Wednesday, December 7, 2016

LIZ SMITH: America's Day of Infamy

President Franklin D. Roosevelt addressing Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the Pearl Harbor attacks, to ask for a declaration of war against Japan. FDR Presidential Library
by Liz Smith & Denis Ferrara

America's Day of Infamy. We Must Not Forget It — Or the Years That Followed.

YESTERDAY, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation, and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its Emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And, while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt 's revision to his first draft of the address he would make to Congress on Dec. 8, 1941, after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time the Japanese Government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian Islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island shortly after the beginning of the Pearl Harbor attack.
Yesterday the Japanese Government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has therefore undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
Route followed by the Japanese fleet to Pearl Harbor and back.
As Commander-in-Chief of the Army and Navy I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense, that always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

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.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Arizona during the attack.
Pennsylvania, behind the wreckage of Downes and Cassin.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph, so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
Captain Homer N. Wallin (center) supervises salvage operations aboard USS California, early 1942
THAT IS the full text of President Roosevelt’s speech to the nation, declaring war on Japan, in the aftermath of the attack on Pearl Harbor. 

Four days later Adolf Hitler, who had already begun implementing his plan to conquer  Europe, and to exterminate all races and creeds he deemed “unfit,” declared war on the United States. It was, officially, World War II.
Adolf Hitler declaring war on America, December 11, 1941.
Millions upon millions of men, women and children would, die; soldiers and civilians. On battlefields, in concentration camps, in POW confines, under the new and terrible cloud of atomic bombs. 

When the official cruelties were over, and the peace treaties signed, the United States and Russia’s Soviet Union would emerge as the two most powerful entities in a shattered world. Entities with powerful enmities — no longer allied, but at each other’s throat, overtly and covertly. The Cold War began.
Everybody tried to forget. Japan became an ally — we wanted their technological expertise. (So they attacked Pearl Harbor — what about those great cars and transistor radios?)

Germany was spilt in half and slowly rebuilt.  No German would ever admit to “knowing” anything about anything. They’d done what they were told.  They believed their leader.  They believed — shall we use the current phrase? — “fake news.”
German children read an anti-Jewish propaganda book titled DER GIFTPILZ ( "The Poisonous Mushroom"), ca. 1938.
And the Jewish people?  Still unwanted after a conflagration that was fought, in part, to save them from annihilation. Thousands died as homeless refugees after the war.  Anti-Semitism was alive and well — all through Europe, in the USSR, and yes, even in the great United States of America. (There was cold comfort in the fact that Hollywood, which had been at the prescient propaganda forefront as Europe fell to Hitler, called out American anti-Semitism in 1947’s “Gentleman’s Agreement.”)

For many Jewish survivors in Europe, and even many who had watched horrified from the United States, only the promise of Israel and their own state could assuage their fears. 
WORLD WAR II — you say it and it still seems like something that simply couldn’t have happened.  A massive, grotesque nightmare.  It wasn’t ancient Rome or Greece, or Medieval times.  Not the pistol-packing Wild West. Not even the guillotine-mad French Revolution. Or the mortally cruel American Civil War. Why, it was a modern era!  There were cars and airplanes and movies, telephones and radio and telegraph, great newspapers and magazines, mighty parliaments and congresses.  There were wise men to lead us, and to surely prevail in stopping the world being set on fire, again.

After all, the horrors of World War I — The Great War, the War to End All Wars — hadn’t that taught everybody its terrible lesson?  It couldn’t happen again, it couldn’t be worse?  Right?
TODAY WE have no amusing parties, no tales from the screening rooms. No old or new movie stars. No jokes, no snark, no box-office predictions or award worthy privileged people.

Today we remember all those who fell during World War II — in Hawaii, in Europe, in Asia and Africa, on land, in the air and at sea. Our brave young Americans, our valiant, stalwart allies in Britain, and the Russians, who had suffered catastrophically. The Germans and the Japanese as well; led by ideology, racism and madmen.  They lost their souls and then their lives.

Today we honor those men who died at Pearl Harbor, and remember with a shudder — because we must shudder — all that came after, and all that could come again. 

In the words of Lord Byron: “History, with all her volumes vast, hath but one page.”
 
Contact Liz here.