Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Pearl Harbor – 2011

These guys have been getting together for almost 70-years to honor their lost friends and recall the event that immediately plunged the United States into WWII; the youngest of them is about 90. One of the local old-timers spoke into a radio station microphone to tell of his own grand children and great grand children having no knowledge of the Pearl Harbor attack and not wanting to hear anything he had to say about it. Think about that for a moment.

I’m sorry to say that in my own youth, I had little interest in the topic other than to watch some of the old WWII movies and read of it in our school textbooks—but I was aware of it throughout my life. While we were at EHHS, WWII was pretty recent history and was thus lightly treated in our history textbooks…to some extent, it was still a nearly current event as many of our fathers played a part in it.

However, myopia on the part of youth and younger adults is nothing new. Noted Civil war veterans such as General Steven Lee wrote of it near the end of their lives during the early years of the 20th century. So did the noted Civil War historian, Bruce Catton, in the introduction to his 1962 Civil War trilogy,

”The books which makes up this trilogy began, very simply, as an attempt to understand the men who fought in the Army of the Potomac. As a small boy I had known a number of these men in their old age; they were grave, dignified, and thoughtful, with long white beards and a general air of being pillars of the community. They lived in rural Michigan in the pre-automobile age, and for the most part they had never been fifty miles away from the farm or the dusty village streets; yet once, ages ago, they had been everywhere and had seen everything, and nothing that happened to them thereafter meant anything much. All that was real had taken place when they were young; everything after that had simply been a process of waiting for death, which did not frighten them much—they had seen it inflicted in the worst possible way on boys who had not bargained for it, and they had enough of the old-fashioned religion to believe without any question that when they passed over they would simply be rejoining men and ways of living which they had known long ago…..

“…We do learn as we grow older, and eventually I realized that this picture was somewhat out of focus. War, obviously, is the least romantic of all of man’s activities and it contains elements which the veterans do not describe to children. This aged berry-peddler, for instance, who lost his arm in the Wilderness: he had never told me about the wounded men who were burned to death in the forest fire which swept that infernal stretch of woodland while the battle was going on; nor had any of his comrades who survived that fight and went on through the whole campaign to the last days at Petersburg ever mentioned the lives that were wasted by official blunders, the dirt and the war-weariness and the soul numbing disillusionment that came when it seemed that what they were doing was going for nothing. There was a deacon in the church, who used to remind us proudly that he had served in the 2nd Ohio Cavalry. Not until years later did I learn that this regiment had gone with Sheridan in the Shenandoah Valley, burning barns, killing livestock and pillaging with a free hand so that the Southern Confederacy, if it refused to die in any other way, might die of plain starvation. In a sense, the research that went into these books was simply an effort to find out about things which the veterans never discussed.

Yet, in an odd way, the old veterans did leave one correct impression: the notion that as young men they had been caught up by something ever so much larger than themselves and that the war in which they fought did settle something for us—or, incredibly, started something which we ourselves have got to finish. It was not only the biggest experience in their own lives; it was in a way the biggest experience in our life, as a nation, and it deserves all of the study it is getting.

In any case, these books try to examine a small part of that experience in terms of the men who did the fighting. Those men are all gone now and they have left forever unsaid the things they might have told us, and no one now can speak for them. Here is my attempt to speak about them."

I hope the young will continue to be taught the correct and amazing history of this noble experiment, the United States of America. Given the state of current events and feckless leadership, I often wonder.

WWII was so much more vast than was the Civil War that it is difficult to generalize the experience. However, one nice, small story (my favorite kind) about Pearl Harbor can be discovered by entering the names Zenji Abe and Richard Fiske in your Google search window.


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