Pearl Harbor Day Then and Now

By Paul Gable

As a Navy veteran, December 7th, what my grandmother called Pearl Harbor Day, has special meaning to me. In recent years, however, its symbolism has taken on new dimensions.

Seventy-four years ago, without first declaring war, the Japanese Imperial fleet attacked the U.S. Naval Base at Pearl Harbor causing considerable damage to the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and bringing America into World War II.

A total of 2,402 American servicemen lost their lives that day, four battleships were sunk and 188 aircraft destroyed. President Roosevelt called it “a day that will live in infamy”, actually a phrase first attributed to Hawaiian Queen Lili’uokalani spoken on the day, in 1893, that the American government overthrew the native Hawaiian government.

The attack broke the U.S. out of its isolationist attitude and presaged America’s ascendency to world leadership. Americans united behind the phrase “Remember Pearl Harbor” as the nation embarked upon a nearly four year war to defeat the armed forces of Japan, Germany and their allies.

True, on December 6, 1941, the isolationist members of Congress still held great sway in the halls of that institution as the fighting in Europe was considered best for America to stay out of. One day later, everything changed in Washington, D.C. and across a now united nation.

Seventy-seven years later, none who survived that day remain and the cohesiveness and combined
commitment of that time are not apparent in today’s political environment or society at large. We face great challenges, possibly greater than we faced on December 7, 1941, although economic dangers are not as easy to identify as military dangers from foreign forces.

We should be clear, however, that today’s dangers in the national economy are every bit as grave as the military dangers we faced 74 years ago. The industrial might and national wealth that the U.S. marshaled to support its war effort, and those of its allies, have been lost.

There is no one correct solution, no one correct philosophy that will revive the American economy and spirit. We can’t seriously expect the type of government established in 1789, to serve 13 states cramped between the Atlantic seaboard and the Appalachian Mountain Range, to meet all of our needs today. Neither can we expect a makeover to some form of complete social welfare state.

Herbert Hoover, whom no one can call a liberal, said capitalism wasn’t the problem that led to the Great Depression, it was the capitalists who were all “too greedy.” Those great Texas libertarians H.L. Hunt, Clint Murchison and Sid Richardson all wanted low taxes and little government intrusion into the private sector just so long as they continued to receive their oil depletion allowances. New Harmony, Indiana remains an example of how poorly socialist communities work in America despite the urging of German Christians.

What we, as American voters, must insist from the president and Congress is that they end petty philosophical squabbling and begin to govern as they were elected to do. For the past 50 years, American politicians have become very proficient at being elected and very poor at governing once they are elected.

There is a 90 percent disapproval rating of Congress among American voters. Yet, about 90 percent of the incumbents in Congress who sought re-election were returned to office in this year’s off year general election. Why? Because the two major parties have become expert at creating safe election districts and controlling the electoral process to the detriment of the American people. It really is past time for a strong third party to emerge to shake things up in Washington.

In the early days of the Republic, members of Congress often served for only a term or two before returning to private life. Later, some became state legislators, Cabinet members, judges or even presidential candidates. Maybe that’s preferable, maybe not.

I don’t profess to have the answers or even to understand all the questions. But, I do believe that changes are necessary in Washington, D.C. so that our nation does not suffer the same fate as the battleship (at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941) in the picture that accompanies this article.

It is up to us, as citizens and voters, to make those changes because the two major parties that control the political process now are quite satisfied with the status quo.

This must carry forward to Congress. The one we have now does nothing. We need new blood, fresh ideas and people who understand how to govern once they are elected, not the idiots who sign pledges or adopt some rigid philosophy just to get elected.

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