Wednesday, December 7, 2016

"Air raid, Pearl Harbor - this is no drill."

I have no idea exactly where my parents were or what they were doing on December 7th, 1941, 75 years ago today.

My father was nine years old and living in Harlan County, Kentucky; in the unincorporated area of Rosspoint.  Thirty-seven days earlier,  he'd lost his father when a train hit the car his father was riding in. 

My mother was eleven days short of her fourth birthday. 

My guess is that, around 2:30 or so that Sunday afternoon, after a morning spent at church and after having their tummies filled with Sunday dinner, they were sitting around the house listening to the radio.  Maybe my grandmother or my Granny Mary was cleaning up after Sunday dinner.  It's possible the kids were playing, or maybe fighting with each other.

Whatever they were doing, they were probably several of the millions of Americans who, at 2:30 p.m., heard John Charles Daly report that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese.  (A history of the first radio bulletins can be found here.)

What happened next? 

Probably, my parents and grandparents would have stopped what they were doing, frozen in shock.  Then, they ran to the radio and listened.  They tried to absorb the words, "Japanese," "bombing," "Hawaii," "Pearl Harbor," and that final word, "war." 

There was no such thing as "breaking news" in 1941.  CNN and Fox didn't exist.  (Some people might think, "Thank goodness.")  Rather, information came piecemeal, bit by bit, bulletin by bulletin. 

Some things don't change.  When 9/11 happened, information also trickled in bit by bit.  Rumors flew.  (I remember hearing that a car bomb had been found in front of the State Department.)  What rumors would have flown in the hours and days following Pearl Harbor? 

If my parents and grandparents were like I often am when "breaking news" happens, they were probably glued to the radio, wondering what was going to happen next.  Would the Japanese start bombing Los Angeles next?  Seattle?  San Francisco? 

Four years of war followed, four years of rationing, four years of being told to sacrifice "for the boys", "for the troops".  If you listen to shows such as Fibber McGee and Molly, The Great Gildersleeve, and Jack Benny, you'll hear exhortations to save your rubber and paper, turn your fat into the butcher, make your cars and other appliances last, because new ones will not be made until after the war. 

Seventy-five years later, what would we Americans do if we were hit in the same way that we were hit in 1941? 

We were hit in a similar way on 9/11; in fact, 9/11 is often referred to as this generation's Pearl Harbor.  Most of us remember exactly where we were when we heard that two planes had hit the World Trade Center. 

We saw an upsurge in patriotism for a time . . . and then, we went back to attacking those in charge, those in power, questioning decisions, and fighting amongst ourselves.

In 1942, Americans sacrificed.  They put up with no new cars, sugar rationing, and saying good-bye to fathers, brothers, and sons. 

In 2016?  I don't know if we'd be willing to make the same sacrifices that Americans were in the 1940's.  Too many years of being exposed to news has left me cynical.  I fear that, if Americans were told that manufacturing plants would be devoted to making war supplies, or that certain foods and other supplies would be rationed, a howl of protest would go up around the country, like spoiled children being denied a favorite toy. 

On the other hand, I could be wrong.  Thousands of Americans sacrifice, year after year, when they give their lives to the United States armed forces and leave their families behind.  Their families sacrifice, learning how to get along without that loved one. 

Forty-five days from now, we'll be inaugurating a new President.  I pray to God that he will not have to hear anything like, "Air raid, Pearl Harbor - this is no drill."

Just my .04, adjusted for inflation. 

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