This virus is our Pearl Harbor, a catastrophic failure

“If our intelligence systems and all our other channels of information failed to produce an accurate image of Japanese intentions and capabilities,” she wrote, “it was not for want of the relevant materials.”

Presumably relevant authorities in our time—the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other scientific bodies—after analyzing Ebola, SARS, MERS and Zika, have known of a coming pandemic long enough to have a good idea of what we were in for.

Wohlstetter notes myriad factors undermining decisions on Pearl Harbor: false alarms, which eroded urgency; interservice rivalries, which impeded coherence; and of course the multiple distractions of wartime. Today even normal life feels like the fog of war, with no one having enough hours in the day to focus on unfinished to-do lists.

“They had no opportunity or time to make a critical review of the material,” Wohlstetter wrote of the war planners, “and each one assumed that others who had seen it would arrive at identical interpretations.” They didn’t do it then, and we haven’t now.