On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the American Army and Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy. The attack caught the American Army and Navy by surprise and inflicted great losses of life and equipment. Over 2000 Americans were killed and more than 1000 were injured. The Americans also lost a large proportion of their battle ships and nearly 200 aircraft. Japanese losses were relatively small. Japan had only 60 killed, injured or captured and lost five midget submarines and 29 aircraft. The US soldiers and sailors reacted bravely to the attack with sixteen Medal of Honor winners and many Navy Cross recipients.

Communications played a key role in the attack and in the war. Here are three of the key lessons:

  • Accuracy is Important
  • Timeliness is Important
  • Motivation through good communication

Accuracy is important

Early in the morning, the first wave of the attack approached Oahu. The U.S. Army SCR-270 radar at Opana Point near the island’s northern tip.The operators, Privates George Elliot Jr. and Joseph Lockard, reported a target, but the officer in charge (LT Tyler) assumed that it was the scheduled arrival of six B-17 bombers from California. The Japanese planes were approaching on a similar path to the bombers with only a few degrees difference. Although the operators had never seen a formation that large on radar before, they failed to tell Tyler of its size. A more accurate report would have shown the formation as NOT the scheduled B-17 bombers and perhaps alerted US forces to the impending attack.

Timeliness is important

Although negotiations between the U.S, and Japan had broken down, the attack took place before any formal declaration of war was made by Japan. Some historians say this was not Admiral Yamamoto’s intention. He originally directed that the attack should not begin until thirty minutes after Japan had informed the United States that peace negotiations were over.

They wanted to uphold the rules of war while still achieving surprise. However, the attack began before the notice could be delivered. Tokyo transmitted the 5000-word notification in two blocks to the Japanese Embassy in Washington, but transcribing the message took too long for the Japanese ambassador to deliver it in time.

Motivation through good communication

On December 8th, President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress. His “Infamy” speech was carefully worded to reinforce Roosevelt’s portrayal of the United States as the innocent victim of unprovoked Japanese aggression.  This theme was further reinforced by Roosevelt’s recounting of the ongoing diplomatic negotiations with Japan. He characterized those as being pursued cynically and dishonestly by the Japanese government while it secretly prepared for war against the United States. With the attack itself, and Roosevelt’s skilled oratory domestic support switched from non-interventionism to direct action. Remember Pearl Harbor became a rallying cry.

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About the author

Mike Fritsch, PMP is President and COO of Confoe in Austin, Texas. Mike is also President of ISPI-Texas, the Texas wide chapter of ISPI. During his time in the Army, Mike was stationed at Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Mike has appeared in numerous publications including Fast CompanyUS News & World ReportRenewable Energy WorldPlatt’s Energy Economist, and Sun and Wind Energy.

About Confoe:

Since 2002, Confoe has provided project management services, consulting, and custom software solutions for clients ranging from the Fortune 50 to new venture start-ups. Clients have included: Whole Foods Market, Intel, Dell, SoloPower, HelioVolt, and the Environmental Defense Fund.