Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour


8:00 am.  Sunday, December the 7th, 1941. Pearl Harbour happened––a surprise military strike by the Japanese devastated the US naval base in the Pacific. Major US losses included: four battleships sunk and another four damaged and three each cruisers and destroyers damaged. Worse was the destruction of 188 aircraft. Even greater setback was the loss of 2336 men (killed) and 1,143 wounded.

Although the US avenged Pearl Harbour by nuke bombing Nagasaki and Hiroshima, it left indelible scars on the American psyche.

After the end of WW II, the Americans turned almost the whole of Pearl Harbour into a War Museum. The USS Arizona Memorial with the list of the dead warriors; the tattered Stars and Stripes and copies of the next day’s newspapers and much more––keep jolting Americans. “Never again,” is the message writ large upon everything American in Hawaii.

Strafed wall: HQ US PACAF

On my first visit to Hawaii, Brigadier General Meryll drew my attention to bullet marks on the wall of a building of the Headquarters of the US Pacific Air Forces. “We’ve deliberately not repaired those craters left by the Japanese bombers––they remind us that we were caught napping once. Pearl Harbour will never repeat,” he said.

A solemn resolve.

Time erodes memories. America was caught napping again––9/11 happened. The US pounded Afghanistan and killed Osama Bin Laden. Those follow-up actions certainly did not avenge or offset the 3,000 innocent American lives lost in the ghastly attack on the twin towers of the World Trade Centre.

As if that was not enough, America lowered its guard yet again. Covid-19 pandemic is no less than another Pearl Harbour––close to 1,97,000 innocent American lives lost, and still counting. America blames this one on China. Yet, simmering internal strife and the forthcoming Presidential election has blunted weakened Uncle Sam’s ability resolve to punish its perpetrator.

Caught napping…

Countries have their Pearl Harbour moments––October 1962 was India’s, when China attacked and occupied Indian territory by surprise. In the nearly six decades gone by, China has occasionally reminded India of that one time when India had dozed off. Galwan Valley incident was a rude reminder of the dragon’s sliminess. In fact, it was a jolt that let India learn its lesson hard, and fast. The result was evident in the swiftness with which Indian Army grabbed tactical advantage in the Pangong Tso Area. PLA will now use every arrow in its quiver to neutralise the Indian advantage. In all probability, the present lull is a prelude to yet another adventure by the dragon.

For whatever reasons, in 1962, India did not employ its combat air power against the Chinese. Likewise, during Kargil, restriction was imposed on the Indian Air Force on crossing the LAC. In both those cases, India paid an avoidable cost for not exploiting the full potential of its combat air power.

In the present situation, when the Indian Army is sitting pretty on heights overlooking the Chinese positions, it would be advisable to give the Air Force a free hand to plan and execute its operations in support of the Indian Army.

The supreme sacrifice made by the Indian Jawans in Galwan Valley is too recent an occurrence to be forgotten; it is never to be forgotten. 1962, India’s Pearl Harbour, is too unpleasant to be allowed to repeat.

Related posts:

Dealing with the Darned Dragon: Preface

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-I: Border Infrastructure

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-II: Escape Hatch

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-IV: Exercising (with) the Nuclear Option

Dealing with the Darned Dragon-V: Time to Kowtow!?

23 thoughts on “Dealing with the Darned Dragon-III: A Lesson from Pearl Harbour

  1. Gp Capt Ashok ..

    Very rational analogy drawn out . They are not the ones who will reconcile to any loss . long drawn out Indecisive face Off is in line with their larger strategy of tiring the adversary out .

    IAF would have a strategic advantage if the air warriors are given a free hand to operate . Unlike earlier establishments-this one seems more likely to allow this Should a need arise . !

    Keep writing
    Brig HSK


  2. No hanky panky. Precise and to the point . A point well made. The longitude and latitude of decision making should to left to the man out there facing the bullet who is the beat judge of the situation. Any delay could be fatal.


  3. No hanky panky. Precise and to the point . A point well made. The longitude and latitude of decision making should to left to the man out there facing the bullet who is the beat judge of the situation. Any delay could be fatal.


  4. Chordia Sir, your assessment of current state of affairs at border including Chinese dilema is very succint.

    However, we need go beyond surface.

    Military operations are expensive hence last option when all else fails.

