Steve Twomey’s Pearl Harbor book teaches us a lot about life and relationships

Sometimes books teach us things we never expected to learn. History can be a great guide to living our daily lives.

Countdown to Pearl Harbor: The Twelve Days to the Attack by Steven Twomey is a fascinating history book. I like to read about World War II. Most of my reading has been about the European Theater so Twomey’s keen insight into the Pacific taught me a lot.

The book confirms in spectacular detail the general impression many of us have that the U.S. could have or should have known the attack was coming in Hawaii.

Twomey, who is a Facebook friend I don’t know well at all, is a Pulitzer Prize winning feature writer and it shows. The book is terrifically written. Twomey’s words made me sweat the entire 12 days even though I obviously knew the attack was coming. You know it is a great book when you find yourself yelling at the men from 1941 for screwing the pooch.

It is how those men messed up that fascinated me. It dawned on me fairly quickly that every day many of us make the same mistakes  that U.S. Army, Navy and political leaders disastrously made in 1941.

Twomey actually wrote a piece on the business lessons to be learned from his book. He has allowed me to append it to the bottom of this post. It is a good read and he is right on the mark.

But as I bumble through life, I think we would all do better in our social discourse if we learned from the Pearl Harbor errors.


The naval and military leaders at Pearl Harbor assumed ships could not reach Pearl Harbor. They assumed Japanese weapons were inferior. They assumed Japan did not have the courage to attack and on and on.

Many of us roll through the world making assumption after assumption about our spouse, children, friends or people we don’t like much.

Those assumptions are based on past behavior, stereotypes, tone of voice, etc. I know I jump to some pretty dumb conclusions sometimes simply because I react before I completely listen. I assume I know what’s coming and I really don’t like making an “ass out of u and me” as the old cliché about the word assume goes.

Belittling the other folks

The United States naval and army leaders held the Japanese in very low esteem. They belittled their intelligence, their flying ability and their naval acumen. Our leaders thought so little of the Japanese they believed it was impossible for them to attack us.

That’s exactly what is happening in our political discussions today and it also happens in our families today. Too often we judge people who disagree with us as stupid and ignorant.

They must be inferior if they don’t see our brilliance and insight.

My children and I used to have a rule.  If we thought we had heard something outrageous and even stupid, we had to ask ourselves if we thought that person was stupid. The answer to that question was always no. That told us we had sold our family member or friend short and we probably needed to ask for clarification.

Not invented here syndrome

Too many of our military leaders believed in American superiority to the point of foolishness.

They could not imagine that anybody, especially the Japanese, could figure out solutions to problems that had vexed us. If we couldn’t figure out the solution, nobody else could either.

Pride and hubris have laid me low more than a few times. I have learned over and over since a high school debate competition that there is always someone smarter than I am. Still, I forget it way to often.

When I taught entrepreneurial thinking, I used to urge my students to spend a lot of time examining whether competitors actually had a better mousetrap. When I was an editor and story subjects insisted our findings were wrong  I urged reporters to give every consideration to the fact that the objectors might be right.

In the same way our spouse, children or friends might be correct if we climb down off our high horse.

Dumb allegiance to your frame

The Japanese will not attack. The Japanese cannot attack. It is illogical that they attack and it is logical they do what we expect them to do. We have done nothing to provoke them.

That was the frame through which American leaders saw the Japanese prospects and possibilities. Our leaders never considered how angry the Japanese were, how belittled they actually felt and how squeezed for territory they felt. America never appreciated just how far the Japanese were willing to go.

We all have frames built by our upbringing, our faith or lack of it, our worldviews, our ethical values and even the role of love in our lives. Because our life experiences are different, our frames can be a little different to radically different.

We often have an innate inability to recognize our different frames. Doesn’t everybody think like I do?

I used to teach students about thinking differently by hoisting a Starbucks cup. I would hold the cup between two students. One student could see the green mermaid-like Starbucks insignia on one side. The other student saw a philosophical saying. Neither student was wrong about what they were seeing, but their frame was constrained. The truth is, few of us turn our cup around to see both sides of the cup and really focus on what the other person is seeing. So we make our decision with only half the story.

A little paranoia is healthy

The Americans at Pearl Harbor were so convinced they would not attack they never even looked for the Japanese. A wise man taught me early in my career that “paranoia is only heightened awareness.”  My late wife’s secret to raising our children was “trust but verify.” That’s why my kids always knew that their Mom might call the other Mom just to make sure somebody was monitoring their actions.  A little “trust but verify” at Pearl Harbor would have at least put some planes in the sky to see what was happening.

Steven Twomey’s book is a fine account of an important 12 days in our history. It can certainly teach us some things about national defense, but there are also important life lessons in it too.

Tim J. McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home.”




Op-Ed Piece

bu Steven Twomey

November 7, 2016


Give Japan’s navy its due. It successfully ambushed Pearl Harbor seventy-five years ago because its commander was partial to gambles; its technicians eliminated a confounding quirk of torpedoes, and its seamen proved adept at sailing thousands of miles undetected. The Japanese got lucky, too. In the era before spy satellites, they had no way of knowing as they set out whether the Pacific Fleet would even be in Hawaiian waters on December 7, 1941. And, no, Franklin Roosevelt did not know they were coming.

