Respectful Insolence

Remember Pearl Harbor

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Sixty-five years ago today, the 1st Air Fleet of the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a devastating surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on Oahu, Hawaii, plunging the United States into World War II. Four days later, hoping that the Japanese would attack the Soviet Union (a hope that the Japanese did not fulfill, having previously signed a nonaggression pact with Stalin), Hitler declared war on the United States.

Every year, more and more of the generation that fought and lived through World War II is dying off. A sailor who was 18 years old in 1941 would be 83 years old now, and the youngest veterans are all on the verge of turning 80. A decade from now, there will be very few left who were actually at Pearl Harbor or who fought in World War II, and two decades from now World War II veterans will be as rare as World War I veterans are now. A while back, when I was at a review course in the Chicago area, there was being held there at the same time a reunion for Marines who fought in the Pacific, mainly in the Philippines. I was struck at how old they all were, and how frail many of them seemed. A couple of them were in wheelchairs, and all of them were slowed by age and time. Yet, they seemed to be having a wonderful time reuniting with their buddies, and I couldn’t help but overhear some of what they were talking about. Not all of it was good; I recall overhearing one vet discussing how one of his company had his face shattered by shrapnel and how he later died.

So, on this day commemorating the surprise attack that brought the U.S. into the war, a day that few remember or even take note of much anymore, take a moment to remember those who fought the Japanese and the Nazis during World War II and the debt of gratitude the nation owes them all. They may be your parents, or your grandparents, or even your great-grandparents. Take a moment to get to know the men and women who were actually there 65 years ago at Pearl Harbor Remembered, particularly these survivor’s tales. While you’re at it, National Geographic has a site about Pearl Harbor, complete with a Flash-animation multimedia display showing the timeline and map of that attack and more survivor’s stories.

And, remember, above all, the price our veterans paid to defeat these threats to freedom.

ADDENDUM: The History News Network reports on a story from the AP about how this year’s meeting of the remaining survivors of Pearl Harbor will be very likely be the last:

With their number quickly dwindling, survivors of Pearl Harbor will gather Thursday one last time to honor those killed by the Japanese 65 years ago, and to mark a day that lives in infamy.

This will be their last visit to this watery grave to share stories, exchange smiles, find peace and salute their fallen friends. This, they say, will be their final farewell.

‘This will be one to remember,’ said Mal Middlesworth, president of the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association. ‘It’s going to be something that we’ll cherish forever.’

The survivors have met here every five years for four decades, but they’re now in their 80s or 90s and are not counting on a 70th reunion. They have made every effort to report for one final roll call.

We’re like the dodo bird. We’re almost extinct,’ said Middlesworth, now an 83-year-old retiree from Upland, Calif., but then _ on Dec. 7, 1941 _ an 18-year-old Marine on the USS San Francisco.

[…]

‘I suspect not many people have thought about this, but we’re witnessing history,’ said Daniel Martinez, chief historian at the USS Arizona Memorial. ‘We are seeing the passing of a generation.’

Comments

  1. #1 double-soup tuesday
    December 7, 2006

    As a history buff you may be interested in this.

    A Day of Infamy, Two Years of Hard Work

    Below, 64 years late, is the full text of a 15,000-word, six-part series from a dispatch sent to The New York Times by Robert Trumbull, the paper’s correspondent at Pearl Harbor. It details a triumphant but mostly forgotten story of World War II: the salvage effort that rebuilt the Pacific Fleet after the Japanese attack.

    The series of exchanges relative to censorship are here.

  2. #2 Joshua
    December 7, 2006

    It’s so surreal. I want to say that you can see Pearl Harbor from my house, but it’s not true. There’s a hill in the way.

    You can see it from my grandfather’s house, a little over a mile away. If you were there on that day, you’d have seen the planes flying by, heard the explosion, seen the plumes of smoke rising off the ships.

    The Arizona Memorial is one of the eeriest places I’ve ever been, and it’s everything you’d expect a memorial to a disaster to be. It’s still and calm and they make you watch a documentary before they put you on the boat out to the memorial itself, so you’re in the right mindset and you have the context for the event. And then you look down at this rusting hulk with sea life growing on it and you think of all the men who lived and died inside of it.

    NYC’s Ground Zero is the only thing close I’ve ever seen, and even then you only get the right feeling when you go in the middle of the night and noone else is around. You stand there and it’s just you and a big hole in the ground where there used to be buildings so tall they blocked out the sky.

    But, somehow, it’s still not the same. Maybe because USS Arizona has more of a feeling of history behind it, due to the years that have passed. Some day, maybe there will be a proper memorial at Ground Zero that invokes the same feelings for our generation that USS Arizona does for the generation that survived WWII.

