Tags: Remembrances | Wars | Past

Remembrances of Wars Past

Wednesday, 23 May 2001 12:00 AM

The latest offering is a film about Pearl Harbor that, we are told, will tell the whole story, including what the U.S. knew before the bombs started falling on that vital naval base. I doubt that - the whole truth might be very unkind to Franklin D. Roosevelt and ultra-left Hollywood would never want to suggest that their hero was less than truthful about that tragedy.

But that's neither here nor there. We can argue about that forever, and it's not where I want to go. In his Polyconomics column Jude Wanniski asks "Remember Pearl Harbor?" Sure I do. I was all of 15 years old (Jude was 4) but I remember every detail of where I was and what I was doing when I got the news. How could I forget it - Pearl Harbor changed my life forever just as it altered the course of the lives of most of my fellow Americans.

From that day forward, everything that happened to many of America's young men and women happened in some way because of the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor.

I'm not much given to playing the "what if" game; what if Pearl Harbor hadn't happened? What if America had managed to stay out of that global conflict? How would it have affected my life if the US had remained at peace?

I don't have a clue, and it makes no difference anyway. It did happen. And it changed everything. For just about everybody.

It may be difficult for the generations that came along after WWII to even begin to grasp what life was like back in 1941. Given the affluence they now enjoy to an extent no previous generation since Adam and Eve have experienced they wouldn't begin to understand how a far less affluent America reacted in the wake of Pearl Harbor.

"We have awakened a sleeping giant, and filled it with a relentless resolve" said Japan's Admiral Yamamoto when he heard of the results of his attack on Pearl Harbor. Having lived in the US he understood the nature of the American people and how we would react to this treacherous attack.

Relentless resolve - that's exactly what happened. Nobody sat around and contemplated the meaning of it all as our intellectual elite of today are wont to do when faced with a crisis. Nobody tried to understand what caused the Japanese to commit such an act of treachery or attempted to find ways to justify it. No members of Congress sought to make deals with our enemies as members of the Democrat leadership did with the communist regime in Nicaragua. And hardly anybody questioned the notion that having been attacked in such a disgraceful manner it was our obligation to strike back and strike back hard.

Relentless resolve. I can think of few of my contemporaries who, like me, were too young to enlist in December, 1941 who didn't feel a sense of frustration. We were afraid that the whole thing would be over before we could join older brothers and friends in a great and worthy adventure.

In my case there was an additional reason for my frustration. I was in Prep school and bored silly. My mind was not on Caesar's Gallic wars, nor geometry nor chemistry nor the mysteries of why the French used a language filled with strange grammatical rules. Moreover, I was chafing under both family and Jesuit discipline. I wanted out - and the war, I thought, was my way out. It would take a couple of years before I was able to take that path.

So two days before my 17th birthday I went over to Manhattan and enlisted in the Marine Corps. I had found the way out of the strictures and rigors of Jesuit and parental discipline. It took about 15 minutes after my arrival in Parris Island, South Caroline to realize that I had made a monumental error in judgment - one, however, I have never for a moment regretted. The man I am today, for better or worse, was born in Parris Island in November 1943.

As I said, Pearl Harbor changed everything.

But I wander. What I'm getting at is the fact that the America that rose to the challenge of one of history's most dreadful conflicts no longer exists. I can't help but wonder how we would react today to a similar situation. I can't say for certain, but I do know that there would be no relentless resolve to go and do what had to be done and stick with it until the bitter end no matter what the cost or how long it took. We'd find some way to bug out.

Would this generation react to gas and food rationing as the folks at home did then - patiently and with a minimum of complaints? How would they react to long lines at the butcher shop where finding a sirloin steak would be as rare as winning a lottery today - and more sought after?

It was an era of shortages of everything. Americans learned to do without because they realized that doing without was the price they had to pay for ultimate victory. New cars were out of the question - they weren't making any. And driving was pretty much a matter of was the trip worth using up a part of one's precious ration of gasoline?

Could we produce the sort of men who fought off the German army at the battle of the bulge, fighting in weather so bitterly cold that one of the major causes of casualties was frostbite? Or the men who fought their way through the enemy's nearly impregnable defenses at Normandy on D-Day, or died by the thousands in the volcanic sands of Iwo Jima or at Tarawa?

Back on an anniversary of D-Day which President Reagan observed by going to Normandy he spoke of the Boys of Pointe du Hoc - the Rangers who performed incredible feats scaling a cliff under heavy fire.

"Their mission was one of the most difficult and daring of the invasion: to climb those sheer and desolate cliffs and take out the enemy guns," Reagan said. Those huge guns that the allies believed were a deadly threat to the troops landing on the beaches and could have stopped the landing and perhaps thwart the invasion before it had a chance to succeed.

"The Rangers looked up and saw the enemy soldiers at the edge of the cliffs, shooting down at them with machine guns and throwing grenades," Reagan continued. But in spite of the impossible odds these men scaled the heights and took them. "Two hundred and twenty five came here," he recalled. "After two days of fighting only 90 could still bear arms."

I tell this story partly because the guns they fought so valiantly to capture were not there. They had been taken away and sent elsewhere long before D-Day.

Ask yourself how we would react today to what we would certainly see as a waste of human lives. The media would be outraged at what they would surely see as a monumental error for which somebody must be made to pay. There would be a congressional investigation. Somebody would write a book decrying this useless sacrifice. Hardly anybody would see it as an act of incredible heroism or the men who did it as selfless heroes. Their sacrifices would be seen as merely collateral damage.

Back then we saw it differently: as an act of incredible heroism by men who did what they set out to do with relentless resolve, regardless of the price so many of them had to pay.

Ronald Reagan summed it all up. Speaking to the Boys of Pointe du Hoc that day he said: "You all knew that some things are worth dying for. One's country is worth dying for, and democracy is worth dying for, because it is the most deeply honorable form of government ever devised by man. All of you loved liberty. All of you were willing to fight tyranny and you knew the people of your countries were behind you."

I can't help wonder if this generation could produce another group of boys like the ones at Pointe du Hoc. They and thousands of their fellow Americans on battlefields all across the globe gave their all for the survival of personal liberty and for the survival of the republic their forefathers had given them. Today that liberty and that republic are under assault here at home yet the majority of our fellow Americans seem content to stand by and allow the Marxists and the elitist environmentalists and the United Nations globalists zealots drag them into the socialist prison camp they want America to become.

Do we still believe that "One's country is worth dying for and democracy is worth dying for because it is the most deeply honorable form ever devised by man"?

We'd better begin to climb that cliff if we want to survive as free men and women in a free society.

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The latest offering is a film about Pearl Harbor that, we are told, will tell the whole story, including what the U.S. knew before the bombs started falling on that vital naval base. I doubt that - the whole truth might be very unkind to Franklin D. Roosevelt and ultra-left...
Wednesday, 23 May 2001 12:00 AM
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