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A Day of Infamy

World Affairs, Politics, National Security, History

I was eight years old. It was Sunday, December 7, 1941. We went to church and came home for a quiet Sunday day of rest. We didn't watch the news because in those days we didn't have 24-hour saturation news coverage. Television was in the experimental stage. We had one radio, a brown RCA table radio on the kitchen table against the wall. It had a short wave band with which I liked to fool around. Otherwise, it was seldom turned on.

We knew nothing of the events in the South Pacific on the Island of Hawaii, more correctly Oahu. The Japanese launched a surprise attack on the Pearl Harbor Naval facility and Hickam Field, the airbase, that day. Bombs were falling and U.S. warships were blowing up and being sunk. Men were dying by the thousands, over 2300 by final count. The mighty battleship Arizona was mortally wounded by, it was later speculated, a bomb that went down a stack and exploded deep in her bowels next to the powder magazine. (Naval guns fired so large and heavy a projectile that the powder charge and warhead were separate. The gunpowder charge was in cloth bags loaded behind the projectile. The ship's magazine was full of bags of gunpowder.)

The Arizona blew up and capsized. Oil spilled out and caught fire. Few of her crew were able to escape as the lifeboats were useless and the ship was surrounded by a sea of burning oil. But we at home were oblivious. Our sole news source was the evening newspaper. The attack started at about 7:00 A.M., 11:00 A.M. our time The evening newspaper carried an early account of the tragedy. My parents were dumfounded and I was confused. We turned on the radio. Sometime either that day or the next, I forget which, our President Roosevelt spoke to Congress and his speech was carried live on the radio news. We listened to F.D.R.'s famous "This day shall live in infamy" speech, declaring war on the Empire of Japan. The man gave a great speech.

And so we were at war. Soon after Germany declared war on us as an ally of Japan. It is rumored that Hitler was upset at Japan for giving F.D.R. justification for entering the war. It was Adolf's strategy to keep us out. It is also reported that Admiral Yamamoto, the Japanese naval office in charge of the attack, was opposed to it. He is reputed to have said afterwards, when his fellow officers were celebrating their great victory, that he feared that all they had done was to awaken a sleeping tiger. History proved him to be prophetic.

The war effort that followed was remarkable in its dedication and single-minded goal: to defeat the Axis. We had war bond drives. Schoolchildren purchased war stamps for 10¢ each and pasted them in a booklet. When the booklet was full you exchanged it for a $25 war bond, We kids planted victory gardens to help with food. Seed packets were distributed through the school free of charge. The garden was only 5 ft. x 7 ft., but everything helped.

We had food rationing with ration books that allowed limited purchases of staples. No steak. Gas rationing allowed the purchase of limited amounts of gasoline a month, just enough for my father to drive to and from work. Nothing was left for recreational trips. We had an "A" ration card, designated by a black sticker with a white "A" on the inside of the windshield. This was the lowest priority. Farmers, workers in essential industries and government officials had other letter placards like "B" and "D" allowing more gasoline to be purchased. We collected fat drippings and turned them in. (Fat was used to make munitions.) Nylon stockings disappeared, replaced by rayon which ran so easily that stockings with runs became the norm. (Nylon was needed for parachutes.) There was much more.

War plants sprang up seemingly overnight and other industries converted to war production. There was a shortage of workers because of the draft and the expansion of the industrial base. Women went to work in large numbers. Some journalist coined the phrase "Rosie the Riveter" and it stuck. The gals did a great job. Many signed their names inside warplanes, occasionally with an address.

The country was united like never before. There was no dissent, no peace activists, no media criticism. Patriotism was endemic. There was but one purpose and that was to win the war. Sleeping tiger, indeed. The rest is history.

So, that's what we commemorate on Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, this year the 71st anniversary of the "Day of Infamy." The commemoration seems less of an event with each passing year. I think that's unfortunate.

We live in an unfriendly world armed to the teeth with weaponry that dwarfs anything that existed in 1941. There are people out there who don't like us very much. There are powerful nations working hard to equal and exceed our military capability. We are the king of the hill and there are those whose goal is to pull us down. The risk to this nation is not al Qaeda or the Taliban; they cannot defeat us. China and Russia are not our friends and they are growing in power while we are focused on this Middle East exercise in futility. Does anyone really believe that the Arab world will become peace-loving democracies, regardless of what we do? Our danger comes not from there but from nations with the capability to defeat us militarily. Not yet, but there are policies in place in Washington that do not bode well in the long term for our military strength. This could turn out to be a tragic mistake.

Complacency is a deadly enemy. Just ask the souls of the 2300.

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