With all the current attention being paid to the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor through the movie and, in particular, several fine documentaries, it is, I believe, useful to focus upon the lesson we should have learned from that event. Perhaps as much as anything else, it has given us a study in unpreparedness.
The recent documentaries pointed out that researchers probing the events leading up to Pearl Harbor started out mystified as to why Japan would initiate a war with the United States.
Walter Prang, author of “At Dawn We Slept” and other novels, was told by the Japanese, “We didnt believe you would fight, and would sue for peace in six months.” This would have left all of Asia open to Japanese expansion. Of more relevance to us today is where they got the notion that we wouldnt fight. Among the responses to this query were:
–Despite Europe and Asia being embroiled in war, the U.S. Selective Service Act passed by only one vote.
–U.S. soldiers were on maneuvers in Louisiana with World War I material and were performing drills with wooden guns.
–The U.S. had not fortified the Pacific Islands.
At about the same time, the life insurance industry was under heavy attack. We were criticized for farm foreclosures during the Depression, cuts in dividends, locking up funds that could be used for business expansion and a host of other myths. We were also investigated by the Roosevelt administration and there were demands to nationalize the industry because of the number of people who lost their coverage in the Depression years.
But the industry saw the handwriting on the wall and prepared to fight back. In 1939, men of vision, encouraged by the National Association of Life Underwriters, founded the Institute of Life Insurance. The myths were exposed and our own Pearl Harbor was averted.
Years later, when business was booming, the Institute gradually became underfunded relative to current volumes of business and ultimately, it was disbanded. We let down our guard and we paid dearly for doing so. A classic case of a penny wise and a pound foolish.
More recently, by every measure, the industry was losing the support of the public by the early 90s. We lost market share and we lost lawsuits that should have been pursued more vigorously, but the public was not with us.