69 Years Ago

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My sainted father was 8 years old on December 7, 1941.  He told me how the next day men and older boys, ranging in age from 60-16, gathered in long lines in front of the recruiting offices in Paris, Illinois to sign up to fight.  I think those of us who weren’t alive at that time have difficulty grasping the impact Pearl Harbor had on the nation, as it launched the country on a crusade to break the power of the Empire of Japan and Nazi Germany.

Here is the full text of FDR’s speech:

Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, members of the Senate and the House of Representatives:

Yesterday, December 7th, 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.

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.

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.

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.

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 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt – December 8, 1941

Churchill made a speech to the House of Commons following Pearl Harbor:

In his magisterial history of the Second World War, Churchill revealed his confidence that the entry of the US into the war meant inevitable doom for the Axis:

“No American will think it wrong of me if I proclaim that to have the United States at our side was to me the greatest joy. I could not foretell the course of events. I do not pretend to have measured accurately the martial might of Japan, but now at this very moment I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all! Yes, after Dunkirk; after the fall of France; after the horrible episode of Oran; after the threat of invasion, when, apart from the Air and the Navy, we were an almost unarmed people; after the deadly struggle of the U-boat war — the first Battle of the Atlantic, gained by a hand’s breadth; after seventeen months of lonely fighting and nineteen months of my responsibility in dire stress, we had won the war. England would live; Britain would live; the Commonwealth of Nations and the Empire would live. How long the war would last or in what fashion it would end, no man could tell, nor did I at this moment care. Once again in our long Island history we should emerge, however mauled or mutilated, safe and victorious. We should not be wiped out. Our history would not come to an end. We might not even have to die as individuals. Hitler’s fate was sealed. Mussolini’s fate was sealed. As for the Japanese, they would be ground to powder. All the rest was merely the proper application of overwhelming force. The British Empire, the Soviet Union, and now the United States, bound together with every scrap of their life and strength, were, according to my lights, twice or even thrice the force of their antagonists. No doubt it would take a long time. I expected terrible forfeits in the East; but all this would be merely a passing phase. United we could subdue everybody else in the world. Many disasters, immeasurable cost and tribulation lay ahead, but there was no more doubt about the end.

Silly people — and there were many, not only in enemy countries — might discount the force of the United States. Some said they were soft, others that they would never be united. They would fool around at a distance. They would never come to grips. They would never stand blood-letting. Their democracy and system of recurrent elections would paralyze their war effort. They would be just a vague blur on the horizon to friend or foe. Now we should see the weakness of this numerous but remote, wealthy, and talkative people. But I had studied the American Civil War, fought out to the last desperate inch. American blood flowed in my veins. I thought of a remark which Edward Grey had made to me more than thirty years before — that the United States is like “a gigantic boiler. Once the fire is lighted under it there is no limit to the power it can generate.” Being saturated and satiated with emotion and sensation, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and thankful.”

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  1. There is grave sadness on many levels.

    The saddest is: America in the 21st century is not America of the 20th century.

    E.G., the current unknown in the White House stated in 2006 America had lost the war . . .

  2. Until a nation is put to such a test T. Shaw, it is hard to say just how it will respond. Viewed from abroad America in the Thirties must have seemed weak, its economy still struggling with the Depression, committed to isolationism, bitterly divided over the policies of the New Deal, and led by a President widely regarded among his detractors, and a few of his supporters, as shallow and weak. I am unconvinced that in many essentials the America of today is not the same as the America of 1941, the America of 1861 and the America of 1776.

  3. Mac,

    You; my son, Captain US Army Infantry, Airborne Ranger, CIB; the ROTC cadets I had the extreme honor to dine with last Saturday evening yet are “there.”

    It’s just that . . .

    “Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot.”

  4. I deleted your comment Nate. You do not get to attack the US war effort against Japan in this thread today. I am happy to debate such issues in other threads and on other days, but not in this thread on Pearl Harbor Day.

  5. Thank you Mr. Churchill and Mr. McClarey.

    “I knew the United States was in the war, up to the neck and in to the death. So we had won after all!”

