Lessons From Midway

I’ve been reading a book entitled Shattered Sword; it is a compelling account of the Battle of Midway. This battle was perhaps the most important of all in the Pacific Theater during World War II. In June of 1942, Japan sent her naval forces toward a small island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean (Midway). This small island belonged to the United States; however, if the Japanese forces could overwhelm Midway, they would have a location from which to threaten the Hawaiian Islands. The Japanese Navy had not suffered defeat in the modern era…they had gone from victory to victory. They outnumbered the naval assets of the United States and were supremely confident.

However, in the months prior to June 1942, the United States had penetrated Japanese military code and began listening to military communications. This enabled the United States to know when and where the Japanese were heading and to plan a trap or counterattack. Admiral Nimitz prepared three air craft carriers to face the Japanese attacking force. The Japanese did not know that we were there, and were surprised to face such a resistant force on the occasion of this battle. Ultimately our air power was able to sink all four Japanese air craft carriers, with the loss of only one of our own. This was a great victory for our country and turned the tide in the Pacific.

The authors of Shattered Sword point out four deficiencies of Japanese military planning prior to the battle of Midway. I want to draw attention to these deficiencies so we can learn from these mistakes. First, the Japanese were too ambitious. They already had control of some 25% of the world’s geography. They had portions of China, they had the Philippines, they had control of land almost as far south as Australia and had recently hit Hawaii. By seeking to attack Midway, they were stretching their supply lines dangerously thin. In the spirit of applying this history lesson, are there any areas of your life where you are stretching yourself too thin? Are you too ambitious, power-hungry, or seeking control of something you were never intended to control?

Second, the Japanese were over-confident. In the modern era, they had not lost a naval battle in the Pacific. They won against Russia, they won in China, they won in the Philippines, they had military control of the Far East. But they began to develop an over-inflated view of their strengths. They did not think it was possible to lose. Are there some times or occasions where you have an inflated view of your strengths? Have you become too confident in your own talents and abilities? The Bible says “He who thinks he stands, take heed, lest he fall.”

Third, the Japanese were not listening to their critics. Their military planning became dysfunctional. They did not allow for different opinions, or for someone to challenge their way of thinking. Their military planning became dominated by strong and powerful personalities. They could not or would not listen to those who disagreed. Are there some occasions when you need to listen to your critics? Are there some ways you can respect different views and allow for such views?

Finally, the Japanese made too many assumptions about what their enemy would do. In their practice battles, they ruled out the possibility that the USA would be prepared for an attack. They ruled out the possibility that things would not go according to plan. They did not plan for contingencies that could include setbacks, losses and defeats. Every one of us has a spiritual adversary, and we should always be mindful of this. When or where do you need to resist making assumptions about your spiritual enemy? How he will attack? What he will or will not do? We should be vigilant, prayerful and always on guard against the schemes of Satan.

In sum, the Japanese Navy made grievous errors in the time leading up to the Battle of Midway. The result was a catastrophic loss of their naval power. Are there some reading these words who are at risk of such a personal setback? Is there still time to heed the lessons of the failed fascist regime in Japan? What do you need to hear on a personal level, on the level of your family or faith community?

Pastor Jeff