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December 7, 1941-The End of the Innocence

Posted by on December 7, 2012 at 1:40 PM

Months before the 2001 movie Pearl Harbor arrived at theaters, the tag lines and trailers began hitting the airwaves. One of those taglines was “It was the end of innocence and the dawn of the country’s greatest glory”. As we remember the tremendous loss of life and tragedy of December 7, 1941, I spent considerable time thinking about December 6, 1941 as the last day of innocence in America. Much as Adam and Eve before eating the forbidden fruit or a teenager the day before they first experience physical intimacy, the world, and particularly America could never go back to its innocent roots. In the span of 48 hours, we went from a country recovering from our own Great Depression, staying largely clear of a war that raged 4000 miles to the east to a country at war with the vast axis powers of Japan, Germany and Italy. Before the events of December 7th, we spent our December 6th Saturday Christmas shopping and listening to the radio and cleaning the house before company came for Sunday dinner. There were church clothes to lay out and toys to be put away. America was in its Rockwellian highlife, recovering economically, setting a new standard by bringing Franklin D Roosevelt back to the White House for a before unheard of third term and by and large arguing about such mundane subjects as to whether Joe DiMaggio with his 56 game hitting streak in the summer of 41 or Ted Williams with his .406 batting average that summer deserved the Most Valuable Player Award. (DiMaggio won the award, by the way). It was the days of 3cent postage stamps and milk bottles left on the back porch. Less than 5% of all American homes had televisions and if they did, they saw little but ads for Bulova watches and DuPont plastics. Jack Benny ruled the radio waves and kids saved their allowance to spend Saturdays at the movie matinee. On Saturday December 6, 1941 America went to bed. Sunday December 7, 1941 started much as Saturday the 6th had ended. With church to get ready for and breakfast dishes to clear, there was not much time for anything else. After church, a lovely Sunday dinner followed by family time around the radio sounded just perfect. But instead of an afternoon of Benny Goodman and Frank Sinatra, we received a jolt over our radio waves. At first, it was just little trickles of information, an attack of our naval base at Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands. Most Americans had never been to Hawaii and this was in the days before Hawaii became a state. And yet the events that unfolded on that early Sunday morning at Pearl Harbor changed the way we did life as a country. Seventy one years later, that has not changed. Within hours of the attack, details started pouring forth that unsettled even the hardiest of our stock. 2335 soldiers plus an additional 65 civilians died and another 1147 were wounded. 23 ships including all 8 battleships lined up at Pearl Harbor that day were destroyed. 188 aircraft, lined up wingtip to wingtip to avoid sabotage proved easy targets for the Japanese aircrafts. Over the course of two waves, the first at 7:55am local time and the second at 8:40am, the Japanese crippled our Pacific fleet, once known as the finest in the world. Most of the damage was done before the Americans could fight back with anything other than their personal weapons, mere peashooters versus torpedos and machine guns. The single bloodiest attack, the bombing of the forward munitions storage on the USS Arizona destroyed that ship and killed over 1100 men instantly. Today, the USS Arizona Memorial is not only a final resting place for those soldiers, but a National Monument. On December 8, President Franklin D Roosevelt addressed congress in what is known as one of the best speeches of all time. I have inserted an excerpt of the speech here: Within an hour the Congress declared war on Japan and by December 11th, had also declared war on Germany and Italy. Our long record of neutrality and isolationism was over. We went through nearly 4 years of war, a war unlike any we had ever participated in because although it did not take place on our soil like the Revolutionary War or the Civil War, every American was effected by it. Measures such as meat and food rations, rubber and gas shortages, women called to work in munitions factories, kids saving pennies to provide metals for weaponry, meant that every American had a stake in the outcome of this battle. Allowed to run free and win, Americans could soon be susceptible to the Emperor from the West or the Dictators from Europe. We still enjoyed things like nightly radio shows and our sports, but with every interruption of programming, we sat at the edge of our seat and wondered what the news of the hour was. In the end, we came out of the war, but we came out of it a different country. Over 500,000 men and women had lost their lives in the war and millions more came back having witnessed terrible atrocities. These soldiers would never look at the world with rose colored glasses again. It was a tremendous effort to reintegrate men into the workforce. Additionally, because women played such a huge role in working for the war effort, there was no longer a “typical” housewife/working husband arrangement necessarily. Throughout the 1950‘s President Eisenhower returned us somewhat to the peaceful, pre World War II era, but lurking just below the surface was the Korean War, the Communist Threat, the nuclear question. Our creativity and intelligence as a people made it possible for us to eliminate life with the push of a button. No Ozzie and Harriet or Ricky and Lucy television program could help us forget that. As we entered the 1960‘s, we began our involvement in Vietnam. That continued until 1975. We continued an intricate chess game with the Soviet Union over nuclear weapons, some now parked as close as Cuba, just 90 miles away from the mainland of the United States. President Kennedy was assassinated, then Malcolm X and Martin Luther King each trying to bring racial equality with different means, both shot down coldly. We were again at war with ourselves. Old versus young, the hippies versus the “establishment” , black versus white, rich versus poor. We burned and looted our own cities in Los Angeles, Detroit and Chicago. Nearly 60,000 more young men and women died on foreign lands fighting a battle that we were not winning. Front doors that had been left unlocked in cities throughout our land, now were locked and deadbolted. Car keys, often left in the ignition were locked away and we actually invented car alarms. We entered the 1970‘s paranoid and without purpose. The 1970‘s and 1980‘s did little to help America regain its lost innocence. We impeached a president for the second time in history and for the first time, a president resigned. We lost faith in our politicians. One hundred years earlier, the men we looked up to most in life were the politicians, leaders of the country who we could trust with our best interest. Now we stood in complete disgust of them. Our returning heroes from Vietnam were treated atrociously, spit on in airports and ignored by the “all about me” generation. Gas shortages and inflation racked the land and still in the background the hammer and sickle of the Soviet Union remained. During the mid and late 80‘s as cooler heads prevailed some progress was made on the diplomatic fronts. The Berlin Wall fell and Communism soon followed. We stayed relatively war free as a nation and enjoyed some prosperity. Ahh, but our innocence...where was that? Gone forever, I am afraid. By the mid 1980‘s a new and horrible disease began to be discovered, AIDS. No longer did teens have to worry about pregnancy or an embarrassing disease that might require a shot to get rid of, with AIDS an early death penalty awaited anyone participating in risky behavior. Our innocence was over. Throughout the last 30 years we have grown into a culture that most people would change if they could. We don’t dress up for church, let alone for dinner. We order through a drive through and are thoroughly disgusted if our meal isn’t ready in 5 minutes or less. Forgotten are the Sunday dinners that were put in the oven before church and not ready until 3 or 4 in the afternoon. We will not wait for anything from oil changes to shopping, we want it NOW. As a people, we have forgotten how to relax and the adventure vacation has replaced the quietness of the mountains or beach. December 7, 1941... a day that will live in infamy. Not just for the shock and dastardly surprise attack, but for stealing something far more precious than metal ships and planes- our innocence. As I move into 2013, I want to personally bring some of that back into my life. I want to relax more, porch swing

more, bring a dish of something to a new neighbor, slow cook a meal. I might even dress up in a sport coat and dress shirt when going to the ballgame like they did in the 1930‘s. I will watch some of those classic movies to help me in my quest for complete manhood instead of today’s special effects “masterpieces” . I will talk to the old timers who were around in the 30‘s and 40‘s and learn. And I will continue, as I pray you do too, to thank our veterans for the freedoms they gave us, for the sacrifices they made, for the things they experienced, that even today , they cannot talk about.

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