Wednesday, December 7, 2011

On December 7, 2011 and Rewriting American History

A Japanese photo taken during the aerial torpedo attack on "Battleship Row" on the far side of Ford Island. A torpedo has just struck USS West Virginia (center). Also seen are (from left) Nevada, Arizona, Tennessee, Oklahoma (torpedoed and listing) alongside Maryland, and California. (Courtesy: The History Place)

On December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy drew the U.S. into World War II by conducting a surprise attack on the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii, killing 2,335 servicemen and 68 civilians and wounding 1,178 others. The U.S. president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, called that day "a date that will live in infamy."

Indeed it was. By the time the Pacific War was over, Japan's killing rampage had taken the lives of about 30 million other people, including more than 100,000 U.S. military personnel.

Chinese man being used for bayonet practice.
Imperialist Japan was a militarist aggressor nation allied with fascist Germany and Italy that had already invaded and enslaved Korea (not yet divided into North and South); invaded China and conducted the Rape of Nanking, in which 50,000 Japanese soldiers murdered half of the Chinese capital city's 600,000 unarmed residents by stabbing, shooting, beheading, disemboweling, burning alive, or burying alive. All of these activities were photographed by Japanese military photographers. Among the dead were an estimated 20,000 - 60,000 females (including small girls and old women) who were first gang raped by Japanese soldiers. Japan had also invaded and taken over Manchuria and unsuccessfully tried to extend Japan's territory into the Soviet Union.

Three of Japan's prisoners of war
World War II, the product of the militarist ambitions of Japan, Germany, and Italy, disrupted the entire world. The war took the lives of somewhere between 62 and 78 million people, most of whom were civilians. In all, WWII killed about 3 of every 100 people alive on the planet at the time.

Today I am thinking about a conversation I had with a young historian who expressed his impatience for the opportunity to rewrite the history of WWII--after all the eyewitnesses and participants, who have written the current history, are dead. His goal is to demonstrate the failures of America and Americans during that war; the trespasses of soldiers in the heat of battle, the failure of American society to fight for our survival as a free nation in a manner that meets today's standards of political correctness.

His chance will come soon enough. The attack on Pearl Harbor was 70 years ago. No more than I can fully understand what it was like to grow up in a Victorian household with a set of Victorian ideals and standards, this young historian, raised in an atmosphere of moral equivalency and schooled ad nauseam in the supposed failures and evils of the American system, cannot understand that many of those who fought that war were men of honor and dignity.

I've known many of them. I have had the privilege of being introduced to the ideals of honor and dignity held by so many who sacrificed for liberty during World War II. I have known many men whose conduct, both during the war and until the end of their days, well reflected George S. Patton's admonition, "Duty is the essence of manhood."

This self-congratulatory young historian has almost no idea of what constituted the ideals of duty, honor, and dignity for Americans during World War II, and he doesn't want to know. But, by the looks of it, in today's educational system where duty, honor, and dignity are such conspicuously old-fashioned anachronisms that they are seldom if ever mentioned, he has in front of him every hope for a successful career furthering the cause of Blame America First.

If the truth were told, many more of those who today hold the U.S. in contempt would realize that they would not even be alive if it were not for the sacrifices made by Americans during WWII. 

Are the lives they are living worthy of the sacrifices made to preserve them?

This is a question, I am convinced, that many Blame America First-ers do not dare to ask themselves.

If the cost is to weaken the U.S. by minimalizing the actual contributions of Americans to human liberties, the true history of World War II, however painful to today's sensibilities, should not be forgotten.

Update: You may toss your cookies when you read this post by Marooned in Marin: Obama Daughters' School Has Japanese Lunch for Pearl Harbor Day; He Uses Dec 7 To Push Class Warfare.



  1. I imagine your young friend got some pointers in rational thinking in speaking with you. Articles like this, that show the photos, that tell the facts, help a lot. Now it's out there, in the ether, in caches and archives, coming up in searches.

    Save old books, old photos. We never know where they will go after our time as their custodians is over.

    On a similar note, my grandson (age 12) did a report for school recently about Matthew Henson, the arctic explorer. He learned a lot of good lessons about treating people with respect, but later, he was shocked to learn from me that a trading card was made honoring Henson in 1910, that National Geographic did an article featuring him at the same time, that Henson was included in a history book from 1952, my childhood. His sources had omitted this continual recognition. He was also surprised that I had these artifacts in my own collections.

    I explained how people who don't know certain facts often assume they have the whole picture when the reality was much more complex. So he got a good lesson in the need to research completely, and to look for original sources.

    I gave him the book and the tobacco trading card. Somewhere in the distant future, those concrete, uneditable mementos of reality may continue to bear fruit.

  2. @Tina & Tom:

    Thank you for the complement, but this young historian may have even less interest in rational thinking than in gathering historical data from participants and eyewitnesses, which he views (perhaps correctly) as impediments to his career. Sigh. Rational thinking is held in much higher regard in the shade of Texas pecan trees than it is here in the dark shadow of one of New York's Ivy League clock tower.

    I find it interesting (but very time consuming) to investigate the reasons why people disappear from history books. Sometimes there are political reasons aplenty, but often such omissions are the result of competition for page space: history gets longer and longer, but history books don't.