to spot his airstrike on the bitter clingers is so elusive. If the President’s program were running with the tides of history, it would not be running out of time. The opportunities for ‘fundamentally transforming the United States of America’ would be easier and not harder to come by.

So he gets on the bus and the wheels go round and round.

After Nagumo had the Akagi sunk from under him, he doubled down and sent the Hiryu off in pursuit of his still undamaged enemy.  The Japanese admiral still had visions of finding TF16 and TF17 in the dark and dispatching them with Haruna and Kirishima. In other words, he was still operating under the supposition that his reverses earlier in the day were due to “bad luck”. Another sea-mile and he would yet get it all back.

But Fletcher and Spruance, after sinking Hiryu herself, were vanishing eastward into the night bearing with them the crown victory away from the clutching hands of Nagumo.  They had taken the battle of Midway from superior aviators and they would not give the Ki’do Butai the time to get it back.

And then, just as quickly as they had come, the Americans were gone, roaring off toward the east, hugging the waves to escape retribution from both guns and fighters. The CAP fighters, many of whom had been engaged with VT-3 and who were now chasing the attackers away from the fleet, could only catch peripheral glimpses of the horror unfolding behind them. And under mounting pillars of smoke, the bewildered crews of three great ships turned to face the implacable foe that all sailors dread-fire.

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Double-down doesn’t work when the trends are against you. Just now the eurozone leaders,  like President Obama, are arguing that one more structure, one more coordinating mechanism, yet another bureaucracy piled on top of the others will bring success.  The architects of Too Big to Fail still have to learn it’s not the case that “one touch of the armored gauntlet” will send reality packing.


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