But mostly, the Japanese were the beneficiaries of acute managerial breakdown. One of the most unexpected, self-image shattering events in American history may be receding into a misty other century, but it is the perfect primer of the mistakes that government and business – that all of us — make every day.

Lesson One: Make sure there’s no other way to read what you write.

As peace was fraying in late November, Washington alerted its forces in the Pacific to probable Japanese aggression. Or thought it had. In reality, when officers at Pearl Harbor saw the Navy Department’s unprecedented first sentence – “This dispatch is to be considered a war warning” – they concluded danger lay elsewhere, because the note immediately went on to list Japan’s likely objectives, and Hawaii was not one of them. Its writers knew what they had meant – that while the listed locales seemed especially threatened, no outpost should feel safe – but they hadn’t considered how recipients might conflate the parts. If he missed the point, the fleet commander said later, “Then there must have been something the matter with the message.”

     Lesson Two: To assume is to regret.

That commander, Admiral Husband E. Kimmel, was not required to report he understood the warning, or what security steps he was taking. Those in charge on the sea frontiers had risen to their exalted positions by demonstrating smarts and judgment, and the Navy Department was certain they would do the right thing. It wouldn’t micromanage. Only too late did Washington ask Oahu if search planes had been out, only to learn the answer was no. It is wise to give subordinates the room to be creative; it is not to remain ignorant of their choices.

In contrast, the Army did order its Hawaii commander to report how he was responding to the warning. But the War Department then failed to grasp what General Walter C. Short wrote back: He was guarding only against sabotage by islanders of Japanese descent, not an attack from without. “I told them as plainly as I could,” Short said. The Army Chief of Staff blamed a deluge of work for not reading carefully a reply he had demanded personally.

     Lesson Three: You can’t have multiple leaders.

The Navy and Army on Oahu did not compare notes after the warnings. Neither was subservient to the other. A congressman who was also a Marine reservist had spent a month of active duty on the island that summer, and concluded that one man ought to be in charge of both services there, someone to whom the crucial data and problems went, and from whom the big decisions emanated. To leave responsibility muddled “may prove dangerous and tragic,” the congressman wrote the Navy in October. Nothing had changed by December. As for whether Kimmel had begun a search after the warnings, which is what he thought might happen, Short said, “I did not pin him down.”

     Lesson Four: Don’t let your desires color new facts.

Too often on Oahu the latest intelligence was interpreted in a benign way, which enabled everyone to avoid disrupting plans and routines. By December 2, the names of four Japanese aircraft carriers had vanished from intercepted radio traffic, but the conclusion was they most likely remained in home waters. By December 3, Japanese diplomats were destroying codebooks and machines in Washington and elsewhere, but that was seen as merely a precaution Japan was taking in case the United States attacked it. “I didn’t draw the proper answer,” Kimmel said later.  “I admit that. I admit that I was wrong.”

This tendency to give information a sunny spin was especially costly in regard to torpedoes. Dropped from an airplane, a torpedo plunges deeply before running to its target. Pearl Harbor was but forty-five feet. In June, Washington advised that while an attacker would probably need considerably more water than that to avoid having its torpedoes plow into the sea bottom, no depth should be thought safe. The fleet did not take the caution to heart. No cumbersome protective netting was strung around the tethered battleships, which wound up punctured repeatedly by torpedoes the Japanese had modified for shallow waters.

     Lesson Five: If you are given expert advice, remember it.

In March 1941, a general and an admiral on Oahu concluded that in a time of tension, a fast Japanese raiding force might reach island waters “with no prior warning from our intelligence services,” and prior to a declaration of war. Launched from one or more carriers, Japanese planes might catch the fleet unawares in port, the two officers said. Reconnaissance would be the only antidote.

But then, just about everyone relegated that dangerous scenario to their mental back pages. It was a box that had been ticked. Americans did not view the Japanese as particularly creative or capable. The Navy felt its own ships would have a hard time pulling off a comparable strike on Japan, and if our boys couldn’t do it, theirs couldn’t. In the days after the war warnings, with four enemy carriers unaccounted for, no one even mentioned the news to the admiral who had co-authored the March report.

That morning long ago, as warplanes with red balls on their wings swept down on his ships, Kimmel stood in his yard watching with a neighbor, who would remember the look on the commander’s face. He was “as white as the uniform he wore.”

Do the kind thing and don’t worry about gratitude

There is a meme running around Facebook that goes like this: “Have you ever gone out of your way to help someone and then find out how ungrateful they really are?”

I suppose it is a harmless expression of frustration, but it really bugs me. That’s really a self-destructive attitude and it’s mighty selfish. You did a nice thing and now you expect a parade? Good luck.

My late dad actually taught me that years ago. He would tell my mom and the kids, “do the nice thing but don’t sit around waiting for thank yous.” My dad wasn’t a great philosopher but every now and then he absolutely nailed it. When we get upset because somebody wasn’t grateful enough we give them control over our happiness and our goodness. And, your motive for being nice gets thrown into question too.

