Tag archives: Pearl Harbor

The Pearl Harbor Attack—December 7, 1941: A Date Which Will Live in Oblivion?

by Robert Morrison

December 7, 2011

Defense Sec. Leon Panetta has issued a commemorative message to the survivors of Pearl Harbor. It might better be called Leons Amazing Whodunnit. The secretary waxes poetic, calling the generation that fought World War II the greatest generation and lauding their heroic sacrifice. He thanks them for their courage and steadfastness. This is entirely appropriate.

Theres only one thing missing: Nowhere in Panettas paean to the vets does he mention why this date, which President Roosevelt called a date which will live in infamy, should be remembered. He never mentions that the attack was staged by air and naval forces of Imperial Japan.

Now, if you are a modern Secretary of Defense, you must remember always that America has had a close and cooperative alliance with democratic Japan for more than half a century. You doubtless recall as well that we have U.S. armed forces stationed in various bases in Japan today. You will also want to keep in mind the fact that Japan looks to us for military assistance in the event that North Korea attacks South Korea, or China attacks Taiwan. And we rely on Japan for vital intelligence about movements in Asia.

All of that is well and good. It would have been quite fitting to denounce only the infamy of Japans militarists of 1941. For more than twenty years prior to that dastardly attack, the forces of democracy in Japan were under assault at home. Leaders of Japans parliamentary government were systematically targeted for assassination by young fanatics in the military. Those militants were given encouragement and shelter by these same senior militarists.

No good purpose is served by failing to point these things out. When Saigon fell to the Communists in 1975, the hapless President Ford said this is no day for recriminations.

Ronald Reagan, soon to mount a powerful challenge to Ford, reportedly said: What better day?

So it is today. What better day to recall that on this date in 1941, air and naval forces of the Empire of Japan staged a bloody attack on a nation with whom they were at peace? Failure to point these things out today leads us to underestimate the miracle of our genuine friendship of today.

Former President George H.W. Bush spoke to the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen several years ago. He said the most underreported story of the second half of the Twentieth Century was the renewal of close friendship between the American and Japanese peoples. Bush told the Mids they could not imagine the hatred that existed toward all Japanese in the Second World War. As the youngest naval aviator in history, Bush described his plane being shot down by the Japanese over Chichi Jima.

As the waves pushed his inflatable boat inexorably toward that Pacific island, Bush described how he frantically paddled to get away. He knew that captured American fliers were tortured, killed and eaten there. Crying and puking, he said, he thanked God when he saw the submarine USS Finback surface to rescue him.

President Bushs remembrance was of vital importance to those Midshipmen. Within the Brigade of Midshipmen that listened attentively to him that night were several cadets from the Japanese naval academy. Also in attendance were several exchange officers from todays Japanese Navy.

My own family cherishes the friendships we have with foreign exchange officers at the Naval Academy, including those from Japan and Germany. Those nations were our bitterest foes in World War II. We have reached out to our foreign friends, as well as to those Midshipmen who come from newly independent navies of the former Soviet Union.

Peace and reconciliation are sweet rewards of American victories. They are the fruit of peace through strength. Nothing is served, however, by memorial messages that dont memorialize. Amnesia is never a good policy. Mr. Secretary: There is a who in this whodunit!

December 7, 1941: A date which will live in infamy.

by Robert Morrison

December 7, 2010

Young John F. Kennedy was playing touch football on the grounds of the Washington Monument when he heard the news. Every other American alive and aware on December 7, 1941, could tell you exactly where he was and what he was doing when he learned of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Thousands of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy marched off to the Chapel that cold and clear Sunday morning to hear the pastor of the New York Avenue Presbyterian Church. The guest preacher had made the two-hour trip from Washington by car. As he drove to Annapolis, however, he decided not to preach the sermon he had planned. Still unaware of the attack, as was the nation, the Scottish-born Rev. Peter Marshall instead determined to preach on an entirely different Scripture verse: James 4:14.

Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.

The Academy Chapel is a beautiful and imposing structure, modeled on Pariss famous Hotel des Invalides. The pulpit is a rich mahogany, with carved figures of the Apostles standing tall. None of this mattered as the eloquent preacher honed his message and sent it to the hearts of his young hearers. Hundreds of the vital young men seated before him would remember that sermon all their lives.

Hundreds of others would carry it to a watery grave. In the Academys Memorial Hall is an engraved list of the names of all those alumni who died in the nations wars since its founding in 1845. The listing for World War II takes up more than 60% of the space for all the honored dead. That conflict, begun for America this day 69 years ago today, changed the whole world. President Franklin D. Roosevelt said it was a date which will live in infamy.

My family has worshiped in that same Chapel for 14 years. There, our daughter was married. There, we attend Christmas Eve and Easter services. We are a Navy family.

There, until very recently, the flags of the United States and the Brigade of Midshipmen were processed in solemn ceremony every Sunday morning.

My wifes friends grace our home with the warmth of good fellowship. Recently, Kathie brought eighteen ladies to her monthly craft time. This particular Wednesday, the women were making their own Christmas cards.

I steer a wide berth when there are that many ladies engaged in serious work and happy conversation. But now and then, I will dart out of my study and head for the coffeemaker in the kitchen. This particular time, I could not help noticing that among the eighteen women were two Japanese and two German wives. They and their husbands are respected members of the international community in Annapolis. Their husbands are instructors at the Academy. The affection for these foreign women, welcome guests in our home, is genuine.

What a little miracle that scene was. Peace on Earth, goodwill to men. Sixty-nine years ago, we were in a desperate war for survival with their countries. Now, they laugh and joke with us. And share the joys of Christmas in America.

These friendships are one of the blessings of peace. But it was a peace made possible only by Americas victory over Japanese militarism and Nazi cruelty. Former President George H.W. Bush came to the Academy several years ago to deliver a lecture. It was one of the best weve heard. He was the youngest naval aviator in history. He dropped out of Yale to volunteer for World War II. Shot down near Chichi Jima in the South Pacific, Bush described his desperate attempts to paddle his rubber boat out to seaeven as the waves were pushing him toward that Japanese-occupied island. I was crying and puking, sick with fear, Bush said. He had good reason to fear. We knew that captured American fliers were sometimes beheaded on that island. And their bodies eaten.

Yet, here was this forgiving man, describing how, as President of the United States, he had decided to attend the state funeral of Japans Emperor Hirohito. You cannot imagine the hatred we all felt for the Japanese in World War II, he told the Mids. We wanted to exterminate them all.

Bush went on to say the most underreported story of the second half of the Twentieth Century was the genuine reconciliation between the Japanese and American peoples.

He is right. And that reconciliation was only made possible by American strength and American resolve.

That strength is based, ultimately, on the truths of Holy Scripture, as Rev. Peter Marshall preached on that long-ago Sunday morning. This day lives in infamy, to be sure, yet it lives as well in memory. Our lives are a mist, but Gods Word lasts forever.