Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Infamy, Then and Now

Yesterday, a day that once lived in infamy, passed unnoticed on those newsitainment shows that floated before TOF's eyeballs. However, the History Channel ran a history show (mirabile dictu!) covering the twenty-four hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor. How was the word transmitted and perceived by the players back in Washington (and elsewhere). Communications ran more slowly back then. There was no direct connection from Hawaii to Washington, so the President was in the dark on the details for several hours, and when he found out how bad it really was, he withheld that information from the Congressmen and Senators who came to meet with him. He did not want the situation running away and the press picking up rumors and hints. The "media" was newspapers and radio.

The evening after, FDR was to have had dinner with Edward R. Murrow. Instead, they had sandwiches and a midnight snack in the White House and FDR spilled all the beans -- which battleships had been sunk and all the rest. FDR said nothing about being "off the record." Murrow, the first celebrity journalist, decided to... keep the information private until after the president addressed the United States in Congress Assembled. He felt that the People should get the news from the president, not from a radio reporter. Who among the Late Modern fourth estate would show such judgement?

But another theme ran silently throughout the background. In one scene, the dead from the attack are buried unceremoniously in a mass grave and the news film shows only about two dozen of the survivors in attendance. Everyone else was off getting the ships repaired and prepping for war with Japan.

In contrast, sneak attacks by a determined enemy today elicit not the grim determination of 1941, but a fusillade of mutual hugs, tears, teddy bears and lighted candles. That will make the enemy quail! They might have guns, but by gum! we have flowers. The enemy will also flee from our barrage of self-doubt and our plaintive questions about how we brought this on ourselves. Not to mention the focus not on the enemy who wrought or encouraged the attacks, but on our keepers who didn't warn us about it ahead of time.

Some of that went down in 1941, too; but folks were made of sterner stuff back then, and they realized that Naval Intelligence was not omniscient. They also realized that the Japanese were moral actors in their own right: they had their own goals and objectives and it was not All About Us.
"Gliding by in a wheelchair on his way to the Oval Office soon after he had heard of the attack, FDR looked like a man in a fighting mood. In the words of Secret Service Agent Mike Reilly: 'His chin stuck out about two feet in front of his knees and he was the maddest Dutchman I—or anybody—ever saw.'" 
 Twenty-four hours after the attack, having ascertained the situation, FDR addressed Congress:

Yesterday, 7 December 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 Oahu, the Japanese Ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or 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 had 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. Very many American lives were 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 Japanese forces attacked Wake Island.

This morning the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday 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.

Always will we 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 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 very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

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 unbounded 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, 7 December, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire. 
There is a quaintness to this: even under such exigent circumstances, a rather autocratic president still believed he had to go to Congress and ask for a declaration of war. 

Both parties closed ranks. Sen.Wheeler (D, MT), the leftist Senator who had been vehemently anti-war and had said two months earlier that war with Japan would only be to the benefit of England, said,
"The only thing now is to do our best to lick hell out of them."
Lining up for the Navy, preparing to lick hell

 Compare this reaction to the Late Moderns, who hem and haw and refuse to name the Empire of Japan or whoever the enemy is, and worry more that there will be a backlash than that there has already been a frontlash. The answer to a jihadi attack is, incredibly, talk of stricter gun controls. Imagine if the reaction to Pearl Harbor had been stricter airplane controls!

One sees strength and resolution in the president not when he speaks of radical Islamist jihadis (for he never speaks of them in such judgmental terms) but when he speaks of his domestic critics in the Other Party. The real enemy, we must suppose.

Something may be getting through. Perhaps he has been a bit more determined-looking, has hemmed and hawed a little less often. But he still thinks you can win a war with a minimalist strategy when the basic rule of warfighting is that if you think you need one division, send two. The current strategy, if we may dignify it with such a word, hasn't been working against the "junior varsity" up to now. There is no reason to suppose it will suddenly start working tomorrow. 

If only the alternatives were not also feckless.


  1. To be fair, in East Asia, ambassadors who delivered declarations of war were usually sent back to their home countries in pieces...

    1. (Fair to the ambassadors themselves, I mean, not the Imperial Japanese government.)

  2. Although not in the news, the NFL had a ceremony in the Monday night football game, and there was comments before and during the game about it.


O Tempo, O Morae!

  On the Nature of Poetry Had poetry no nature, How would you know You had written one? And yes, the title of today's post is a pun on C...