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"A Day That Will Live in Infamy" (Re-post)

My parents spoke often of the shock of learning of the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.  It was an event which brought the United States into the war and which  defined their entire generation.

Throughout the years I have been privileged to talk with several men who were at Pearl Harbor the morning of the attack.  To a man they expressed the same reaction:  Initial shock, increasing anger and a desire for revenge, then relief and thankfulness for their own personal survival, followed by the grim realization that a long and bloody war had only just begun.

My father was an FBI agent during the war and spent his time monitoring various points of entry into the US (mostly cargo ports in Philadelphia, Miami, but also the US/Mexico border near El Paso).  For him, the war years were tedious and routine, but he saw his work as necessary and important. 

My father-in-law, a rancher from a small town in Nebraska, served in the Army Air Corps in the Pacific Theater.  He lived his entire post-war life in the shadow his war experience.  He saw things men should never see and had some wonderful stories to tell about his South Pacific adventures.  Throughout his life he stayed in touch with the men of his bombardment group (he serviced the B-24s his group flew into combat).  His war service defined him.

The greatest generation of citizen soldiers won that war against the forces of fascism and totalitarianism.  They were better men than I, and sadly, their number declines by the day.  But sixty-nine years ago, their world changed.  And so did ours.  Lets not forget them, nor their service and sacrifice.

Reader Comments (38)


Wonderful post. I thought you and your readers (those living in So. Cal. anyway) might be interested in knowing that the USS Midway (WWII era aircraft carrier) is now a museum piece open to the public down in San Diego. My wife and I visited on July 4th earlier this year and it is well worth the visit. There is much to commend about this tour; I especially liked the talk on how they launched aircraft. But the hilight of the visit (for me) was hearing from the vets themselves. They still have many volunteers working different days of the week (including many WWII vets!!). Like you say, there are not many left... and having the opportunity to talk with some of them face to face for 20 minutes or so was wonderful. I felt very honored. I echo your sentiments about these men... they are better men than I.

If any can get the chance to go, please do. I asked one of the vets if they are always there and he said not every day. They are there most weekends and a couple other days during the week. I forget which days those were so if you are going during the week you might want to call first to find out which days they are working.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug
I work in healthcare and have had the privilege of meeting a couple of men there at Pearl Harbor in 1941, but I have met a lot of WWII vets. There stories they tell are amazing! I started watching Tora, Tora, Tora yesterday afternoon. What a great movie.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDavid
Thank you Kim for your post. My Dad, a Navy WW II veteran, died today at 86 years old. So I know first hand that the number of the greatest generation declines every day.
December 7, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGary
"Day of Infamy" certainly and the Japanese have never apologised for their war crimes.In February 1942 Darwin in the Top End of Australia had the first of many raids,almost certainly by some of the same "brave men" who bombed Pearl Harbor.followed up by bombing in North West Australia in the town of Broome of seaplanes packed with refugees from the Dutch Netherlands East indies.
Forgive -yes,but we must never forget the mistakes of history when dealing with tyrants.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwayne pelling
For the WW2 veterans -the greatest generation-the words of Churchill as he referred to the pilots of the RAF who fought in the Battle of Britain-which included US,Aussies,new ZEALANDERS,Canucks,Poles,French,Czechs,but which are applicable to all who fought fascism and totalitarianism
'Never in the field of human conflict,was so much owed by so many to so Few"

God Bless those of the Few who are still amongst us and we are thankful for they and their former comrades bravery and sacrifice
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterwayne pelling
My condolences to Gary on the loss of his dad...
When we went to Oahu we took the tour of Pearl Harbor and stood on the memorial for the Arizona. It was a very real and humbling experience, something that we cannot forget, anymore than we can forget 9/11.
Excellent post.
December 8, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterhb
My dad talked a lot about the war. He won the bronze star and served in the European theatre. I never knew about his medals until long after his passing. His stories culminated in regular admonitions to value life, home, health and music. He had a serious reverence and gratitude for these, resulting from his experience. He told us we could never realize how fortunate we were to live freely in this country. Later when I learned more about WW2 I began to appreciate his views a bit more, regretfully too late.

