Tragedy of Pearl Harbor continues with us

Sharon M. Kennedy

According to a variety of articles I’ve read, Pearl Harbor was just the catalyst President Roosevelt needed to enter World War II.

Since that Dec. 7 “day of infamy” all those years ago, books, movies, and documentaries have flourished. In many cases, the focus has shifted from Pearl Harbor to Nazi concentration camps. With the horror of such camps, it’s understandable why we continue to be intrigued by Hitler’s mass elimination of Jews, gypsies, the insane, the infirm and other minorities he considered sub-human.

However, as awful as it sounds, many historians have reported our politicians were less concerned about what was happening in places like Auschwitz, Dachau, Buchenwald and dozens of other concentration camps throughout Europe and more concerned that Japan was inching towards China with the intent of claiming its import market. Robert Higgs, an American economic historian, writes the attack on Pearl Harbor was in retaliation to our economic sanctions to “obstruct Japan’s advance in Asia” thereby restricting its access to “essential defense materials.”

I’m no historian so I did a Google search and was surprised at what I found. The war had been going on for two years. In July 1941, Roosevelt froze Japanese assets in the U.S., bringing commercial relations to an end. Higgs asserts we goaded Japan into launching an attack guaranteed to draw us into the war. Henry Stimson, Roosevelt’s Secretary of War noted in his diary, “How do we maneuver Japan into firing the first shot without allowing too much danger to ourselves.” The validity of such claims depends upon the person writing the history book.

I always thought the attack on Pearl Harbor was unprovoked and came out of nowhere. In school, I wasn’t particularly interested in U.S. history. One of my uncles fought in World War II, but he was the only close relative who served. He was in the 81st Infantry Division known as the Wildcats. Like my brother who served in Vietnam and so many other veterans, Uncle Steve never spoke of his time in the Army. Whatever memories and images of combat he brought home remained locked in his heart.

The Sullivan family of Iowa, who lost five sons when their ship was sunk by a Japanese submarine, believed we were fighting a necessary war. The heartache experienced by the Sullivans was felt in every home receiving notice their loved one had died on the battlefield, had been taken prisoner, or was missing in action. These men were heroes. The homefolks endured each day knowing their son, brother, or father had not given his life in vain or was suffering for an unknown cause.

Mom thanked God when she received a letter from her brother saying that because of Hiroshima he was on a ship “somewhere in the Pacific” heading towards home instead of Japan. I can only imagine the relief she felt when she received that letter. Mom never mentioned Uncle Steve’s experiences because she didn’t know about them, but I think the tenderness she always showed him was partly due to his safe return.

Today our country is involved in numerous undeclared wars in the Middle East and elsewhere yet unless we know someone serving in the military we rarely give these “conflicts” a second thought. No soldier is alive from the Civil War to remind us of battles fought on American soil. Military engagements in distant lands have become more or less phantom images.

But for the men and women who suffer from war injuries, their mind and body tell a different story. The loss of an arm or leg, the disfigurement of a face, and other outward appearances are obvious. The damage done to the mind is not so easy to detect, but it’s there, often dormant until triggered by a memory. Suicide among returning vets has risen to at least 20 a day according to government statistics.

While writing this musing, I was also listening to the latest news reports regarding North Korea. It’s disheartening to hear war may be looming with that country. Wars give the opportunity to showcase an arsenal of sophisticated weapons and the ability to level a country, but are these good enough reasons to justify war? In our current situation, boastfulness and personal pride could be the deciding factors.

Living on a peaceful country sideroad, it’s hard for me to imagine what would happen if our country was hit with a nuclear weapon. It’s unthinkable that something so horrific might be in our near future. Doughboys thought World War I was the war to “end all wars.” I wonder what they would think if they knew how wrong they were.

Perhaps if there was a return to trench warfare and hand-to-hand combat countries would hesitate to initiate a conflict, but maybe not. In our modern world, who would dig the trenches or carry a bayonet? How many would volunteer if they knew what was expected of them? Maybe it’s time for our leaders and members of congress to slap on a uniform and join our combat troops.

Today we honor those who died at Pearl Harbor and pray for our active military. Even when young men and women do not understand why war is necessary, they obey the call of duty. May God give them strength to endure what they must and give hope to those who wait at home for their safe return.

Editor’s note: Sharon M. Kennedy of Brimley is a humorist who infuses her musings with a hardy dose of matriarchal common sense. She writes about everyday experiences most of us have encountered at one time or another on our journey through life. Her articles are a combination of present day observations and nostalgic glances of the past. She can be reached via email at sharonkennedy1947@gmail.com. In addition, Sharon has compiled a collection of stories from her various newspaper columns. The title of her book is “Life in a Tin Can.” Copies are available from Amazon in paperback or Kindle format.