I Remember Pearl Harbor


    Republished here is a diary I wrote in 2006 for RaisingKaine: my personal recollections of that day

    It was a typically chilly upstate New York December day, we had finished Sunday after-Church brunch and I, just a couple of weeks short of my eleventh birthday, was, as usual, doing two things at once: putting together a jigsaw puzzle and setting type to print my family newsletter on my little hand-powered rotary printing press, when the phone rang. Our English friends a few blocks away were phoning to say “Turn on the radio! The Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor.”

    It was true, but no surprise to my family,  

    because my father, a Reserve Army Officer had been called to active duty the year before in 1940 as President Roosevelt began mobilizing and had already sent 50 “over-age” destroyers on Lend Lease to Britain… and even though we had two Japanese diplomats in Washington at that precise time, supposedly negotiating our disagreements with the Empire of Japan. My Mother had been knitting scarves and socks for Bundles for Britain for two years, and we already had refugee children from London in our Church community.

    We also had replaced a painting on the living room wall with a large map of Europe, and my father had outlined the then-extent of Nazi aggression: gobbled up were Austria, Sudetenland, Danzig, then half of Poland (with the other half going to Stalin along with the Baltic States), southern Denmark, the Lowlands, northern France; the British had evacuated from Dunkirk in a rout, and the air Battle of Britain had begun at the same time the Italians were in Ethiopia, the Japanese were in Manchuria and the Chinese Nationalists were in a long retreat to Chunking.  

    We hear much nowadays about “the good war,” and how the entire country pulled together overnight, and much of that is true. We were still suffering from the Great Depression, we had very little military equipment (some units drilled with broomsticks, lacking weapons), we were stunned out of our apathy and our assumption heretofore that we were a safe distance from overseas wars. We were unprepared, scared, and angry.

    Forgot sometimes is that FDR was a leader who was disiked by at least 30-40% of the population, even though re-elected by a landslide. We had a small but vocal Communist Party which supported the Soviets against the Allied Powers (England and France), there was a very strong isolationist element in our body politic evidenced by a militant America First outfit which today we would call a pressure group agitating against being dragged into another overseas war in which we had no vital interest they could see, a pro-German group called The German American Bund, and a pro-lynch racist KKK left over from the no-so-long-past Civil War.  A year before, visiting my Southern grandparents in Charleston, I had watched a cross burned in the park across from our hotel while demagogues orated, and men in white sheets roared approval, sounding just like the Nazi crowds roaring approval of Hitler in the sepia-colored Saturday matinee newreels at the movie theater.  

    Then, we went to war, ration books appeared overnight (red points for meat, so much per week, sugar was rationed, chocolate and Lucky Strike green on the cigarette package went to war), gasoline was rationed (an “A” card was worth 5 gallons a week), we saved tin cans and paper, bought War bonds while small denomination war savings stamps were sold in school to children, we put up blackout curtains, and followed my father around the country as the 1st Infantry Division trained and brought itself to full effectiveness.

    President Roosevelt addressed Congress a full day after Pearl Harbor, we heard his address on the radio, requesting that Congress declare War on Japan and the other so-called Axis Powers of Italy, Nazi Germany, Hungary, etc, as they had all declared War on the United States immediately after Pearl Harbor.  As I re-call, only Mrs. Rankin, Representative from Mississippi, voted against the formal declaration of war.

    When I compare those times with these, with how our leadership responded, the peculiar presidential direction to “go shopping or the terorists win,” the lack even of rationing or any requirement for sacrifice by the general population, the failure of the children of the leadership elite to participate to any degree in the blood and sacrifice of the so-called War on Terrorism… Well, it is to weep.  


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