For me there is a tangible joy I get from doing the nice thing. Oh sure, I enjoy a hearty thank you and occasionally some recognition for the nice things I do, but I am working hard on not needing that. More and more I try to do silent acts of kindness.

Four or five times a week I have been buying coffee for the car behind me at the drive-thru Starbucks. Just because. It’s only a few bucks and I often jokingly tell the barista, “I need the good karma!” I make it a point not to linger or look back, to be sure I don’t do it for the acknowledgement.

It is nice when it comes. The other day I bought a $2.27 coffee for a guy. He apparently violated a speed limit or two because he caught up with me and hoisted his cup in a happy, appreciative, toast.

I thought little of it until I got to my office. I was a good 20 feet from the door when an exiting student stopped and held the door for me for several seconds. He went way out of his way to do the kind thing. Karma?

I didn’t know the young man. He had no duty to do the right thing. He didn’t hold that door for the thank you. He held the door because it was a nice thing.

As I walked away from that encounter with a little glow, I could not help but think about all the anger we see in the world and wonder if  being nice could help.

Perhaps we all need more good karma. Maybe we can find it by doing the nice thing and not getting pissed when people don’t bow down before us in gratitude.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance



Love is a verb and it would be nice if we all understood that

My new wife, Candace Hadley McGuire, is smart and deeply compassionate. She amazes me with her concern for other people. But she also articulates her concern beautifully.

If I had a nickel for every time she tells me “love is a verb,” I would have a damn big jar full of nickels. Her powerful point is that love without action, love without good deeds or love without solving a problem is hollow.

It is easy to say I am in love with you, but it is far more difficult to say I love you and my behavior will prove it.

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States last week prompted me to think of Candace’s words. The Pope doesn’t spout theoretical puffery about love, he goes to lunch with the homeless. He hugs immigrants and pays special attention to children. He makes love a verb and many Americans are stumped by his behavior. One Fox News commentator said he’s “tired” of the Pope and suggested he is in the wrong country.

Perhaps the Pope doesn’t have American values and, sadly, that may be a good thing. This media obsession with whether the Pope is liberal or conservative is absolutely silly. He is a man of faith who believes that rules and prescriptions don’t create love, actions do.

Rather than attempting to categorize the Pope as liberal or conservative, Americans should be listening and watching Francis love. The truth is that in our me-obsessed, Ayn Rand believing, selfish society, it does seem radical to actively love everyone. Americans keep insisting we are a Christian nation, but too often we hate people who are different than us and we care little for those who have less than we do. The rhetoric from some Presidential candidates is terrifically anti-Christian. That Sermon on the Mount thing from Jesus should guide us to love and care.

If we truly let Pope Francis show us that love is a verb, this country would look different. It might actually look like a country concerned about something bigger than self-interest.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance

We can learn important life lessons from how companies treat their clients

I have had several encounters with businesses trying to serve my needs recently. I think I came away from those encounters with new insights about how we ought to treat people.

Over the weekend at my wedding, Pittsburgh Blue, a wonderful Minnesota restaurant, and a catering company called Fabulous Catering, dramatically exceeded my expectations and delivered a tremendous customer experience. The rehearsal dinner at Pittsburgh Blue and the reception catered by Fabulous, were wonderfully executed by committed staff and people who genuinely cared for clients.

Last week, in Phoenix, my new wife and I were ignored and made to feel as if we were the business’s last priority. It was pretty clear that the Phoenix business had internal problems and challenges that were more important to them than the customer’s needs.

As I have reflected in the last few days, it is clear to me that the Minnesota businesses made us number 1 and they were totally invested in creating a positive experience. They understood that a marriage is a very big deal and that their companies were not just catering events, they were building lasting memories. They behaved accordingly. They were outwardly focused.

The Phoenix company was dealing with a very sensitive issue for us. In our minds, our case was the most important in the world. The Phoenix company did not act as if they recognized that. The company representative acted as if her needs trumped ours.

My close friend, Pat Dawson, actually consults on customer experience. This is a major line of inquiry for companies attempting to raise profits through better relationships with customers.

My interest in this subject is different and more personal. I wonder how many of us really attempt to appreciate that the person we are dealing with is totally focused on their own predicament and they want our help to escape. Many of us complain that “she is totally focused on herself,” or “he only thinks about me,me,me!” What part of that surprises us?

We do the same thing, yet we often expect others to put aside their own self-interests. Many of us have been taught the golden rule, to treat others as we would want to be treated. But there’s a serious problem there in that many people do not share our expectations and standards. A more appropriate approach is to treat people the way they want to be treated.

That sort of thinking allows us to meet the other person where they are. It recognizes that their fears, and uncertainties are real to them even if you find those fears silly. If we treat people the way they want to be treated we validate them in ways we cannot if we cling to our own rules and expectations.

Tim J McGuire is the author of “Some People Even Take Them Home” A Disabled Dad, A Down Syndrome Son and Our Journey To Acceptance