  3. #3 manfred
    December 7, 2006

    Don’t believe the usual flagwaving rah-rah!
    What the author fails to mention is the prelude to Pearl Harbor. The Roosevelt administration was hell bent on luring an isolationist American public into war and set acts of aggression against the Japanese (oil embargo and the freezing of Japanese assets and accounts in the USA, anyone?) It has also been suggested that Roosevelt had advance knowledge of the attack and deliberately choose to sacrifice those battleships and soldiers in order to get a pretext for war.
    It should also be mentioned that the US soldiers were more often than not NOT the knights in shining armour defeating “those threats to freedom”. Laurence REESE cites in his book HORROR IN THE EAST American servicemen, who took no prisoners, shot surrendering Japanese soldiers and mutilated corpses. (Does somebody really wonder why the Japanese were so reluctant to surrender? Does somebody really wonder why those Japanese civilians on Okinawa prefered rather to blow themselves up with handgranades than surrender?) Maybe Orac should have asked those vets about these issues…
    And I’m not even talking about the war crimes of the Tokyo firebombing, Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  4. #4 David
    December 7, 2006

    Wow, it didn’t take long to get an “interesting” response. Certainly, there is room for a more nuanced appraisal of the run up to the War in the Pacific, but I suspect we won’t get it from Manfred. What he fails to mention is that the US’ provocative acts were in response to aggressive acts by Imperial Japan (e.g., their occupation of Indo-China, not to mention their ongoing war of aggression against China). While a war between the U.S. and Japan had been in the making for some time, Japan was no innocent rudely provoked into defending herself by a war mongering administration. It was they who decided to pick up the gun. The conspiracy comment and the over generalized (the phrase more often then not says it all) war crime accusations are not worth touching here.

    I smell a troll, which I suspect I’ve just fed.

  5. #5 TheBrummell
    December 7, 2006

    Thanks for posting this, Orac. The addendum is a nice touch, too. The above comment comparing the USS Arizona to the NYC Ground Zero memorial was also very interesting, and well-put.

    I enjoyed reading this, thanks again.

  6. #6 David
    December 7, 2006

    I have to second that. Nice post, Orac.

  7. #7 Nat
    December 7, 2006

    Good post.

    I often wonder if the Japanese hadn’t attacked Pearl Harbour exactly how long it would have taken the USA to seriously get involved. How many European, Asian, Russians and Antipodeans lives fewer would have died if the USA had become involved when it clearly should have?

    Orac: “And, remember, above all, the price our veterans paid to defeat these threats to freedom.”
    – I’m not sure I see the USA response to Pearl Harbour as a response to a threat to freedom so much as a strong desire for revenge (see also Lusitania during WWI (not before WWI as many Americans seem to assume) and The World Trade Centre more recently). I see the “threat to freedom” much much earlier in Czechoslovakia, Poland, Korea, and China. It’s hard to think of a more morally justifiable war to get involved in (at least from the allies point of view).

    What do people think it would have taken for the USA to get involved if the Japanese had not attacked the USA directly and Hitler hadn’t idiotically declared war first? Would the allies have lost WWII without American manpower and industrial might? Can’t really see how they could have won without America.

    PS My grandfather who was a spitfire pilot in the NZ squadron of the RAF is still running around playing golf every other day. But the mincing that New Zealand fighting-age men took in WWI and WWII is a deeply ingrained warning in our culture now. We won’t go to war again unless the war is justifiable or forced upon us. A war on or for noun/s is not good enough.

  8. #8 TheProbe
    December 7, 2006

    My son does not live far from Ground Zero, so I visit it quite often. My attachment to the location goes back to my high school days, when I worked after school at Heinz & Bolet, selling radios. I would spend hours after picking up my pay walking up and down Fulton Street to look for surplus (amateur radio operator). After college I worked in the WTC on a veryhigh floor. Had a lovely view of New Jersey and, on a clear day the Delaware Memorial Brodige, at least the top, with binoculars. I then proposed my my wife of nearly 33 years at Windows on the World, and returned annualy to celebrate my smartest move ever. Living nearby, I attended several funerals of friends and neighbors.

    Years ago, I visited the Arizona Memorial in Pearl, while onm R&R from Vietnam. Very moving and motivating.

    The similarities are very deep.

    NY Newsday ran a centerfold on the Arizona today. According to this story, the memorial is sinking, along with the ship. The memorial may not be useable in two years.

  9. #9 gz
    December 7, 2006

    A good post.

    Nat, a minor point: the Lusitania was in 1915, during the war, but two years before we entered. It took the later re-introduction of submarine warfare by the Germans, and the Zimmerman telegram, to convince us to fight.

  10. #10 Nes
    December 7, 2006

    I’m not much of a history buff, only really knowing the generalities, so my comment might not be quite appropriate to what manfred is referring to, so please correct me if this is a nonsensical question.

    (Does somebody really wonder why the Japanese were so reluctant to surrender? Does somebody really wonder why those Japanese civilians on Okinawa prefered [sic] rather to blow themselves up with handgranades [sic] than surrender?)

    Just curious, manfred, if, say, Iran (or England, or Germany, or Sweden, or any other country) decided to invade us today, would you surrender yourself, or would you rather go down fighting? Why?