    No nation opts for war merely to win or lose it militarily.

    Success & failures of conflict is defined by the objectives by which nations go to war.

    Chinese objectives can be speculated –

    land grab, salami slicing & expansionism are very dumb & pedestrian explanation of Chinese objective.

    The core objective of Chinese moves in Galwan was to protect its KK highway being threatened by India gaining proximity to it through the DOB Shyok Road project.

    When India refused to stop this kind of work in this region despite China’s repeated requests, China opted to intercept that road to cut it off militarily.

    Humiliating, punishing & intimidating India to establish its haegemony in the region and to send message to other neighbours and the world that in Asia it is China who makes the rules and it has the right to change the rules, backout on promisses & understanding, breach agreements & contracts as as per its changing needs and conveying to those dare to defy or threat Chinese interests in the reason to face Chinese military wrath are some of the other objectives of this conflict.

    But what was most important for china was to attain all the above objective without fighting a war .

    China is failing to achieve all its obove stated objectives comprehensively.

    But , I will still not consider it a victory of India if disengagement/descalation takes place at this stalemated position.

    Against above back drop, if India (having put so much resources & effort into this conflict), considers preventing Chinese aggression its objective and measure of success, it will constitute, in my opinion, too unambitious .

    China has not one but two soft, exposed strategic nerves that constitutes its achilles heals – one is KK Highway and other the Mallacca strait.

    Keys, handel and levers of both these vulnerable points are fortunately in the hands of India.

    India’s seizing this opportunity to consolidate its positions at both these vulnerable points in a manner that convinces China and gets the message across to it loud and clear that India has the ability and intent to intercept both these points to torture China credibly and effectively, will alone constitute a comprehensive Indian psychlogical victory over China that would tilt the geopolitical balance of power in South Asia for ever.



    1. You are bang on! Peace, we must love and value. But war, we must not shy away from. And that decision could be best left to the political leadership and the diplomatic corps. Today, stakes are very high for India. But, for China they are even higher. Let’s not kneel before a bully.


    2. I am inclined to think like Raj Mehta.
      There is no immediate reason for escalation in the lake area while real interest of China lie in DBO and Depsang area. Is it deception? Is China trying to burn us out before resuming march to real objective?
      Under existing circumstances we can only react. Perhaps complete rethink in our assessment of our strategic needs is needed. It will obviously require a paradigm shift in our policy.
      Yes we must have a broader view and look at KK highway Mallaca strait and all other points where we can pinch China.
      Ideally speaking the war should be fought over plateau of Tibet. This will require alignment with US and Quad and other countries bitten by belligerence of China. Need to contain China is universal. We must cash on. Of course we will have to bear the brunt by becoming flag bearers.


  5. Ashok skips the period of the nuclear bombings to the aero – sabotage of the Twin Towers of New York to justify a history of depredations of the government’s of America.That I would imagine is the recent spawning of new found love for that country and a certain selective understanding by design or oversight of related histories.
    Cutting to the chase in the Himalayan tops the Prime Minister and his Minister have confirmed of no intrusions while a certain section of the military and civil intelligentsia seems to have done the indefensible by doubting this official position.Be that as it may,it would not be pusilanimous to suggest that it is diplomacy that seems to be a kind of temporary palliative administered at Moscow based on this flurry of military might by India for presumably assuaging domestic sentiment of its proven capacities.Essentially to signal that so far all is well.The truce,if at all,does not hide the deep – set sense of mistrust which cannot be wished away.
    Behind all this posturing the unease of the future presages no conclusion.But I would reiterate India needs to choose realism instead of a kind of militarism (mistaken or abused as muscular nationalism)to explain its own conduct whether as reaction or preparedness for any eventuality.I repeat that India is no position to take defensive or offensive positions and get into a potentially bleeding situation in thousands of miles of disputed borders, arraigned as it is by conventional strategies of war.We may have disturbed China into distraction strategies but this would at best,pass off as cutting your nose to spite the face.
    A hard-nosed analysis would only, and very unfortunately, lead us to believe that China in effect has still managed to take two steps forward with one step backwards.
    The LAC stands rechristened as border areas just to add to the conundrum.


