The Battle of Midway by Frederick Sheehan by aucontrarian

Frederick J. Sheehan is the author of Panderer to Power: The Untold Story of How Alan Greenspan Enriched Wall Street and Left a Legacy of Recession (McGraw-Hill, 2009), which was translated and republished in Chinese (2014). He is researching a book about Ben Bernanke.

The Battle of Midway was fought 72 years ago, from June 4, 1942 to June 7, 1942. Air strikes from U.S. aircraft carriers maimed beyond repair the four Japanese aircraft carriers. The Japanese fleet, and Japan, never recovered.

Less than six months earlier, on December 7, 1941, the Japanese attack swept across the Pacific. Franklin Roosevelt, in his “Day of Infamy” speech, told the damage:

“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan…. The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between  San Francisco and Honolulu. Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong. Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam. Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands. Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island. This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island. Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area.”

Less than six months later, over a course of a few minutes, three of the four Japanese aircraft carriers were sinking. A fourth Japanese carrier was irreparably injured soon after. All four gargled then sank to the ocean floor.

The Battle of Midway is an important moment in history. What happened, of course, stands on its own. It is also good to remind ourselves the course of history can change fast. Some historians, by no means all, contend the Japanese lost the war within those five or six minutes when aircraft from the USS Enterprise, USS Yorktown, and USS Hornet commenced their fatal on the Akagi, Kaga, Soryu, and Hiryu.

The contention, which is supported by evidence, describes the impossibility of the Japanese industrial capacity to compete with American steel, tank, aircraft, and ship construction. (Within five miles of where I grew up, between 1942 and 1945, one shipyard built 92 battleships, aircraft carriers, heavy cruisers, light cruisers, and destroyers. Five miles to the south, between 1942 and 1945, another shipyard built over 250 naval ships.)

The argument of a decisive Japanese loss is well received by minds trained in the twentieth century. But, it does not weigh human potentiality. It is true the Japanese fleet never again held supremacy, if supremacy, it was: the Battle of Midway showed that military supremacy over the oceans now was in the air, not on ships. Today, maybe, we are to be menaced by the Age of Drones, which would be a short hop from the Death of the Age of Economists.

It is true Japanese industry did not measure up to American production. But to stop here is to abide by the economic, deterministic, GDP-worshipping, data junkyard that ignores history. It died, and Marxism died, at the Battle of the Marne, when not one worker of the world crossed lines to fight alongside his German or British contemporary. In an important book, The End of Economic Man: The Origins of Totalitarianism, written in 1933 and published in 1939, Peter Drucker wrote the lowest floor sweeper at Rolls-Royce joined with the owners to fight the against the workers of the Kaiser. Economic man was finished; always a fantasy, it ignored the rise of Nationalism as the most potent nineteenth-century evolution.

The Battle of Midway teaches the wish must be met by the will. The speed at which the U.S. fleet was resurrected at Pearl Harbor is still astonishing to contemplate. Another example was the enormous aircraft production in Germany in 1944 and 1945. Figures are not at hand, but German cities were ashen cemeteries at the same time German workers (not many young, or even middle-aged, men) built aircraft at such at a tremendous pace. This production was a demonstration of will. Perhaps – only perhaps – the wish was not accompanied by the will in Japanese production, starting in 1942.

The Battle of Midway
The Battle of Midway