What your view of sports and life would be if you had too many concussions
This movie is not on my list of essential films.
NOTE: This installment of Sports Analogies Hidden In Classic Movies is being done as part of a blog-a-thon celebrating Joseph Cotten. This is an event hosted by two blogs called Maddy Loves Her Classic Films and In The Good Old Days Of Classic Hollywood. In any event, if you are a fan of classic film, there’s really no reason those blogs shouldn’t be in your bookmarks.
You can all see the participants in this blog-a-thon here.
The best way to describe “Tora! Tora! Tora!” is it tells the story of the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor from both the American and Japanese perspectives. But what it really does is strip off the history-book petina that Pearl Harbor was a “surprise attack.”
Instead, the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941 had its roots two years earlier. In August 1939, a trade embargo imposed by the United States starved the Japanese war machine of vital raw materials. By the next year, the Japanese are in such need of oil and other materials they are planning to invade the Phillipines and French Indo-China to get them. The only problem is those plans will invariably lead to hostilities with the United States. Thus becomes the alliance with Germany and Italy in September 1940.
This also leads to the planning of a pre-emptive strike on the U.S. Pacific Fleet anchored at Pearl Harbor. The belief was Japan’s best chance of seizing control of the Pacific Ocean would be to annihilate the American fleet the moment war was declared. However all during this time, American military intelligence has managed to break the Japanese “Purple” code, which means not only can the Americans intercept Japanese radio transmissions; once they did they would know about the increasing amount indicating increased Japanese naval activity.
Over the next few months, diplomatic relations between the Japanese and the Americans continue to deteriorate; so much so that the Japanese decide that it is time to tell the Americans they are declaring war. They have a complex plan to tell the Americans of this declaration just before the attack. But through a series of mistakes and unforeseen complications, the message doesn’t get delivered until after seven American battleships are resting on the sea floor.
Once the Japanese realize the declaration of war was not received prior to the bombs being dropped, Japanese naval commander Admiral Yamamoto notes this will only add to the infuriation of the Americans by stating “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
The Hidden Sports Analogy:
In “Tora! Tora! Tora!,” our blog-a-thon honoree plays Secretary of War Henry Stimson. There’s a lot of reasons why Stimson is a historically fascinating character, but for purposes of this discussion, there’s only two that matter.
After World War II broke out in Europe, President Franklin D. Roosevelt appointed Stimson to head the War Department. This was a highly unusual move because Stimson was in his 70’s at this point. He had also held this same post nearly thirty years earlier under President William Howard Taft. But the most unconventional wrinkle in Roosevelt’s naming of Stimson is they were very much from opposite sides of the political aisle. FDR was arguably the father of modern American socialism, and Stimson was the definition of a conservative Republican.
Think about that for a minute. Imagine how completely impossible that would be in the polarized political environment in America of 2018. Regardless of your political stripe, this example of a sports analogy hidden in a classic movie is all about how nothing good comes from refusing to work with people with whom you disagree.
In order to illustrate that, let’s start with one thing “Tora! Tora! Tora!” does well; it shows the run-up to Pearl Harbor from both sides. That’s vital to today’s comparison as the story of the attack on Pearl Harbor starts long before the planes lifted off the Japanese carriers. In much the same manner, the NFL labor stoppage of 2011 began long before anybody ever picked up a picket sign.
Consider that the NFL Players’ Association (NFLPA) were backed into a corner much like the Japanese. The NFLPA knew the only way they could get anything in negotiations with the owners was to hit them in the wallet, and the only real means they had of doing so was a labor stoppage. The problem was the owners didn’t suffer from the same comedy of errors which befell the Americans at Pearl Harbor. The owners pulled their own version of an embargo by locking the players out.
By beating the players to the punch, the owners not only took away the only real weapon the players had, they turned it against them. By initiating the work stoppage, the owners sent the message they could live off their fat deeper into the winter than could the players. Suddenly, the players found themselves going from just dealing from a position of weakness to one of flat-out survival.
The pivotal moment in the lockout comes right before a hearing in the 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on an injunction filed by the NFLPA. Once the gavel goes down in court is the minute the bombs start falling; the planes are off the carriers and war is in the air. But in the proverbial “ninth hour,” there was agreement to launch a negotiation process which not only avoided court but culminated with the “hug heard ’round the world.” This was the scene when New England Patriots’ owner Robert Kraft and then-Indianapolis Colts’ center Jeff Saturday created the “sailor kissing the nurse in Times Square” moment signaling the end of the 2011 lockout when they bear-hugged at a news conference announcing a 10-year collective bargaining agreement had been reached.
That begs the question: How did the NFLPA go from looking like they were going to be little more than bomb targets to coming away with arguably a tactical, if not strategic victory?
The answer is all about Jeff Saturday. When he became the key negotiator, Saturday understood the only way he could avoid total defeat was to exploit the owner’s one area of weakness; the pending and potential lawsuits against the league by former players. By showing a willingness to sacrifice some current player demands to address those concerns. That meant Saturday had to unify factions in the NFLPA who had varying interests.
Saturday pulled this off using a Stimson-like approach by examining the issue from the other side’s perspective. Henry Stimson was one of the first to clearly see that hostilities with the Japanese were on the horizon, because he could see the geo-political goals and the infrastructural needs the Japanese were facing. DeMaurice Smith, the executive director of the NFLPA chose Saturday for this role for precisely the same reason FDR chose Henry Stimson. In both cases, it was a move calculated to unify the ranks for what was promising to be a protracted war.
Saturday and Stimson were both men who could work with people and get results. Saturday took a lot of fire from the faction who wanted bigger salaries for current players because he focused on getting more for the former players, knowing making concession to the owner’s Achilles’ Heel could break the logjam in negotiations. As a result, the NFLPA now has better post-retirement benefits; medical care, pensions, transition programs, and the creation of the $620 million Legacy Fund for pre-1993 players. Saturday understood the fatality of the “everything has to be my way” mentality; therefore he found a way to take what he could get.
While they were both successful at being unifying forces, the difference between Saturday and Stimson is in degree of latitude. Saturday had many more options to achieve his goals; there wasn’t really a way for Stimson to avoid war. Despite that, Stimson did what was needed at the time and went on to play a major part in the America war effort.
As mentioned, this movie does a tremendous job of telling the story of Pearl Harbor from both sides; the main failing of Tora! Tora! Tora! is it really doesn’t do justice to the role of Henry Stimson.
The Moral of The Story:
Achieving real solutions means working with people with whom you disagree. If you can’t understand that…you’re more likely to be part of the problem.
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Interesting stuff. I love how you link films and sport. I haven’t seen this film in years, but I remember it being a real epic.
You did it. You got me to read every word about football. Ha!
Tora! Tora! Tora! is a movie that draws me in every time I see it airing on television. The dual perspectives are engrossing.
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I’m going to assume I should take getting you to read about football as high praise 🙂
Terrific review! Like you said, this film presents a fascinating look at the build-up to the attack on Pearl Harbor.
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