Eight Words And Pearl Harbor

What do you think of when the anniversary of Pearl Harbor rolls around every December 7? I’ll tell you my image in a moment but let’s get yours first.

Is is a photo of burning American battleships? Is it a recording of President Franklin Roosevelt’s statement about a “day that will live in infamy”? Maybe you’ve had the good fortune to visit Pearl in Hawaii and have the chilling recollection of the oil rising to the surface at the USS Arizona monument. Something else?

Here’s mine. Eight words.

“We are now in the fog of war.”

That’s the statement made by US Army Chief of Staff, General George Marshall, when he walked into the War Department after having learned about the Japanese bombing of the American naval installation.

I think that’s a bone-jarring eight-word declarative sentence.

Think of it from a leadership perspective.

We don’t know what’s going on. We don’t know exactly what we’ll do. We aren’t clear on details, specifics, and a half-dozen other things that you and I have come to rely on in the 2010s.

And that was the formative statement offered by one of the most important leaders in Washington DC in December 1941.

Note what’s not said–“we are now in a state of war;” “we are about to be in a state of war;” or whatever else that might have been perceived as clarifying and crystallizing.

Nope, none of that. And I’m the leader.

Yes, Marshall was the leader. Every bit the leader.

You might be interested to know that Marshall’s quote was a reference to a book written by a British army officer in the late 1890s. Colonel Lonsdale Hale was a respected military author and observer in Great Britain. His books and articles–including one entitled “The Fog of War”–were available to Marshall when he graduated from Virginia Military Academy in 1903 and the Army Staff College in 1908.

Two quick things in closing. First, to read a brief leadership essay on Marshall’s statement, click here. Second, if you want me to do a session for you and your followers—or just for you, privately, in my Creative Conversations coaching service—please contact me. Thanks for reading. All the best, Dan