Manufacturing this book required focusing on many lessons in American and western culture which have gone neglected. What passes as history in media settings today, is often little more than socio-cultural sensationalism, and even then, the full story is filtered and sanitized with an irresponsible disregard to future generations of Americans. The previous generation made sacrifices for the survival of a culture which the Baby Boomers never had to make. How quickly we file away in our memory the gift of peace so painfully paid for by those extraordinary men, women and leaders who emerged from the shadows of WWII.
Fleet Admiral Chester Nimitz is one such titan; he ensured the success of the Pacific war and gracefully allowed the General Douglas MacArthur to play his role at center stage. Nimitz truly understood the importance of prosecuting and ending the war by nourishing MacArthur’s forces through a lethal, watery 5,000 nautical mile logistical chain from San Francisco to Guam. He understood the importance of mitigating the influence of the Japanese fleet through use of the submarine. Nimitz was a submarine sailor, and thus, Nimitz worked tirelessly to push on toward opening up the Pacific. Quiet Chester Nimitz, who relieved Admiral Kimmel after the Pearl Harbor massacre, was one of the heroes of the Pacific war.
In examining the evolution of Chester Nimitz from youth to leader and warrior, one discovers a testament to the formation of the American character. Nimitz came from humble beginnings, having grown up in Fredericksburg, Texas. Through much hard work, he landed an appointment to the Naval Academy, and began his naval career as a first year cadet, or Plebe, in 1901. As an Ensign, he received orders to a plum assignment in the Phillipines. The 92-foot-long Panay would take the 20 something year old Nimitz on high adventure. Her keel was laid in 1884 by the Spanish in the Cavite Naval yards of the Philippines. She was lightly armed and had a top speed of 8 knots. Nimitz states: “Those were great days. We had no radio, no mail, and no fresh food. We did a lot of hunting. One of the seamen said one day he’couldn’t look a duck in the beak again’.” (1) Ensign Chester Nimitz was in love with opportunity and responsibility. Truly, the world was his oyster.
This had to be a defining moment for him in his life and his naval career. He had most likely been exposed to the sea stories of sailors – especially China Sailors - and this particular young midshipman from Texas was just as impressionable as any other Middie. He probably did not know whether to believe half of the stories, but on the Panay, he knew that some experiences in Navy life cross the line from sea story, and enter into the mystery and magic of the fairy tale. The Navy, by tradition, builds its future leaders by dumping responsibility on the young - thus forcing wisdom to bloom out of decision-making – from both the good decisions and the bad decisions. What an oyster young Nimitz had fallen into.
Like all fairy tales, it would not last, and in 1907, Rear Admiral Uriah Rose Harris ordered Ensign Nimitz to take command of the Torpedo Destroyer USS Decatur. His oyster was replaced with greater responsibility. The Decatur was a 250 foot, four stack coal-burner capable of 28 knots. She maintained a crew complement of approximately 50 and was part of the family of Bainbridge class Destroyers which would go on to serve with distinction in WWI.
He was taking on new freedom, new responsibility and new opportunities. The Decaturwas another stepping stone on the road to building, developing and forging the leadership style that would be unique to the strength and character of Chester Nimitz. On the evening of July 7, 1908, while entering Batangas Harbor just south of Manila Bay, Ensign Nimitz ran the Decatur aground on a mudbank. (2) Just after daybreak on February 23, a small steamer appeared on the horizon, which then approached, then heaved a line onboard Decatur to pull her out of the mud.
Ensign Nimitz reported his accident to his senior officer, and was immediately dispatched with orders to the cruiser USS Denver to await Court Martial. His charge was: “Culpable inefficiency in the performance of duty.” Due to his quality of character and performance, as well as the poor quality of nautical charts in the southern Manila Bay region, the charge was reduced to a sentence of “public reprimand by Commander in Chief, U.S. Naval Forces in Philippine waters.” Naturally, there would be an entry in his personnel record which would follow him for the remains of his previously fortuitous career.
For any Commander of a vessel at sea, running the ship aground is career suicide. It does not matter if the helmsman was asleep at the wheel, or the navigator was in error, the Captain must be, and remains, ultimately accountable. It is noteworthy that Nimitz did not bring his small band of crewmembers together, manufacture a secret pact and conspire to “ignore” the event. I sincerely believe it never registered in the mind of the young Ensign. Also, Nimitz did not run away from his failure; he did not take the first steamer to Singapore or Hong Kong. He presented himself, he took responsibility, he expected accountability. This is a character strength that is not developed in the 21st century; it goes un-rewarded and unrecognized in our contemporary society. It is better known simply as honor.
I also believe that in 21st century America, legal advice would have insisted that Nimitz enter a plea of not guilty. Further, I believe Nimitz would not have entertained such advice. This book is an attempt to underline the importance of honor in our daily professional, private and spiritual lives. I believe honor has been corrupted because it is just….inconvenient. It takes too long, and cannot be substituted for the short-cut, the fast-track, the cell-phone app. I believe our society has accepted the falsehood that gluttony and arrogance is better than contentment, modesty and humility because, well, perhaps it is more fashionable. We have turned off from the road to honesty, humility and virtue and taken the highway to arrogance, and we regale in it.
Ensign Nimitz was a bona fide failure. Ensign Nimitz survived. Naval leadership in the early 20th century must have been more understanding or wiser. Running a ship aground is a career-ender, but it is different than the administrative relief of a Commanding Officer for Loss of Confidence. In the U.S. Navy of the 21st century, Loss of Confidence is still too common and too frequent. Norman Polmar, the noted defense analyst writes in January of 2011 that the Navy is experiencing a Crisis in leadership, both civilian and military. (3) But why is this? The military academies accept only the best and the brightest. The American taxpayers pay willingly for the expensive education and training of a professional officer corps second to no other nation in the world. For a return on their investment, America can only hope for some limited guarantee of peace through the nurturing and building of this exceptional human resource.
The Loss of Confidence in an officer in command is predicated on the unique position of trust and responsibility an officer in command possesses. (4) This book begins with a leadership tale that is specifically military, and even more so, singularly Navy; I believe the issues I discuss in this book are cross-cultural to all American work centers and community organizations.
What is it about trust and responsibility today, that should be nourished between a senior and subordinate, and instead becomes corrupted? What has happened to trust and responsibility today between the small business owner and employee, financial advisor and client, and worse of all, teacher and student? Somehow we have lost our compass, and I will toil to reveal those fundamental principles which gave rise to a nation of such character and industry, that it put a man on the moon. Sadly, in only a few decades, Americans perceive a vacuum which sucked the integrity from out of the heart of our nation. More importantly, this is the same nation that produced leaders and naval review boards that peered deep and long into the heart and character of a young officer from Texas, and decided not to smash his soul on the rocks and shoals of bureaucratic mediocrity. In return, he secured a peace in the pacific that has lasted decades upon decades.