As a people, I think we are less without these men.

December 8, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterRobin
Amen. "lest we forget" should be a slogan we never forget but alas we do. One of our local radio stations asked people on the street what the significance of Dec. 7 was and so many did not know. A few of the people even laughed at their ignorance. How I wanted to cry. Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.
December 9, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterAlan Platt
The correct quote is: "A Date that will live in Infamy"
December 10, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterGene Frenkel

I'll bet you are fun to live with . . .
December 10, 2009 | Registered CommenterKim Riddlebarger
While the temptation is to get wrapped up in our patriotism, this day also marks the onset of one of the greatest abuses, surpassed perhaps only by slavery, by our country of one of our minorities. Americans of Japanese ancestory were deprived of homes, property and liberty. There were camps created across California for American citizens whose crime was their birth inheritance. Americans of German or Italian descent were not similarly treated.

Through the occupation that occurred post war, my family merged with a Japanese family through marriage. Our view of that day is more of great sadness, but with the knowledge of what can come in the aftermath of war. Try visiting Pearl Harbor with your Japanese Mother-in-Law, walking on the Missouri Memorial with her, talking to the veterans there as they clearly know of her lineage.

Then, remember that there is another day, August 9, 1945. On this day, my Mother-in-Law watched the unnatural glow rise over the mountain of her village from the direction of Hiroshima. She witnessed the wrath of man as we entered a new age of global politics.

There is nothing about Christ that I can see in that war. The threads of many lives and many families took drastic turns in those years. I count myself lucky to have made peace with both Pearl Harbor and Hiroshima, as anyone in our family must. I'll can never remember one day without the other, nor should any of us.
December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMerlin
I can understand your reasons for regretting the Japanese internment and the bombs dropped on Japan by the U.S.. Were I in your shoes I would probably feel the same way. Further reading and study, however, has convinced me that the bomb was a moral necessity and ultimately saved more lives than it took. My father, who lived through WWII and hailed from California, also made a powerful case that, judged from what Americans knew at the time, the internment of the Japanese, while deeply regrettable, while prudent and wise. He recalled the reasonable fear that Americans felt when, e.g., a Japanese sub off the coast of Santa Barbara lobbed shells at an oil refinery. The U.S. Supreme Court, who evaluated all the evidence in not one but two separate cases, reached the same conclusion at the time.

The hell that the Japanese Empire unleashed was, like all evils, not easily contained in its effects to their own limited goals. It's the nature of evil in a fallen world to lead to unintended consequenses, some quite extreme. All was deeply regrettable even if justifiable. Rather than criticize Americans or condemn Japanese, perhaps a better response is to long for the day when Christ will right every wrong and put an end to this present evil age.
December 7, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke

What was it that you read that convinced you of your position? It seems you may be giving the often heard "it saved more lives than it took" justification for bombing Hiroshima, which I am not persuaded is a just and good reason for the bombing. I think we, away from more of the emotions and even intolerance of the time, are better able to judge the actions the US took and rightly should to avoid their errors, and dare I say evils. History rarely, if ever, seems so black and white, and I think this is true of WW2 as well.
December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto
Although there are many reasons that support the decision to drop the bomb, if we had no other reason than the reasonable calculation, supported by reasonable data, that bombing would save hundreds of thousands (or by some estimate millions) of lives is sufficient moral justification. Indeed, to do othewise would have been immoral. I realize that many persons are opposed to the spectre of nuclear bombs no matter the calculation, but it has always seemed to me that that view rests upon an emotional rather than a rational basis. I'm told that President Truman made the decision and slept soundly. I think it was the right decision, even though a tragic one, because an alternative decision would have been more tragic.

