“A day which will live in infamy.” That was from FDR’s famous “Declaration of War” speech to Congress on December 8th, 1941, the day after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. This year’s remembrance is especially poignant, bittersweet if you want to think of it that way. This year marks the passing of the “Pearl Harbor Remembrance Organization.”
There are so few veterans left who were there, and any who are still alive are over 89 years old, that there just isn’t anybody left to remember it with. They have talked, shared, informed, remembered, and most of all, grieved all these years for their fallen countrymen who perished on that fateful day in December, 1941.
Much has been written, especially of late, about whether or not Pearl Harbor could have been prevented. I need to start this part of the discussion by telling you that I cannot abide “Revisionists.” There was a book published recently, and reviewed by Pat Buchanan on Human Events (http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=47962) where they quote Herbert Hoover as saying that FDR provoked the Japanese into attacking us.
That’s precisely the point – of course he did! What folks fail to take into account when they try to “revise” history is that they are looking backwards and usually with the benefit of “Superior” (or what we sometimes refer to as “20/20” ) vision. Looking back, many of us with this superior perception would do things differently perhaps, but then I am a firm believer that those who make the decisions are always acting in the best interests and with the best motives, especially those in high office such as FDR was at the time, and that they cannot be judged on the basis of our “Superior” knowledge. FDR acted, with what he felt were “Good” motives at the time, to not only protect American interests, but the interests of our allies, and to prevent further pain and suffering in Asia as Japan was engaged in a brutal war in China at the time.
Many conservatives have blasted FDR over the years, calling him a Communist, a Socialist, a “Traitor to his class” and so on. I think all of that is colossally unfair. None of us, especially separated by so many years, can remember what it was like for those going through the depression. We must remember there were millions of folks, living out of their cars, they were hungry all the time, they were discouraged most of the time, and they were angry some of the time. Things had turned sour for a number of reasons, not the least of which was greed and mistakes of the financial leaders and out of control speculation in the stock market.
I commented on this “Revisionist” book that was published using Herbert Hoover’s memoirs that said: “America could have avoided the second world war if we’d only been more willing to compromise with the Japanese.” All I can say to that is “Poppycock!” Hoover is a fool! He was not directly involved in any of the negotiations with the Japanese, nor was he asked for an opinion, so he was probably hot under the collar for such a rebuff. I suggest to everyone that they go and read the excellent history of Pearl Harbor (Dec. 7, 1941) in the book: At Dawn We Slept by Gordon W. Prange. Mr. Prange takes you through, step by step, the events as they happened, not in some “revisionist” dream of how they happened (or might have happened).
Another thing I will tell you, I have studied history, and in particular WWII most of my life, and I believe that given the way things happened leading up to WWI and the interwar period, that there was no way we could possibly have avoided going to war against Fascism. The rise of Fascism is a whole story in itself, how it came about, how the world was “Set up” at this particular juncture in history for just such a group of thugs as they were who tried to take over the world stage.
If there’s any lesson in history that’s important for the average person to grasp it’s that events do not happen in isolation! They are linked, intertwined with other factors, sociological factors, technological factors, other historical factors, and all of these combine to form the thread of what we call history as it happens. The one rule I’ve always used is the maxim: “Those who forget the past are condemned to repeat it.” That quote comes to us from an early 20th century philosopher named Georges Santayana. His meaning is clear to us, that we must study history and try to get wisdom from it, wisdom to govern today, based on the mistakes of the past.
Being a conservative by nature, it pains me very much to see other conservatives set out on this “revisionist” binge. There are those who think still today that we did not land on the moon, in spite of the recently published pictures of the landing sites on the surface of the moon! In those pictures you can see foot prints for gosh sakes! Then there are those who still believe the Kennedy assassination was carried out by a conspiracy, they fail to take into account the simple facts, and the principle of Occam’s Razor (in light of complex theories, the simplest theory that fits the evidence is probably true). I can point the reader to excellent resources there as well, including an excellent book I just finished titled: Death of a President by William Manchester.
Why do people engage in revisionism? Obviously, because they are trying to puff themselves up (pride) in the knowledge that they could or would have done better. I don’t like it, I don’t care for it, and I won’t stand for it. FDR was a President faced with a world that had grown increasingly radical and hostile. The Fascists had taken power in Italy, in Germany, and the militarists were in control of Japan. FDR had to maintain a balancing act to keep France and England happy (let’s not even mention the Russians), and to join in the general “Appeasement” strategy, at least up until 1939 when it became evident to everyone that Hitler was no longer going to wait before he started “Taking by force” lands that he deemed necessary for the German people.
War came in Europe somewhat earlier than anyone expected. Fortunately for us, it came sooner than Hitler’s Generals and Admirals would have liked as well. What most people fail to recognize is the impact the earlier World War had on the Second World War. In reality, Hitler was just carrying on policies established by the Kaiser. Germany, under the Kaiser, had bowed to the idea that military force could be used to carry out national policy. In fact, to the Kaiser’s way of thinking, the military was just another option in his arsenal of negotiating strategies. Call it “Negotiation by force” if you will. That’s very much the way he saw it.
In the end, it wasn’t politics, or national policies that determined the fate of the globe in those miserable years of World War I and World War II, it was the fact that a greedy, rotten person was in control of the most powerful nation in Europe, and he used the industrial and technological might of that nation, and his people’s regimented allegiance to authority to cause these disasters that nearly wiped civilization off the face of the globe. The advent of the nuclear bomb and the rise to global prominence of Communism are end results of the cataclysmic struggle between world powers. The end of Imperialism and Isolationism, and the sunset of the European monarchies are also direct results of these defining events of the 20th Century. The good thing that came out of all of it is the fact that the United States was thrust into the spotlight as the most powerful free nation on earth.
What we have to ask ourselves now is whether we have learned our lessons? Will we categorically refuse to allow bullies to rule anywhere on earth and to become so powerful that they can murder and enslave their neighbors? Will we stand for what is right – no matter what? Is freedom so great a thing that we are willing to die for it – even if it’s another man’s freedom we are fighting for? My belief is absolutely, positively, 100% YES! But please, don’t let us go around thinking we are smarter than those in the past, and that we “know” better. It’s all nonsense, the leaders in the past did the best they could with what they had available to them. Let them be praised for their goodness and merit, and not denounced for their wrong decisions, or criticized for their faults.
We are all subject to our faults, we all sin in other words. Jesus won’t count our sins against us, shouldn’t we forgive one another? Taking that all into balance, we can and should honor those who fell at Pearl Harbor. Remember what happened. Treat the dead with respect and cherish the knowledge that their sacrifices were not in vain. Not all anyhow. There were many mistakes made in the prosecution of the war (WWII). The beginning of it being one of the worst examples on record. We suffered, we grieve still for those lost. The Arizona Memorial will continue to remind us of the futility of might sitting around idle in a harbor, or in a Fort somewhere. We cannot sit around waiting for evil to come looking for us – we must go to where it lives and root it out. That is the great lesson from the wars of the past. We cannot compromise with evil, we must seek it out and kill it.