Local Veteran's View: Sneak attack on Pearl Harbor 80 years ago today was no game

From the column: "I and others play (war) games for competitive purposes but also to learn the histories of conflicts. I am able to return to Pearl Harbor."

Dave Granlund / Cagle Cartoons

"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and give him a terrible resolve.”

That quote is either directly or indirectly attributed to then-Imperial Japanese Marshal Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who commanded all naval units of the Imperial Japanese fleet, which, by 1941 when Japan launched its sneaky attack on Pearl Harbor, was superior to the U.S. fleet.

As Admiral Yamamoto feared, that attack 80 years ago today really ticked off the U.S.

It wasn’t the first time the Japanese tried a sneaky attack. They did the same thing in 1904, with torpedo boats against the Imperial Russian fleet at Port Arthur in Korea. We all remember that, right?

I’m guessing you don’t. But I have a war game on that war, as well as several games dealing with the wars Japan waged against the U.S., Russia, and others. While war games are a niche hobby, they do provide some history into conflicts our country has been involved in, such as the U.S. against Japan.


Some games have looked at possible conflicts with Japan in the 1920s and 1930s. Japan was growing as a country and needed oil and other stuff, and it saw the U.S. as getting in the way of such goals. The U.S. had its own plan for dealing with Japan, called Operation Orange. The U.S. had similar color-coded plans against other countries — including Germany, France, and even Great Britain — but its primary target was Japan. The Japanese were up to no good, but we didn’t know how bad.

This is simulated in another game I have called “Victory in the Pacific.” It begins with Japanese naval units attacking U.S. naval units in Hawaii. The “Japs” get the jump on us and can take out some of the ships that were then stationed at Pearl Harbor. After that, the game follows history, where the U.S. builds up a huge arsenal of ships, planes, and Marines and eventually grinds down the Japanese until they are defeated. But it’s a game, so whether you are playing solo or with others it’s a matter of how well you defeat the Japanese.

The same holds true with other games I have played dealing with our conflict with Imperial Japan during World War II. They all come down to Pearl Harbor, where the Japanese made their fatal mistake. Just like when the Indians wiped out a part of Custer’s command, eventually leading to their defeat, the same can be said for the Japanese. (I have a few games on the American-Indian wars, too. Like our conflict with the Japanese, these games generally end up with the U.S. winning.)

You may ask, why play games that portray such tragedy? A fair question. I and others play these games for competitive purposes but also to learn the histories of conflicts. I am able to return to Pearl Harbor.

I asked people on social media whether they were at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7 or had relatives who were there. No one answered. Granted, there are not many around anymore who can claim to have been there that morning.

On this Dec. 7, I’ll try to go to an event — or I’ll play a game that relates to today’s date. In a way, playing the game means more to me. I’m playing history and sort of reliving it. As I push the playing pieces around on the map, roll the dice, thinking strategy and tactics, I’m aware of the men and women who gave their lives on Dec. 7, and later.

Dave Boe is a writer, retired from the military, and mostly a man leisure, who lives in Duluth. He can be reached


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Dave Boe of Duluth

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