World War II

Pearl Harbor: Recalling December 7, 1941

... I hate war only as a soldier can

by Jackie Wattenberg

I was visiting in Cleveland, Ohio, eating dinner with the family of the young man my older sister would soon marry. Radio news was on, a sort of background for conversation common in those days when TV was just emerging.

But all conversation stopped suddenly when we heard something startling - I think it was the voice of President Roosevelt, and the message was alarming - an attack by Japanese war planes against our base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. More than 2,000 servicemen died, 188 planes destroyed, 18 ships destroyed or damaged. Someone at the table voiced the fear - does this mean we go to war?

Well, it did, though Japan was not devastating Europe -- that was the madman Hitler, and somehow this attack on Pearl Harbor, termed by our President Roosevelt as "A day that shall live in infamy!" was the catalyst he needed for entering World War II. Odd how that war connected Germany and far flung Japan, but our soldiers would eventually be flown to both of those terrifying areas of the world to defend freedom and die.

Studs Terkel, author, Chicago radio host and now at 95 still fervent advocate for human rights, called this conflict "The Good War," believing our eight wars since then not "good" but wasteful of human lives. None in my family lost their lives in WWII, but Cousin Dick learned Japanese quickly and was sent to that area later, and my Uncle Fred's boathouse-tavern partner, Shorty, who loved opera and Lily Pons, caught malaria in that Pacific front. My father planted a Victory Garden and grew fine tomatoes and delicate lettuce. My mother, whose parents had come here from Germany, never questioned our participation in that war, though she still had cousins there.

At the end of our four years in that costly war, Britain's Prime Minister Winston Churchill and President Roosevelt urged that "We must have no more wars, but settle our problems diplomatically and peaceably." Our leading general in that war, Dwight Eisenhower, was so respected for his open-hearted, unpretentious manner and dogged dedication to "Victory" over Germany, that he easily won two terms as our president. Though a successful general, he said often "I hate war as only a soldier can who has been there and seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity!" He also fervently warned about "The Military-Industrial Complex," which has been doing very well ever since.

Notable dates in our history ... Spirit of '76, December 7,1941, and now 9/11, President Bush's mantra referring to the attack on our Trade Towers. Claimed by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan, that attack led to our longest war, somehow, incredibly, focused in Iraq, now lowering our nation's honor around the world. Still, President Bush says "Since 9/11, 9/11" ... and the war goes on and on. Some dates will forever live "in infamy."

December 7, 2007

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