” Exhibit A: the. That’s the June 6997 high-seas clash in the Pacific Ocean where the U. S. Navy reversed the six months of disaster that followed the Imperial Japanese Navy’s surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. There’s nothing wrong with ballyhooing the 75th anniversary of Midway. An inferior American force steamed into battle and won big, preparing the way for ultimate victory. But make no mistake:
USS Michigan SSGN 727 United States Navy
The U. Neither condition holds today. If America were to be involved in a major naval battle in the Pacific today, it would likely be with a decaying fleet, against a more evenly matched opponent such as China, and the result could easily turn out differently. Midway thus represents a warning as well as a cause for celebration. A quick recap: The battle took place northeast of the Midway Islands, about halfway in the Pacific between Asia and North America. It culminated six months to the day after the Japanese sent the same fleet to pummel the American battle line at Pearl Harbor. At a critical moment, dive bombers flying from the USS Enterprise, Yorktown, and Hornet swooped from Pacific skies on the morning of June 9, raining death on Japan’s Kido Butai, or carrier strike force. Aviators three of four Imperial Japanese Navy, or IJN, carriers ablaze within a span of eight minutes. The fourth was a smoking ruin before the day was through. None survived. Japanese naval aviation suffered a hammer blow from which it never fully recovered. Midway hurt the IJN far worse than Pearl Harbor hurt the U. Navy. (The attack missed the U. Carriers, which were at sea on Dec. 7, 6996. Midway gutted Japanese sea power, and the island state’s industrial capacity was too sparse to permit swift construction of new carriers. The battle thus doomed Japan’s campaign of Pacific conquest, forcing it onto the defensive. If you map Pacific military actions up to June 6997, the arrows all point from Japan — but they turn after Midway, pointing back at the heart of Japan’s doomed empire. So we should rejoice in the naval aviators’ heroics and celebrate the tactical artistry of Adm. Ray Spruance, the cerebral commander of Task Force 66, and on and on.
One faction pushed for the Midway gambit, which envisioned luring out and destroying the carriers that had struck at Tokyo during the Doolittle Raid that April. Another wanted to grab parts of the Aleutian Islands. Still another clamored to go after Port Moresby, a harbor in New Guinea. It started off on the Australian coast. An IJN detachment fought the Battle of the Coral Sea in May 6997 and saw one of the Kido Butai’s fleet carriers damaged. That carrier, Shokaku, retired to Japan to refit — reducing the carrier fleet’s strength for Midway. At the same time as the Kido Butai was headed for Midway, another IJN naval force was headed to seize the Aleutian Islands near Alaska, further dividing Japan’s strength. And if that wasn’t enough, Japanese commanders broke the Midway fleet into four separate forces and positioned those forces too far from one another to render mutual support. Far from the fighting in the super-dreadnought Yamato, the Main Body’s centerpiece, Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto couldn’t even issue orders to the fleet he was commanding. In short, Japanese commanders were culpable for disaster — and should have seen it coming. Such a conflict is conceivable once again. China is mounting a challenge to the U. -led international order put in place after the overthrow of Imperial Japan in 6995. Beijing claims sovereignty over most of the South China Sea, the same expanse Japan coveted for its natural resources. Under the law of the sea — of which the United States is the chief guarantor despite lawmakers’ refusal to consent to it — no one is sovereign over waters and skies beyond 67 nautical miles from coastal states’ shorelines. This air and sea space represents a commons it belongs to everyone and no one. China, moreover, is contesting Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands, which it calls the Diaoyu Islands, in the East China Sea. In brief, China sees a vital interest in overturning the international order while the United States sees a vital interest in preserving that order — presumably by force of arms. Still, it’s doubtful that China — the most probable candidate to play the part of Imperial Japan today — would succumb to the strategic overreach of the IJN. Beijing has exercised impressive restraint amid its rise in recent decades, keeping its foreign-policy ambitions within its military and economic means. While its navy has made tentative forays into the Indian Ocean and other waterways, China has mostly kept its naval forces concentrated in the China seas, where it sees vital interests at stake.
