Pearl Harbor Revisited

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare


DIGG THIS

December
7, 1941. "A date," President Franklin D. Roosevelt solemnly
proclaimed, "that will live in infamy." I remember hearing
the radio report of the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor. I
was less than two and a half months past my eighth birthday at the
time, but I can still recall how it made me feel — not fear, but
a sense of foreboding. What was going to happen? Would Japanese
troops soon be at our doorsteps? I vaguely recall my parents assuring
me that that wouldn't happen. But all of the American setbacks early
in the war weren't reassuring.

A
big scare for me came when my dad was called up for his draft physical.
I can still remember vividly how happy my mom and I were when he
wired us from Chicago (we had no phone in those days) that he had
failed it. As I remembered, he was 4F because of ear problems brought
on by a severe attack of vertigo that had put him flat on his back
for three weeks back around 1937, but I also vaguely recall my mom
once saying that it was some other problem. Whatever it was, it
kept him home, and that was good enough for me. As a kid, I was
thinking less of what might happen to him in the military than I
was of his being away from home. Though he worked long hours every
day as a hotel manager, when he wasn't working he was always at
home.

Relatives,
family friends, and neighbors did end up in uniform. My maternal
uncle, who lived 600 miles away in a Detroit suburb, was an officer
in the navy's Armed Guard and commanded naval gun crews on a merchant
ship transporting war materiel via the rough and hazardous North
Atlantic up over the Scandinavian Peninsula to the Russian arctic
port of Murmansk. A childhood friend of my folks, who by then lived
in Chicago three hundred miles north of us, was also a navy officer.
Both of my mom's cousins married soldiers, one of whom served as
a cook for a unit caught up in the Battle of the Bulge. The son
of friends across the street was wounded by a landmine at Anzio,
and spent fourteen months recuperating in a hospital. The young
man next door served on a destroyer, and the fathers of two of my
neighborhood friends were soldiers, one serving in the Pacific,
the other in Europe. The two much older brothers of my best school
buddy were Marines, and one of them was captured on Corregidor and
spent the war in a Japanese prison camp. The two brothers who organized
our sports activities after the war in the empty lot across from
my house were veterans, the eldest an army officer who had been
badly wounded in Europe.

But
once it became apparent that we weren't going to be invaded, and
once I was relieved of the necessity of worrying about my dad being
drafted and taken away from home, the war became an adventure for
me as a kid safely ensconced in Herrin, Illinois in the deep south
of the state and in the middle of the country. There was a great
battle between good and evil going on in that world out there, and
the way that that battle was depicted in the popular culture as
well as the news left no doubt that we Americans were on the side
of good. Hadn't those sneaky Japs attacked us, and hadn't Germany
declared war on us? And look at the atrocities those devils were
committing. It was a time of moral clarity, and the movies, newsreels,
radio adventures and news reports, comic books, and newspaper stories
and comic strips I avidly watched, listened to, and/or read were
full of American heroes doing battle against Axis monsters. The
fact that I'm of Italian descent gave me occasional pause, since
Italy was one of our enemies, but Italy's heart wasn't really in
the war, and it didn't receive the same amount of bad press as did
Japan and Germany.

Another
vivid memory — this one of a sunny August afternoon in 1945. I was
standing in our living room and though it was daylight, as I remember
it, a floor lamp was turned on. If so, that may have been because
my mom, who was then puttering around in the adjacent bedroom, had
been sewing in the chair next to the lamp and wanted more light.
The radio was on, and I heard the report that a whole Japanese city
had been wiped out by a single bomb. I didn't believe it. Surely
the radio newsman was mistaken or exaggerating. Though I was more
than a month and a half short of my twelfth birthday, I was quite
well informed about things military. I knew all of our uniforms
and insignia, if it was close enough for me to distinguish any details
I could identify any of our military aircraft, and I knew the basic
small arms of all of the major protagonists. I had even fired some
of the latter — a German Luger, and courtesy of my navy uncle who
bent the regs a bit to bring them up on leave for my dad and me,
both gun enthusiasts, to try out, a GI .45, an M1 carbine, and a
1903A3 Springfield rifle. Well, I was wrong. One bomb had wiped
out a whole city, and soon another single bomb wiped out another
whole city. Wow! Neat! Given the black-and-white moral frame of
reference to which my not-quite-twelve-year-old patriotic mind then
subscribed, those sneaky little subhumans deserved what they got,
and I never even considered that most of those who had been atomized
were noncombatants — women, children, and old people. Remember
Pearl Harbor!