You argue that we with hindsight are better equipped to judge the morality and propriety of the decision than the people of the day. We can evaluate evidence they don't have, IMO, the moral calculation must be judged by what information people of the day had available to them and what they reasonably believed at the time, not what we believe with new evidence in hindsight. (E.g., in legal matters, we judge the propriety of a person's firing of a gun by whether he/she reasonably believed his victim had a gun, not by the hindsight that reveals the victim only had a water pistol.) Regarding the internment, the U.S. Supreme Court in two opinions considered the evidence and judged it sufficient to establish a "compelling governmental interest" that outweighed the civil rights of citizens.
December 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke

No, what you are saying isn't explicitly or even implicitly mentioned in my post. I am not completely against the use of nuclear weapons; I never mentioned it being bad to have them. I also did not mention anything of "new evidence in hindsight"; I think we can definitely reason better outside their time on how they acted in light of what they knew. As for the Supreme Court decisions, I don't really see anything persuasive about the ruling in and of themselves; now if you mention the argumentation specifically, that's different. Perhaps the argumentation could persuade me; I am open to having my opinions changed.

Part of my reason for questioning actions of the US and the Allies is based on what I learned from D.A. Carson on just war.
December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAlberto
Alberto, the Supreme Court decisions on the internment are highly relevant to the moral issue and the political issue. The reason why is key. Any moral, political, military, or legal analysis must be grounded in the facts known about the known or perceived risks and threats that persons of Japanese descent posed at the time. Now whether or not they posed a risk is not relevant. What is relevant is what was reasonably believed at the time based on available intelligence at the time. That facual record was relied on by the lower federal district courts, the Courts of Appeal, and the Supreme Court, carefully reviewed and evaluated by judges trained and experienced in reviewing and evaluating evidence. It was the considerred judgment of professional military, civilian defense experts, intelligence experts, and the federal judiciary that the risks were unacceptable. Thaat is a judgement not lightly waved away.

Just war theory is predicated upon, at bottom factual anaysis of weighing risks and rewards, likely outcomes, etc. Those judgments must be made by professionals equipped with all relevant military information. A pastor or theologian is not equipped to opine on the justice of any given war. The doctrine of 2K and SOTC would indicate that the church and churchmen should not express an opinion about the justice of military endeavors.

Why are we, 60 years later, in a better position to evaluate these decisions than the professionals of the day? Did we get smarter? You admit we have no new information? Do we have more refined moral sensibilities? I think you assume that we are able, with distance and having no emotional involvement, to make a more dispassionate decision. I disagree. The very fact we have no skin in the game makes it too easy for us, with 20-20 hindset, to opine and judge. The very fact that the miitary exigencies of the day existed concentrated the minds of the men of the 40s better than our coffee house palaver of today. IMO
December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke
The real correct quote is: "A date WHICH will live in infamy"
December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterBrian

You said, "The doctrine of 2K and SOTC would indicate that the church and churchmen should not express an opinion about the justice of military endeavors."

But at OldLife you said, "From my experience the majority of 2K advocates who are scholars would say the church qua church (e.g., pastor from the pulpit) may/must condemn a state law that mandates or encoruages an egregious and flagrant violation of God’s law." This was your way of criticizing those of us there who were saying what you said just above here at the Riddleblog. I believe you called it a "gag order" on the church, and you meant it derisively.

Are you saying this turns on the fact that the military is somehow invulnerable to egregious and flagrant violation of God’s law and cannot be questioned, or is it a case of double-speak? Either way, it doesn't look good for you.

But as dgh pointed out to you, Machen agreed with your Riddleblog statement and not your OldLife one:

"There are certain things which you cannot expect from such a true Christian church. In the first place, you cannot expect from it any cooperation with non-Christian religion or with a non-Christian program of ethical culture. There are those who tell us that the Bible ought to be put into the public schools, and that the public schools should seek to build character by showing the children that honesty is the best policy and that good Americans do not lie nor steal. With such programs a true Christian church will have nothing to do. . . .

In the second place, you cannot expect from a true Christian church any official pronouncements upon the political or social questions of the day, and you cannot expect cooperation with the state in anything involving the use of force. Important are the functions of the police, and members of the church, either individually or in such special associations as they may choose to form, should aid the police in every lawful way in the exercise of those functions. But the function of the church in its corporate capacity is of an entirely different kind. Its weapons against evil are spiritual, not carnal; and by becoming a political lobby, through the advocacy of political measures whether good or bad, the church is turning aside from its proper mission."

Machen, "The Responsibility of the Church in the New Age."

