<< The Body Politic

Remembering a day of infamy

Friday, December 7th, 2012

At 7:55 am on December 7, 1941, the Japanese began their attack on Pearl Harbor, killing 2,390 Americans over the course of the two-hour attack. The next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt, declaring December 7 a “date which will live in infamy,” asked Congress to declare war on Japan. World War II had officially begun for the United States.

Writing at the Weekly Standard last year in commemoration of the 70th anniversary of the attack, Jeffrey H. Anderson helps us to remember the importance of the date—and the incredible sacrifice by countless Americans over the next four years to win the war and keep the peace.

He writes:

Across nearly four years, victory in the Pacific was achieved through the heroic and brave sacrifice of uniformed Americans and their allies, the diligent efforts on the home front to supply them with arms, and the leadership of the Allied commanders. […]

[General Douglas] MacArthur’s brilliance, in particular, contributed immeasurably to the victory — as he employed an island-hopping strategy to circumvent key Japanese strongholds and keep the Japanese commanders on their heels for all but the earliest stages of the war.  Winston Churchill called MacArthur “the glorious commander,” George Marshall called him “our most brilliant general,” Bernard Montgomery called him America’s “best soldier” of World War II, and Lord Alanbrooke called him “the greatest general and the best strategist that the war produced.”

[MacArthur’s biographer William Manchester]observes that, for MacArthur, “every battle was invested with the air of a lurid morality play. After one he said with satisfaction, ‘The dead of Bataan will rest easier tonight,’ and after American fighter planes had ambushed [Isoroku] Yamamoto’s Mitsubishi over Rabaul, and killed the admiral, MacArthur fancied he could ‘almost hear the rising crescendo of sound from the thousands of glistening white skeletons at the bottom of Pearl Harbor’” (Yamamoto having been the mastermind behind the Japanese attack).

MacArthur was surely right to view his cause as just. It does no discredit to our peaceful allies, the Japanese citizens of today, to take honest note of a vastly underreported fact — the extraordinarily brutal character of the regime whose forces attacked the United States. Never was this more evident than upon MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, at which point he found the capital city of Manila — which he had declared to be an open city (like Paris, Brussels, and Rome) upon his departure, in an attempt to spare it from harm — decimated by the Japanese. […]

Yet when MacArthur boarded the U.S. battleship Missouri in Tokyo Bay to accept the formal surrender of the Japanese on September 2, 1945, he displayed no anger but only magnanimity, no hatred but only goodwill.  Wearing no medals, and having received no instruction from Washington as to what to say or do, MacArthur stepped to the microphone and began,

“We are gathered here, representatives of the major warring powers, to conclude a solemn agreement whereby peace may be restored.  The issues, involving divergent ideals and ideologies, have been determined on the battlefields of the world and hence are not for our discussion and debate.  Nor is it for us here to meet, representing as we do a majority of the peoples of the earth, in a spirit of distrust, malice, or hatred.

“But rather it is for us, both victors and vanquished, to rise to that higher dignity which alone befits the sacred purposes we are about to serve, committing all our peoples unreservedly to faithful compliance with the undertakings they are here formally to assume.

“It is my earnest hope and indeed the hope of all mankind that from this solemn occasion a better world shall emerge out of the blood and carnage of the past — a world founded upon faith and understanding — a world dedicated to the dignity of man and the fulfillment of his most cherished wish — for freedom, tolerance, and justice.”

Listening to MacArthur, Toshikazu Kase, the Japanese diplomat who had been appointed to record that day’s events for the Imperial Palace, thought, “What stirring eloquence and what a noble vision!  Here is a victor announcing the verdict to the prostrate enemy.  He can exact his pound of flesh if he so desires.  And yet he pleads for freedom, tolerance, and justice.  For me, who expected the worst humiliation, this was a complete surprise.  I was thrilled beyond words, spellbound, thunderstruck.  For the living heroes and dead martyrs of the war this speech was a wreath of undying flowers.”

Shortly thereafter, MacArthur addressed the American people from across the wide Pacific:

“My fellow countrymen, today the guns are silent.  A great tragedy has ended.  A great victory has been won.  The skies no longer rain death — the seas bear only commerce — men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight.  The entire world is quietly at peace.  The holy mission has been completed, and in reporting this to you, the people, I speak for the thousands of silent lips, forever stilled among the jungles and the beaches and in the deep waters of the Pacific which marked the way.”

Let us remember them today.

Read Anderson’s entire piece here.