A Date Which Will Live in Infamy

Something for the weekend.  The US Naval Academy Glee Club singing Eternal Father aboard the USS Arizona Memorial.  The dastardly sneak attack on Pearl Harbor killed 2,402 American servicemen and wounded an additional 1247 wounded. About one hundred civilians were killed or wounded.

For most Americans living today the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, seems like ancient history.  It does not seem like that to me.  As I was growing up in the Sixties I was surrounded by adults who recalled Pearl Harbor.  My father, who was 8 years old at the time of the attack, remembered the long lines the next morning in our small town of men waiting outside of the recruiting offices of the Army and Navy to join up.  He also conveyed to me the shock of a nation one moment at peace, and the next morning at war.  Until September 11, 2001, I really didn’t fully comprehend what my father was talking about. 

It is important to recall Pearl Harbor to remember that the safety and security we enjoy can be wrenched from us so easily if we are not vigilant, and also to recall the Americans who died that day.  I have written about one of them here, Father Aloysius Schmitt, a Navy chaplain, who died on the USS Oklahoma saving other men.  These men deserve to be remembered and to have prayers said for their souls and today I will do both, and I hope you will join me.

Published in: on December 7, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments (4)  
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  1. Off topic, I’ve got a source of material on William T.Sherman for you which you may perhaps not have read yet – at least, I haven’t seen anything from Samuel HM Byers in your columns. This man, an American diplomat after the war, was a good friend of Sherman’s, and all his books, even those of personal reminiscences, are full of WTS anecdotes. http://www.gutenberg.org/browse/authors/b#a40650

    As for Pearl Harbour, a lot has been said about the merely contingent nature of the alliance between Germany, Italy and Japan; but the circumstances of Pearl Harbour show that, whatever the difficulties and lack of communication between the three pirate powers, they shared more than just a set of enemies. They were devoted to the ethics of the gambler and the bandit; they never declared war before attacking (and if they did, as with Japan’s subsidiary attack on the British Empire along with Pearl Harbour, it was with a contemptous ignorance of the laws of diplomacy; Winston S.Churchill was astonished and amused to find that war had been declared on Britain not by the Japanese Government, but by the Army command!), and they all believed in robbing the lands they conquered. Japan and Germany were an especially close fit.

    • I hadn’t heard of Byers before Fabio and I thank you for allowing me to make up for that lacunae in my knowledge of “Uncle Billie”.

      Yes, the methods of the Axis powers were quite similar. The astonishing thing for me is how counterproductive Pearl Harbor was for the Axis war effort. Roosevelt was inching towards War with Nazi Germany, but I doubt if he would have accomplished it short of 1943 without a direct invasion of Great Britain by the Third Reich or some blunder by the Nazis on the level of the Zimmerman telegram. Public opinion was shifting towards intervention but at a glacial pace. As for Japan, absent an assault on Great Britain, the US was not going to get involved in the Pacific in the foreseeable future. Pearl Harbor took a divided US where a plurality most definitely wanted to stay out of the War and transformed America into a nation on a crusade. Pearl Harbor is one of the great strategic blunders of all time.

      • Well, the other two Axis powers did just as egregiously. Germany’s assault on Russia makes Pearl Harbor seem a minor miscalculation; after all, there was a very serious issue between Japan and the USA – the small matter of those Japanese boys who had innocently strayed into China – which might well have led to war, whereas there was no reason for Germany to go to war with Russia, at least until she had liquidated Britain or forced peace on her own terms. And Italy did not have to go to war at all; even her goals – Tunisia, Nice, Corsica, an open path through the Suez Canal and recognition of her Ethiopian empire – could probably have been gained by adroitly navigating between the contending powers. As it was, Hitler gave Italy nothing except a couple of counties in Dalmatia.

      • In regard to Operation Barbarossa I think the Nazis did have a well-founded fear that eventually Stalin would attack the Reich. Hitler planned of course to conquer the Soviet Union from the outset, but I do not think concern about an eventual war with Stalin in any case was misplaced. Without Pearl Harbor and American lend lease to the Soviet Union, along with the massive bomber fleets of the US devastating German cities and causing the Luftwaffe to strip fighter units from the East Front, Hitler might have won his gamble in the East, or eked out a draw.

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