Thursday, December 8, 2011


I was in grammar school, not too young to remember. Every radio station was pre-empted. No T.V. The vulnerability of the U.S. was a shock to the system. How could such a large armada of Japanese warships travel so many miles of ocean, refueling at midpoint, without being discovered? Our Pacific fleet in flames. Twelve vessels lost. The Arizona and the Utah still sitting in the harbor, entombing its crew. Legitimate fears that the enemy could run the table. The next day heralded stunning historical bookmarks: President Roosevelt, the penultimate father figure, declaring war ("A day that will live in infamy......and we shall win this war, so help us God.") as endless lines of enlistees ringed every local draft board. Not just kids, but men of all ages, motivated by patriotism and revenge. The survival of our values jeopardized by a sneak attack. A sudden change to a world war footing. Would there be enough time to weaponize, stem the tide and turn it around? A Japanese submarine allegedly seen off the coast of California. This was no drill.

The times were so different. Mothers in housecoats, leaving doors open, commingling with apartment neighbors. Air raid drills, four times a week. Blackened draperies to obviate light, potential beacons for enemy bombers. Air raid Wardens, monitoring each street for security violations. Reading daily accounts of the Bataan Death March. Slogans everywhere. "Keep 'em flying." "Loose lips sink ships." And, of course, "Remember Pearl Harbor." Street posters of Uncle Sam, pointing at you, imploring unwavering support for the war effort. Anxiety increasing with Japan's Pacific advance. Seemingly unstoppable. And then, the Battle of Midway.

This battle represented the strategic high water mark of the Pacific ocean war. Prior to this action, Japan possessed general naval superiority and could usually select where and when to attack. After Midway, the two opposing fleets were essentially equals and the U.S. soon took the initiative. Japan's intended attack on Midway was thwarted by superior American communication intelligence which deduced the scheme well before battle was joined. This allowed the U.S. fleet to establish an ambush by having its carriers ready and waiting for the Japanese. This was the most decisive U.S. naval victory of the war. The Japanese could never again operate offensively while the Americans could now do so at places of their own choosing.

The Empire of Japan surrendered, unconditionally, on August 15, 1945, three and one-half years after Pearl Harbor. The most indelible common denominator between then and now is the bravery and acceptance of sacrifice of our troops in combat, the difference in mores, notwithstanding. Pearl Harbor and 9/11. Similar bellwethers, similar responses. History tends to repeat itself. We must remember. There are lessons to preserve and people to honor.

Times were different and the same.

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