    I also thought that Japan’s government’s unwillingness to surrender was a matter of honor or something like that. Anyone care to correct me or elaborate?

  11. #11 Sleepy
    December 7, 2006

    I would have thought that the Germans would have been defeated without US assistance in the end, as the Russians were bleeding them more than the other allies and would have kept doing so. It would have taken longer, but they would have done it in the end.

  12. #12 Orac
    December 7, 2006

    Possibly true, but not necessarily.

    Don’t underestimate the importance of Lend Lease. Even though the Germans were stopped at the gates of Moscow in December 1941, they Soviets were on the verge of collapse, as most of their heavy industry had been located in the west and was destroyed before the Germans could capture it and it would take time to reconstitute it east of the Urals, outside of the range of German bombers. Indeed, if Hitler had put all his effort into a thrust to Moscow in the spring of 1942, rather than attacking more south, it is quite possible that Moscow would have fallen.

    There’s also the two-front war factor. Without the U.S., it’s doubtful that the British could have ever launched a Western front. Heck, it took until June 1944 before that could be done, even with the U.S. Consequently, without the U.S. the Germans would have had more troops free to send East. There’s also the effect of bombing. Whatever your views on the morality of strategic bombing, there’s little doubt that it tied down Luftwaffe fighters that could have been sent East, military units to man the antiaircraft guns that could also have been sent East, and necessitated the diversion of lots of effort into manufacturing antiaircraft guns that could have been used to manufacture weapons to fight the Soviets.

  13. #13 James
    December 8, 2006

    More to the point without the US (and most particularly the A-Bomb) if Stalin had won WWII (and I suspect he would have) he would surely have turned his attention to the rest of Europe, then Asia and so on. In a decade or two the US would have been fighting a foe far more dangerous than Hitler and they would have been doing it alone.

    And I second the point about lend lease. All those shermans aside, A lot of T-34s were built with american steel and powered with american petroleum.

    My understanding Nes is that a vestigial form of Bushido framed Japanese attitudes to war (hence the treatment of the POWs and civilian prisioners they took) just as the Geneva Conventions are to a large extent based on the chivalric code.

  14. #14 manfred
    December 8, 2006

    Nes:

    You are right when you say that the Japanese unwillingness to surrender was based on their cultural values and their warrior code (Bushido) more specifically. (Even after Emperor HIROHITO declared the end of hostilities several officers tried a coup to overthrow the government and continue fighting.) My point however was that individual units or soldiers were reluctant to surrender because they knew that they could expect no mercy from the Americans.
    My broader argument was to counterbalance the usual flagwaving.The war crimes (shooting of surrendering Japanese soldiers, collecting body parts as “souvenirs”)I mentioned are all very well documented, though not often discussed in the US.
    Regarding your question: Obviously, every patriot would fight for his country.
    Thanks for nitpicking on my spelling, English is not my native tongue.

  15. #15 David
    December 8, 2006

    Manfred

    I expect the answer as to why there were so few Japanese prisoners lies somewhere between an American reluctance to take prisoners and a Japanese reluctance to surrender. However, I think that on Pearl Harbor day, Americans are entitled to a little “flag-waving”. Best to leave discussions of the unquestionably ugly nature of the war in the Pacific for another time.

  16. #16 Nes
    December 8, 2006

    Thanks for the response manfred. My point was only to demonstrate that such things most likely have complex reasoning behind them, and they most likely can’t be pinned on one source specifically (which may have been your point as well).

    As for the sics, it wasn’t my intention to ridicule or nitpick. I would have used them regardless of who I was quoting; even myself! I honestly had no clue that English was not your native tongue.

    Thanks for the friendly chat.

  17. #17 Roman Werpachowski
    December 9, 2006

    manfred: The war crimes (shooting of surrendering Japanese soldiers, collecting body parts as “souvenirs”)I mentioned are all very well documented, though not often discussed in the US.

    Sure they are. In every army of the world there is some % of murderers, rapists and plunderers. It’s the proportions that count, and the ratio of Japanese/US war crimes is clearly pointing towards the Japanese as the ‘bad guys’.

  18. #18 mc2
    December 12, 2006

    I am not really sure about the accuracy of this but one story I had heard is that the US was planning something similar in the way of attacks against the Japanese, and were beaten to it.

    That said I have been to the USS Arizona and it is indeed very moving, and I in no way condone the actions of the Japanese.

    I am also somewhat please the you Yanks sent troops over here to New Zealand as most of ours were fighting in Europe/Africa

    Rob

  19. #19 mercury
    July 21, 2007

    To Joshua (the 2nd poster),

    The Nanking Massacre in Nanjing, China was also a war crime commited by the Japanese armies. It’s as eerie as you would feel for the Pearl Harbor attack. You could check the info about the massacre in the link below:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nanking_Massacre

  20. #20 Shyane Shingleton
    May 8, 2008

    how fuckin stupid are you what would you do if you had a atomic bomb coming at you? the japanese gave up eaisly because they had two atomic bombs dropped on there land

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