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Thursday, December 07, 2006

December 7th 1941 A Tragedy That Could Have Been Avoided

Today is the 65th anniversary of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. The attack which killed more than 2,400 Americans and nearly destroyed U.S. naval power in the Pacific was the first of many crippling defeats.

Conservative Intelligence Review has some of the old photos of that time which bring to mind the long nightmare which was just beginning.

The sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was part of a Japanese plan to dominate the entire Pacific and reach into the Indian Ocean and Asia.

The Japanese simultaneously attacked the U.S. in the Philippines and the British at Malaya. American and British loss of life mounted quickly with these attacks and the sinking of the great British battleship Prince of Wales and it's sister ship Repulse on December 10.

Even with clear warning of the threat over many years we were ill-prepared to defend ourselves and the price was paid in the lives of millions and the atrocities committed against US troops in episodes like the Bataan Death March.
churchill_karsh_photo
To the British, who realized the horrible price which would be paid for our lack of foresight, Pearl Harbor also brought hope amid the smoke and ruin. Winston Churchill records the following thoughts in his six volume, 5,000 page history of the Second World War:

The Second World War
Volume 3: The Grand Alliance
by Winston S. Churchill
pages 606-607

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, sate 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 tool 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 toe. 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.

Prior to December 7th Churchill had been desperate for the United States to enter the war before it was too late. Britain's survival as a nation and a people were on the line every day as an invasion by Germany was in the works and thankfully never carried out.

The United States, led by Franklin Roosevelt realized the danger, but was hamstrung by public opinion. Despite that, Harry Hopkins, most trusted aide to FDR visited Britain earlier in 1941 and offered the following message on behalf of the United States:


From Churchill, A Life
by Martin Gilbert
page 688

Travelling with Churchill in Scotland, on January 17 Hopkins heard him tell a Glasgow audience, 'My one aim is to extirpate Hitlerism from Europe.' That evening, at dinner, Hopkins told the assembled company, 'I suppose you wish to know what I am going to say to President Roosevelt on my return?' He would, he said, be quoting a verse from the Bible, 'Whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.' Hopkins paused, then added quietly, 'Even to the end.' Churchill wept; the American emissary's words, wrote one of those present, 'seemed like a rope thrown to a drowning man'.
Together with the British and many others, the U.S. prevailed in World War II. The cost in human life was on a tragic scale never before seen. Sixty million people or more perished in horror and the world was forever scarred. And it need never have happened. It was our failure to recognize the signs in the 1930's when the threat of fascism could have been easily countered that led to the war which painted the world red with blood.

And it was the pacifist impulse and the "peace at any price" crowd which tragically thought that unilateral disarmament would prove to the dictators that we were not a threat which left us so ill-prepared. Peace came for a price all right. But a horrible one that need never have been paid.

History teaches us lessons and points the way to a better future for those willing to learn. Ignoring those lessons in preference for one's delusions or because of one's prejudice against those who do understand only means we lack the unity and fortitude to withstand the next onslaught of evil in a world which seems to have no shortage of malevolence.

Note: For those whose internet or computer setup does not allow background sounds, the audio of Winston Churchill's definition of victory may be played by clicking here.

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