Home > National > 71 Years Ago! Why we should – Remember Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

71 Years Ago! Why we should – Remember Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1941

December 7, 2012

Why Should We Remember Pearl Harbor? It Was 71 Years Ago!

by The Elephant’s Child

Every year on December 7, we say “Remember Pearl Harbor” but fail to point out why we should be remembering. John Steele Gordon in his essential history An Empire of Wealth: the Epic History of American Economic Power, outlines the state of the world:

In a fireside chat on December 29, 1940, Franklin Roosevelt first used  a phrase that would prove enduring when he called upon the United States to become “the great arsenal of democracy.” …..War had broken out in Europe on September 1, 1939, after German troops invaded Poland, and France and Great Britain stood by their pledges to come to Poland’s aid. Few Americans thought the Nazis anything but despicable, but public opinion in the United States was overwhelmingly to stay out of the conflict.  Many newspapers…were strongly isolationist. In 1934 Senator Hiram Johnson of California had pushed through a bill forbidding the Treasury to make loans to any country that had failed to pay back earlier loans.  That, of course included Britain and France.  On November 4, 1939, Congress had passed the Neutrality Act, which allowed purchases of war materiel only on a “cash and carry” basis. …..Seven months later France fell to the Nazi onslaught, and Britain stood alone.  In the summer of 1940 Germany proved unable to defeat the Royal Air Force in the Battle of Britain and thus gain the air superiority necessary to mount an invasion across the English Channel. It tried instead to bludgeon Britain into submission with the blitz and to force Britain into submission by cutting off its trade lifelines across the Atlantic. It nearly worked. … …..At the time American military forces were puny.  The army had about three hundred thousand soldiers—fewer than Yugoslavia—and was so short of weapons that new recruits often had to drill with broomsticks instead of rifles. The equipment it did have was often so antiquated that the chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, thought the army no better than “that of a third-rate power.” The navy, while equal to Britain’s in size, lacked ammunition to sustain action, and much of its equipment was old or unreliable.

Roosevelt realized what was at state in terms of America’s own security, but he felt that Britain must survive long enough to hold the Nazis at bay while the U.S. rearmed and he was able to  bring the American people around to see where their own true interests lay. This was easier said than done.

On September 16, 1940 Congress approved the first peacetime draft in American history and 16.4 million men between the ages of 20 and 35 registered. But it specified that none was to serve outside the Western Hemisphere and that their terms of service were not to exceed twelve months. In 1941 Roosevelt was able to get Lend Lease through Congress, and after Pearl Harbor, isolationism vanished from the American political landscape.

Japan ran loose over the Pacific for the next six months, taking Hong Kong, the Philippines, Malaya, Singapore, the Solomon Islands, the Dutch East Indies, and Burma while threatening Australia and India.

The rearming of America was one of the most astonishing feats in all economic history. In the first six months of 1942, the government gave out 100 billion in military contracts— more than the entire GDP of 1940. In the war years, American industry turned out 6.500 naval vessels; 296,400 airplanes; 86,330 tanks; 64,546 landing craft; 3.5 million jeeps, trucks, and personnel carriers; 53 million deadweight tons of cargo vessels; 12 million rifles,carbines, and machine guns; and 47 million tons of artillery shells, together with millions of tons of uniforms, boots, medical supplies, tents and a thousand other items needed to fight a modern war.

We weren’t ready for Pearl Harbor, nor for Africa, nor the European front. We disarmed after World War II and we were once again not ready when North Korea invaded the South. We weren’t ready when Saddam Hussein marched into Kuwait and we weren’t ready for 9/11. America’s national character is perhaps always ready to assume that the war just finished was the last — ever.

Does anyone assume that now, we would have six months to a year to begin to produce the necessary equipment and round up and train the necessary troops? I seem to remember Donald Rumsfeld saying, to vast scorn from the American media—”you go to war with the army you have.”

It’s quite true, and the threats don’t always come from the direction you expected. When America is perceived as weak — as we are today, and indecisive — we are in greater danger. The “Arab Spring” has “unexpectedly” not turned out to be a people seeking for freedom and democracy. Instead the goal appears to be Sharia and dictatorship. Al Qaeda is again on the rise, and we seem to be rearming them. Syria’s Assad evidently is preparing to gas his own people. And we are cancelling missile protection for Eastern Europe because Obama wants a reset button with Russia, and now has more “flexibility.”

We must remember Pearl Harbor as a warning from the past. The troubled world keeps sending us reminders, and we fail to pay attention.

by The Elephant’s Child

87cb811dAt five minutes before eight o’clock on the morning of Sunday, 7 December 1941, Hawaii time, 366 Japanese bombers and fighters struck at the American warships lying at their moorings at Pearl Harbor. Four of the American battleships were blown up, or sank where they lay at anchor. Four further battleships were damaged and eleven other warships sunk or disabled. …..As well as striking at the American warships, the Japanese attackers struck at Pearl Harbor’s airfields; 188 American aircraft were destroyed on the ground, 2,330 Americans were dead or dying, 1,177 of them killed on the battleship Arizona. When Roosevelt informed Churchill, in secret, of the full extent of the casualties, explaining that these were considerably more than that given to the Press, Churchill’s comment was ‘What a holocaust!’ …..The Japanese had lost twenty-nine aircraft and five midget submarines in th attack; sixty-four of their men were dead, and one, Ensign Kazua Sakamaki, whose midget submarine had run aground on the island, was taken prisoner; the first Japanese prisoner of the Second World War. As the scale of the American losses became known, the shock in the United Sates was considerable; of the nine American battleships capable of offensive or defensive action in the Pacific earlier that morning, only two remained able to enter combat. Japan’s ten battleships were masters of the Pacific. ….There had been many acts of heroism, however, among the surprised American defenders, at Kaneohe naval base, Chief Aviation Ordananceman John Finn had been lying in bed when the Japanese attack began. Hurrying to the airbase he managed to set up a machine gun near one of the hangars and, under heavy Japanese fire, began to fire back. ‘Although painfully wounded many times’, his Medal of Honor citation records,’he continued to man his gun and to return the enemy’s fire vigorously, and with telling effect throughout the enemy strafing and bombing attacks, and with complete disregard for his own personal safety.’ …..The attack on Pearl Harbor coincided with the planned attacks on three other American Pacific islands, Guam, Wake and Midway, each of which was bombed or shelled that day, and its airfields damaged. That same morning, across the South China Sea, the Japanese Second Fleet escorted a convoy of troop transports bringing 24,00-0 troops from Indo-China to the Malayan Peninsula. At the same time, at Singapore, Japanese air attacks led to the death of sixty-one civilians, while at Hong Kong, Japanese war planes destroyed all but one of the eight British aircraft lined up on the tarmac of Kai-Tak airport. …..It was towards midnight on December 7, Central European time, that Hitler, at his headquarters at Rastenburg, in East Prussia, learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. ‘Now it is impossible for us to lose the war, he told Walther Hewel, and he went on to explain: ‘We now have an ally who has never been vanquished in three thousand years.’

ADDENDUM: Here is my post from last year, with a video from December 7, and one Arizona survivor’s story.

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