    My husband is a naturalized exile, retired special forces officer and former defense researcher. He knows firsthand how hard the US tries ‘not’ to kill. I thank God he stands next to me and guards our children.

  6. I had just turned ten at the time. My mother had died in June of pneumonia leaving us five brothers and our father with the loss of our dearest love somewhat adrift. It was a sunny day in Dayton, Ohio as I was on my way out to find one of my playmates that Sunday. He greeted me on the sidewalk with “The Jap’s bombed Pearl Harbor”. With no TV or newspaper and one radio that had not been turned on yet we knew nothing of what had happened. I suppose there were plenty of kids just like me whose thoughts were the same as mine. Who are the “Jap’s” and where is Pearl Harbor? It wasn’t long before all of us were totally immersed in Uncle Sam’s war effort that included collecting tin cans, used tires, cast iron, paper, and buying saving stamps or war bonds along with accepting rationing of food, shoes, gasoline, or “nylons”.
    That was the “easy” part. Soon almost every family in the neighborhood had their front window draped with a service flag containing a star for every member of the household in the armed forces. One week after Pearl Harbor was the sixteenth birthday for one brother who begged his older one to wait so they could “go fight together”. The eldest of the lot had a wedding coming up in the spring and his girlfriend asked him to wait until after the wedding. The fourteen year old enlisted as soon as he turned old enough. Like the others, all in the Marine Corp and all in the Pacific from Guadalcanal to Iwo to the occupation forces. Thank God all returned whole if not unscarred, hundreds of thousands that have been all but forgotten by a world saved from tyranny did not.

  7. Bill, I had two uncles who served in the Pacific, one as a Marine and one as a sailor in the Navy. They both got back without a scratch. They used to tell me that the real heroes of that war were the men, like many of their buddies, who never made it back.

  8. Nate, I had thought that I had made my wishes plain to you in regard to this thread. Apparently not, judging from your last attempted comment. I am placing you on moderation for the time being. You will have plenty of opportunities to argue your pacifist position in future on other threads, but not on this thread.

  9. “The more we glorify war, the more we ignore murder, the more we put men …into terrible spiritual danger.”

    Language doesn’t change the truth.
    War with the brutality, enslavement, and killing (murder) that comes with it can be and is “glorified” only in the minds and policies of those who use it to gain dominion or expand their rule. Spreading liberty with the use of force after all else has failed to God’s people crying out for freedom from tyranny is quite the contrary.
    Scripture at its very source has forever testified in God’s name to this truth. We are even told to destroy the parts of our own bodies that seek to defile our souls or deny God’s will for us.
    The Church, in truth and justice, can and should rightly honor its sons and daughters past and present who place their lives on the line to assure peace and tranquility among “men of good will” who keep and cherish her precepts.

  10. “An old woman stood at an intersection outside town (Nettuno, Italy – Anzio), kissing the hand of every American soldier tramping past. As one private reported, ‘She did not miss a man.’”
    The Day of Battle, The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944, Rick Atkinson

  11. An interesting story I spotted today: the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is not ready to disband just yet even though its members are now close to or past 90 years old:


    “A Pearl Harbor Survivors Association has been around for 52 years and, while struggling to continue, 100 members voted against disbanding at their annual meeting on Monday, said association president Art Herriford.

    Herriford, 88, said old age makes it difficult for members to organize their biennial meetings and handle other duties, but they “don’t want to throw in the towel right away.”

    “Some of these old duffers, if you tried to do away with this organization, you’d have them all to fight,” Herriford said after the group met in Waikiki. A vote count was not provided.”

    Of the 18,000 survivors who joined the association after it formed in 1958, only 3,000 are still living. (Frankly I’m surprised it’s that many.)

  12. “Some of these old duffers, if you tried to do away with this organization, you’d have them all to fight,” Herriford said after the group met in Waikiki. A vote count was not provided.”

    I love that remark Elaine! I’ll pass it along to some World War 2 vets I’m having lunch with tomorrow!

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