Everyone makes missteaks

Last week, a great deal of the world was abuzz when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stated that in Iraq, the United States had made “thousands of tactical mistakes.” She later retracted the statement, and I think that’s a shame. I think it was a moment of candor, of honesty, and of integrity, so naturally it drove the moonbats nuts.

Mistakes happen. They are unavoidable. They are inevitable. I once read a little piece of doggerel that described what is considered the most intellectual game: “In chess the winner is he who makes/ the very next to last mistake.”

And that is even more true in war. I once read O’Toole’s Commentary on Murphy’s Law (“Anything that can go wrong will go wrong”), and it said simply: “Murphy was an optimist.” O’Toole must have been career military.

Another truism among the military is that “no plan survives first contact with the enemy.” One simply can’t account for everything that can happen once the bullets start flying, and only a fool tries to.

I’m a bit of a World War II buff, and I’ve always had a particular fascination for the Battle of Midway. In that battle, the United States made tons of tactical mistakes — some quite serious, that cost a lot of Americans their lives. Scout planes repeatedly missed finding the Japanese fleet. Once they were found, the scouts misreported the fleet’s location and heading. The planned coordinated attacks fell apart when the American squadrons of torpedo bombers, dive bombers, and fighters lost track of each other. Some missed the enemy completely, and had to return to their own carriers. Whole squadrons of torpedo bombers were slaughtered in utterly futile attacks when they arrived at the Japanese fleet alone and went in anyway. And after the battle, we allowed a Japanese submarine to sneak in and sink the carrier Yorktown and the destroyer Hammann, then escape unscathed.

Nonetheless, the Battle of Midway was a decisive victory for the United States. At the price of the Yorktown and the Hammann and a little over 300 killed sailors, we cost the Japanese four of the six carriers that had attacked Pearl Harbor, a heavy cruiser, and over 3,000 dead. Further, we destroyed a huge number of their best carrier pilots, a blow from which the Imperial Japanese Navy never recovered. June 4-6, 1942, was the decisive turning point. Earlier, at the Coral Sea, we confronted them and fought them to a draw. Later, at Guadalcanal, we won our first offensive victory. But it was at Midway that our ultimate victory was assured.

And we won not despite all our mistakes, but arguably because of them. Because our battle plan was flexible enough to recognize that mistakes will be made, and allowed for reacting and adapting to them.

Much like in Iraq. Dr. Rice is correct — we made thousands of tactical mistakes. But we learned from them, adapted, and moved forward. Need a little supporting evidence? Let me call on a former guest poster from here at Wizbang, Rob Port, to give one indicator.

It’s a shame Dr. Rice had to retract her statement. It was an important point, and those people who are demanding a full accounting for every single error are gravely misguided. They are demanding perfection, and that is an unattainable goal — and any plan that demands perfection is doomed to tragic failure. Back to my earlier example, that was the hallmark of Imperial Japan’s battle plans — and history shows how well they worked.

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  1. JohnAnnArbor April 3, 2006
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