  6. Ashok skips the period from the Hiroshima bombings to the blowing up of the Twin Towers of America to justify the depredations of the American governments across the world.It is regrettable that these decades of horrors can be glossed over to explain the so-called clandestine transgressions of China.
    In a recent jostling for improved positions the tactical advantages claimed seem to have not been reflected in the Moscow declarations reminiscent of the pristine Panchsheel.Only this one seems to sound like Tweedledum-Tweedledee.It is bemusing to say the least that the PM and one of his ministers declared there have been no intrusions.Whether or not this statement belies our military moves,claims and counter claims is a no-brainer.It would not be pusilanimous to agree that India is no position to prove it’s capabilities left to bleed at the Himalayan tops and trying to protect thousands of miles of disputed borders.It is one thing to assuage domestic sentiment,keep its strong image intact and quite another in stretching it’s scarse reserves to square off with a powerful neighbour.Realism is in itself a show of political sagacity rather than muscular militarism masquerading as muscular nationalism.With a conventional war strategem and still to operate for limited conflicts between “fisticuffs and war” while being nuclearised is an overdone argument.We may have distracted or rattled a complacent or arrogant China depending on our sensitivities,whether or not Air Power shall tilt the balance is idle dicussion when the next war(,if at all)shall be fought in the Electro-magnetic, AI driven spatial,missile-based and disruptive technologies.
    Are we ready for it?Well no.That is what I would say.The stalemated status-quo requirement or posturing is well and truly,best forgotten.We need to gather our energies and resources to engage the neighbour in peaceful negotiations while modernising our military think and assets.
    Like it not,for now, it would be prudent to recognise that China has taken two steps forward and maybe one step backward !
    If you have been following the Parliamentary statements by reps of the ruling regime of significant loans taken during the recent conflict times while banning on the other many Chinese apps does not quite indicate a clear and confident policy among other things.Let us work with our neighbours rather than becoming a surrogate base for retrograde political powers who stand to gain with India looking at best, a Pretender !


    1. Pearl Harbour, 9/11,… US paid for not being alert. Whether the US is/ was right; whether US deserved what happened to it, are subjects of ‘different studies.’ Also whether India is prepared (economically, militarily, technologically,…. asymmetries,…etc) are also interesting subjects of yet another study. As stated in the preface to this series of posts, the starting point is: ‘if and when the political leadership hands over the baton to the military.’ If the military starts planning and preparing after the balloon goes up, then perhaps it’d be a repeat of 1962. Today the forces on either side are on the razor’s edge. And so, whatever can be done to achieve the probable military aims, must be done. There could be a lot of difference between what the leadership in either country says, implies and means—I know, I can spend a lifetime analysing and yet not understand it. In simple words, the essence of what I am saying is that, considering China’s past behaviour with us, we must stay alert. I guess that’s the least we can do?


  7. A very well articulated write up . Great comparison with Pearl Harbour and lessons learnt.
    Chinese are not to be believed at all.Use of airforce will certainly be a force multiplier.

    Need to be aggressive in dealing with China and simultaneously give impetus to movement of Tibet independence.


  8. Firstly apologies for having made several uncontrolled insertions due to my slow 3G mobile.
    I join issue on the collective pshyce ,narrative and grammar that seems to echo Western examples thereby a kind of unconscious Americana has taken hold of our imagination.Subconciously, we tread Western minefields of serial historical misdoings with affection and empathy.Howsoever,different the context, maybe.We erase horrific memories and provide escape hatches.Whereas when we look at China,1962 seems to have been writ large and with indelible ink.While most countries with frustrating historical legacies have or are moving on India seems to have been caught, frozen,despite so many governments for over 6 decades.Every Chinese initiative is seen with suspicion so much so Tibet,Hong Kong and Taiwan- settled issues of sovereignty are being tabled among other things as quid pro quo.The olive branch is shunned with disdain and cracks of misgivings morph into irredeemable hysteria.
    Unless India believes territorial nibbling shall be Strategy Centrale for subduing the Chinese dragon.

    Let it not be mistaken that in all of this pritzel policy of circular logic Indian military,political and diplomatic leadership have not come out looking any the prettier.
    The Indian rank and file stands fast awaiting the godless winters while the charade is nearing no end.Be prepared, but false bravado leaves murderous footprints of conspiratorial collusion, unworthy of a courageous fight on legitimate frontiers.


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