From Strategy and Policy Department
January 3, 2013
Newport, R.I.-U.S. Naval War College faculty and students in the Strategy and War course this week zeroed in
on a case study analyzing “Victory at Sea: Prewar Planning, Military Transformation, and Joint
Operations in a Major Maritime War—The Pacific War.”
This case has a good deal of contemporary relevance. The Pacific War featured the main
types of naval platforms that the United States Navy relies on today: surface combatants,
aircraft carriers, and submarines. Once Japan began to use kamikaze tactics with “human cruise
missiles” at the end of the war, it foreshadowed naval warfare in the missile age. The Pacific
War also shows the importance of information superiority, on which operational planners and
strategic visionaries place much emphasis nowadays.
Professor Sally Paine, Strategy and Policy department and the author of the new book The Wars
for Asia, 1911-1949 (2012), began the lesson before the holiday break with a briefing on the
importance of culture in the strategic and operational decisions of Japanese leaders. Professor
Michael Vlahos followed with a lecture entitled “Hotel Yamato” that questioned the importance
of the capitol ship. When instruction began again after the first of the year, Professor Douglas
V. Smith of the Strategy and Policy Division, College of Distance Education, gave a lecture on
the 41 naval battles in the Pacific and the strategic course of the war that challenged that view.
According to the course syllabus, “The Pacific War provides the most compelling and
controversial case study for the analysis of war termination in the history of modern warfare.”
Professor Nicholas Evan Sarantakes, Strategy and Policy department, addressed this issue in
another lecture “Culmination in the Pacific: November 1944-December 1945” to examine the
converting operational success into a strategic peace settlement.
“The U.S. reached its culmination point in the Pacific theater in the first half of 1945 and
converted military success into a peace/political climate that serviced its interests, but just
barely,” said Sarantakes, who used the 2007 New England Patriots and the 1972 Miami Dolphins
as metaphors on the difficulties that strategic leaders face in terminating wars. “The likelihood
that any of the other alternatives would have done as well—or better—than the actual events is
This case study provided an opportunity to examine how capabilities in one domain of warfare
translate into strategic success, and the importance of pulling together these capabilities to defeat
a determined adversary.
In the tradition of the Strategy and Policy department’s “teaching of grand strategy,” moderators
led students through seminar discussions of how policy and strategy choices made by the
political and military leaders of the great powers ultimately lead to the defeat of Imperial Japan.
Posted by Alyssa Menard