[NOTE: This is an updated repeat of a previous post.]
Today is the seventieth anniversary of the December 7, 1941 Pearl Harbor attack. The generation that reacted to it by mobilizing and fighting World War II is on its last legs. But they were the ones we still call “the Greatest.”
I was reminded of this while watching one of those Oliver North “War Stories” TV shows, about Pearl Harbor. It featured some of the elderly participants reminiscing about that long ago day. Before each one spoke, there was a photograph of him back in 1941: young, vibrant, handsome, full of life. Now they were ancient, and most only vaguely resembled their former selves. But they still transmitted great moral strength and a kind of Gary-Cooperesque stoicism and understated bravery as they told their stories.
A couple of facts: it’s become fashionable to believe that FDR knew about the attack in advance and let it happen anyway. But those 12/7-truthers are almost undoubtedly wrong. Roosevelt wanted to get us into the war, and he knew a Japanese attack was coming at some point, and informed his generals to that effect, but he knew none of the particulars in advance.
It’s odd how this idea of a government in cahoots with the enemy, willing to let innocent Americans die, keeps coming up again and again. A certain not insignificant segment of the population appears to favor such conspiracy theories, probably because we don’t like feeling vulnerable to sudden attack. We’d rather think Daddy in the White House could have stopped it but chose not to—that makes him powerful but amoral, rather than powerless to protect us.
Here’s a post I published last year on Pearl Harbor Day. It focuses on FDR’s famous speech afterward, and the will and resolve he amply demonstrated. Will and resolve in war remain extremely relevant these days, in Afghanistan (at least Obama hasn’t made any references yet today to “the bomb that fell on Pearl Harbor,” his gaffe from July, 2008).
Here is just a little bit of Roosevelt’s post-Pearl Harbor speech, in case we need reminding of what American resolve used to sound like:
…No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
Here’s the speech itself:
[NOTE: The memorable phrase that began FDR's address, "a date which will live in infamy," wasn't in Roosevelt's earlier draft. It reads "a date which will live in world history." That sounds like a high school essay; Roosevelt crossed out "world history" and added "infamy" in his own hand. A wise choice.]