Belmont Club

Victory Disease

Sometimes things don’t work out the way we hope.  Genjirou Inui, a Japanese soldier who kept a diary on his way to Guadalcanal, felt great disappointment as his unit, the  28th Infantry Regiment commanded by Colonel Kiyono Ichiki was divided among slow and fast transports for the voyage to the Solomons. He watched the faster transports sail away to imagined glory. “Both echelons started at the same time, but 1st echelon on destroyers making 25 knots ran far ahead of 2nd echelon on transports making 8.5 knots, and they soon disappeared from our sight. How reliable and enviable they looked!”

He felt sure that Colonel Ichiki at the head of the 28th’s lead regiment would take Henderson field before his got there. A radio broadcast heightened his sense of disappointment at not being in on the show. “We estimate Ichiki-Shitai will make a night attack tonight, retake and occupy the whole airfield area. They will exterminate all the enemies on Guadalcanal with the aid of us 2nd echelon, but our transports are fatally slow!”

Ichiki and 916 of his regiment’s 2,300 troops, designated the “First Element” and carrying seven days’ supply of food, were delivered to Taivu Point, about 35 kilometers (22 mi) east of Lunga Point, by six destroyers at 01:00 on August 19. Leaving about 100 personnel behind as a rear guard, Ichiki marched west with the remaining 800 men of his unit and made camp before dawn about 14 kilometers (9 mi) east of the Lunga [US Marine] perimeter.

Colonel Ichiki disregarded the fact that the reconnaissance unit he sent ahead had been ambushed and wiped out by a Marine patrol. “Papers discovered on the bodies of some of the Japanese officers in the patrol revealed that they belonged to a much larger unit and showed detailed intelligence of U.S. Marine positions around Lunga Point.”  With this intelligence in hand, the Marines knew that Ichiki was coming. They wired the banks of the Ilu river and lined the opposite bank with 37 mm guns and 30 caliber Browning water-cooled machine guns.

Ichiki’s regiment stopped across the river from the Marines. Still full of confidence in his plans Ichiki penned the following lines in his diary before ordering his men forward. “17 Aug. The landing. 20 Aug. The march by night and the battle. 21 Aug. Enjoyment of the fruits of victory.” Veni, vidi, vici. There was only one problem: the vici part went wrong.

Japanese infiltrators were sent to silently cross the Ilu. Unfortunately they stirred up the fermenting vegetation at the bottom of the sluggish creek and the sour aroma of the decomposing vegetation spread rank into the night. The 30 caliber brownings were trained in readiness on the far bank of the stream. Then Ichiki charged.

When Genjirou Inui stepped ashore on Guadalcanal they were told the following shocking news: the “Ichiki detachment fought very well, but it was a mistake that they jumped into the enemy’s strongest point. And added that the next battle will be an avenging battle”. By that the briefer meant the detachment had been wiped out, practically to the last man. Ichiki himself was dead.

Time passes but illusion is timeless. Nothing is worse than being the Last to Know. Heading into Denver on the eve of the debate Barack Obama was already prepared to pop the champagne cork. Even in the middle of his charge he was prepared to enjoy the fruits of victory.

When President Barack Obama stepped off the stage in Denver last week the 60 million Americans watching the debate against Mitt Romney already knew it had been a disaster for him.

But what nobody knew, until now, was that Obama believed he had actually won.

In an extraordinary insight into the events leading up to the 90 minute showdown which changed the face of the election, a Democrat close to the Obama campaign today reveals that the President also did not take his debate preparation seriously, ignored the advice of senior aides and ignored one-liners that had been prepared to wound Romney.

Imagine his surprise upon learning there was no victory. That he had been massacred metaphorically to the last man. Still his confidence remains high. Like Genjirou Inui he believes that the next battle will be an avenging battle, when he will avenge himself.

Turning back to Genjirou Inui the next battle for the Japanese turned out to be against John Basilone and more 30 caliber Browning water cooled machine guns. Things don’t change unless you make them change.  Here’s how Obama trained.

The Democrat said that Obama’s inner circle was dismayed at the ‘disaster’ and that he believed the central problem was that the President was so disdainful of Romney that he didn’t believe he needed to engage with him.

‘President Obama made it clear he wanted to be doing anything else – anything – but debate prep,’ the Democrat said. ‘He kept breaking off whenever he got the opportunity and never really focused on the event.

Will he prepare differently? It is important not to underestimate the opponent. Even though the polls may be slanted; though reports are uncertain, nothing can be worse than proceeding on the basis of a wish, rather than the best available facts. Now that he’s training with Big Bird maybe things will be change. Or maybe not. In 1942 the Imperial Japanese Army was suffering from the ‘Victory Disease‘. They were wedded to a ‘winning formula’.

Victory disease denotes when in military history, because of complacency or arrogance brought on by a victory or series of victories, an engagement ends disastrously for a commander and his forces. A commander may disdain the enemy, and believe his own invincibility, leading his troops to disaster. That commander may employ strategies which, if effective in earlier combats or maneuvers, prove catastrophic against a new or smarter enemy; the commander afflicted by “victory disease” may also fail to anticipate a new enemy may use tactics different from those of old enemies. An overconfident commander may disregard military intelligence which would enable the commander to realize that new tactics are needed.

With Romney now holding the initiative the challenge for both sides is to remember always that Victory Disease can strike anyone. Just because you’re on a winning streak doesn’t mean you can’t lose.


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