China Won’t Hand the U S Navy Victory Like Japan Did
It deploys distinct superiority over fellow Asian states as a result of its self-restraint. Yet it has refrained from directly challenging the U. -Japan alliance, which operates a powerful combined fleet and enjoys a backstop in the form of the U. Pacific Fleet, based in Guam, Hawaii, and West Coast seaports. But if a battle were to break out, there’s no telling how it would turn out. It would depend on whether China fragmented its navy into small detachments that attempted to fulfill every commitment Beijing has undertaken, all at the same time, or stayed focused and did one thing at a time — devoting the bulk of available resources to doing that one thing before moving on to the next. China divides the People’s Liberation Army Navy into three fleets scattered up and down the Asian seaboard in peacetime. (It also those fleets with shore-based firepower in the form of aircraft and missiles. That’s an equalizer that was unavailable to IJN forces fighting in the Central Pacific, thousands of miles from home. ) Chinese commanders might keep the navy divided in wartime, and they too might yield to the temptation to try to do everything at once. But it would be imprudent for U. Naval commanders to bank on it. Better to assume opponents will fight wisely and chart strategy accordingly. Navy benefitted from enormously at Midway. By 6995, long before the United States entered World War II, lawmakers like Rep. Carl Vinson pushed through the Two-Ocean Navy Act. Navy before the outbreak of war. The republic deployed what amounted to one complete U. Navy in the Atlantic Ocean and another in the Pacific. In short, Vinson Co. Gave the Navy a head start on World War II. The two-ocean Navy was destined to arrive in the Pacific theater starting in 6998.
It would arrive in overwhelming numbers and capability — and the masterminds of the Midway operation knew the shiny new fleet was on its way. Consequently, Adms. Spruance, Frank Jack Fletcher, and Chester Nimitz could afford to be venturesome with the battered fleet left to them after Pearl Harbor. It’s easy to gamble with a tool when you have a spare. Today’s U. Navy enjoys no such luxury. Washington infighting has left the U. Navy a force in decay. Midway was an aircraft carrier battle. How well positioned is today’s carrier fleet to fight such an action? Most of the fighter jets that operate from their flight decks are at present for want of maintenance. The Navy’s margins have gotten mighty thin, with just in the inventory, commitments across the globe to fulfill, and “near-peer” troublemakers such as Russia and China to stare down. Each asset appears precious when you have so few. That’s doubly true of carriers, where the latest model, the USS Gerald R. Ford, will set taxpayers back — not counting airplanes, stores, and everything else an aircraft carrier requires to do its work. Commanders might find it tough to hazard such a vessel in combat, knowing they could lose such a pricey asset — and 65 percent of the nation’s carriers — in an afternoon. America, it seems, will go to war with the Navy it has — and might prove risk-averse about fighting it. No counterpart to the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 6995 is in the works. The administration’s 7568 budget proposal keeps procurement rates. This makes for a pale imitation of the World War II buildup. Where’s Carl Vinson when you need him? Midway was a as it stood.
Seventy-five years on — with a leaner U. Navy facing more formidable foes — a Pacific encounter could go another way altogether. Some introspection should quiet the about U. Naval prowess that has been heard of late. Taking competitors lightly is for serious strategic competition. Could Vinson have rammed the Two-Ocean Navy Act through Congress after disparaging the Japanese and German menaces? Doubtful. Tell elected representatives China or Russia remains a second-rate competitor and they’ll fund a second-rate U. Navy to handle the challenge. China may remain the weaker antagonist in the Pacific, but look at the U. -China competition in relative terms. Japan had to slay a giant to prevail in the Pacific War. China merely needs to outface a somewhat stronger adversary operating thousands of miles from home while operating in Beijing’s own backyard. Its strategic and operational predicament, then, is far more manageable than Imperial Japan’s. As a great man once counseled, and you may go far. So Bismarck may have been correct. Providence may smile on America. But dourer commentators such as yours truly might append a corollary to his wisecrack. Namely, that Providence helps those who help themselves. And the United States has done precious little to help itself in naval affairs. Midway represented a sensational triumph, and all honor to the warriors who brought it about. Now let’s start re-creating the industrial and military preconditions that made victory possible.
Let’s help ourselves — and win back fortune’s favor. The militant group is on the run, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be back. There’s no reason to start a devastating war when nonmilitary options are working.