What I'm wondering is whether you, like Machen, agree with your Riddleblog statement or your OldLife statement. I'm with Machen and your RB statement.

Also, it's interesting how you go to bat to defend a past policy that doesn't enjoy much current love, but reach back to fugitive slave and pre-civil rights laws and criticize those who are at once not defending them per se but also suggest that they were the result of pretty complicated social and poitical issues and not obvious moral evil. IOW, I very much appreciate you tamping down potential judgmentalism on internment laws, but wish you'd do the same when it comes to things like fugitive slave laws.
December 9, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterZrim
This has been interesting. First, I made no appeal to social or legal justice. I related a person story and purposefully presented a point of view different than those that preceded in the blog. Therefore, the carnal appeal to the court system was beating up a straw man. My point is that remembrance of Pearl Harbor is inexorably linked to Hiroshima, and it should be.

My second point was that a set of CITIZENS of this country were deprived of Constitutional rights. My opinion is that the Supreme Court was wrong, that they bowed to the political pressures of the day and failed miserably to fulfill their sworn duty to uphold the Constitution. That was true in 1942 and it is true now. Attempting to justify a result that flies in the face of the Constitution is exactly the sort of precedent that has led us to the Patriot Act and other such anti-Liberty legislation.

My last point will be that in the post war period, after the assets of the interred people had been SOLD OFF by the government or confiscated to be utilized by the war effort, there were little or no reparations offered. What paltry efforts the government did make were too little and far too late to be acceptable to any so horribly violated people. If interment can in any way be justified legally, how is the liquidation of assets justified? Explain the absence of similar treatment of peoples of German ancestry, when their former homeland was guilty of a far greater moral dept to the world.

Defense of the behavior of this country towards its own citizens in this case is frankly bewildering to me. The court system is not supposed to legislate or make policy. The court system is supposed to defend the Constitution. While I know that American History is replete with examples to the contrary, that does not give validity to this particular decision any more than any pseudomoral arguments concerning body counts and the atom bomb.

The solemn sacrifice of the men and women who died at Pearl Harbor is equally tarnished by the quibbling over legalities as are the memories of the innocents, the civilians, incinerated at Hiroshima. My post was meant to be one that lends perspective rather than any legalistic wrangling over just cause. I had family at both places. I had close friends on both sides of the West Coast situation. I was not calling for justice. That will never be satisfied by man in this world. I was calling for perspective. I was making a plea to tone down the rhetoric that is often associated with a day that should be nothing more, and nothing less, than a memorial for all who died in that war on that day and those subsequent, up to and including Hiroshima/Nagasaki.
December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMerlin
It looks like you're trying to pick a fight again. I'm not buying and don't have time. I thought the topic was Hiroshima and internment. It's a wonder to behold how your mind works, flitting from topic to topic by free association, tripping over facts, disregarding logic, spewing out non-sequiturs like lead pipes rolling off the back of a truck, with no regard to nuance and mischaracterizing along the way.

I have been consistent from the start re 2K, but unlike you and Hart, I see shades of gray where you only see black and white. I agree with, e.g., Dr. Horton, that while in most cases the church qua church should not speak to public policy or political issues, in EXCEPTIONAL cases (recognized in WCF 31.4) the church may speak to such issues, as, for example, when there is complete overlap between the public law and the Law of God. Dr. Horton believes that 19th century slavery is one such case; state-mandated murder in Hitler's German may be another. Where state law mandates a violation of God's law, the church should speak. No Christian conscience could wrongly be bound in such a case because no Christian could countenance a violation of God's law. But that is rare. Most cases involve political judgment and are not so black and white. Therefore, in most cases the church qua church should be silent. In the case of just war theory, IMO, the church qua church must be silent because political and military judgment are required to even apply the "tests" of a just war. While we have a Word from God about murder (no defense can be made of the Holocost, no political weighing or policy choices can save such a state policy), in the case of just war theory the pastor and elders have no word from God about how to apply such principles to a given war.

I know this analysis requires distinctions and a little nuance, and you don't do nuance. The rest of your post seems to be rambling incoherence so I will not comment further.
December 10, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterCVanDyke

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