But
about two years after World War II ended, I gradually became aware
of something that left me quite puzzled. Our government and the
news and entertainment media that had treated the Soviet Union and
China as our trusted and honored allies during the war, had switched
to treating them as being as evil as Germany and Japan had been
during the war. And defeated Germany and Japan were being treated
as allies of ours, well on their way to being as trusted and honored
as the USSR and China had been in the war just ended. How could
good and evil switch sides so quickly? I'd ponder that puzzling
transformation now and again, but I still accepted the new alignment,
and when I came of military age, I never even considered trying
to avoid serving to help protect my country against the latest menace
— international communism. I jumped at the chance to get a commission
through the Air Force ROTC, and served in the North American Air
Defense Command between the wars in Korea and Viet Nam. But though
I'm still proud of having served my country in a defensive capacity,
for various reasons I won't take the time and space to spell out,
I've become ever more questioning of our powers-that-be and the
wars they've got us into over the years — even World War II. I mention
all of the preceding so that the reader will know that the skepticism
I now embrace isn't rooted in a pacifistic, anti-military, anti-American,
or left wing, etc., background. Now back to Pearl Harbor and FDR's
"day of infamy."


If we are to believe John Toland's Infamy:
Pearl Harbor and Its Aftermath
, Robert Stinnett's Day
of Deceit: The Truth about FDR and Pearl Harbor
, Thomas
J. Fleming's The
New Dealer's War: FDR and the War Within World War II
, and
other such books, FDR, while promising to keep us out of the war,
was doing everything he could to provoke either the Germans or the
Japanese into attacking us so that he could get us in it, and he
either knew that the Japanese were going to hit Pearl Harbor or
that they would be hitting us somewhere about the time of that attack.
But if we are to believe Duane Schultz's The
Maverick War
, the moral clarity of our entry into WWII is
undermined even more. In "October 1940, more than a year before
the attack on Pearl Harbor," Claire Chennault, who would go
on to organize and lead the famous mercenary fighter group, the
Flying Tigers, in China, proposed a preemptive strike against Japan
"to burn out the industrial centers of the Japanese empire
using incendiaries and create terror and chaos among the populace."
This would be

a covert
operation against a country with which we had peaceful diplomatic
relations. The bombing missions were to be carried out by American
mercenaries, men released from the army and navy and paid by the
United States government through a private corporation. They were
to fly American planes painted with Chinese insignia. What made
the plan all the more bizarre was that the highest officials in
the government, including President Franklin Delano Roosevelt,
approved of it. On July 23, 1941, some five months before Pearl
Harbor, Roosevelt formally authorized the strikes. They were to
begin the following November."

In
December 1940, General George C. Marshall had managed to talk the
administration out of this sneak attack on Japan on the grounds
that the United States didn't have the planes or crews to spare,
and for fear that it "would provoke a Japanese counterattack
on the United States at a time when we were woefully unprepared
to go to war." But the plan was resurrected in the spring of
1941, and the raids would have been carried out in November of that
year had not production and shipping bottlenecks delayed the arrival
of Chennault's bombers. On November 22, FDR's special envoy to China
informed him that he hoped that the bombers (twin-engine Lockheed
Hudsons rather than the four-engine Boeing B-17s that Chennault
had wanted) and their flight and ground crews would reach that country
by the end of 1941, and 49 ground crewmen were at sea on their way
there on December 7.

When
I was a kid, "Remember Pearl Harbor" was a righteous battle
cry for me as well as, I suspect, most Americans. America the good
and innocent, I and others believed, and most Americans who remember
Pearl Harbor probably still believe, had been sneak attacked by
the dastardly Japanese and forced to become involved in WWII. But
there is good reason to believe that the sainted FDR and much of
our leadership of the time were neither good nor innocent. I
in no way want to come across as being sympathetic toward the brutal
Japanese military of WWII, or as excusing their sneak attack on
Pearl Harbor. But not only did FDR and his bunch provoke the
Japanese into attacking us, and not only is there good reason to
believe that he allowed that sneak attack to occur in order to get
us into the war, but he actually was preparing to launch his own
sneak attack on Japan. And while the Japanese concentrated on military
targets at Pearl Harbor, their objective being to cripple our Pacific
fleet, our preemptive sneak attack on Japan was to be carried
out under the flag of another nation, and was to be aimed at
burning out cities in order to cripple that country's industry and
to terrorize its civilian populace. Day of infamy, indeed!

December
8, 2007

William
R. Tonso [send him mail]
a retired sociology professor (University of Evansville) who has
written a lot on the gun issue, both sociological and pro-Second
Amendment. His recent book, Gun
Control=People Control
, is a collection of eleven of his
essays previously published in Liberty, Reason, Chronicles,
and Gun Week.

Email Print
FacebookTwitterShare
  • LRC Blog

  • LRC Podcasts