Thursday, December 07, 2006

Days of Infamy

Image courtesy

Today we commemorate the morning, sixty-five years ago, when Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor in the Hawaiian Islands, destroying much of our Pacific fleet. Hawaii was not yet a state, merely a territory, but the attack was on our soil, and it was unprovoked, thus President Franklin Delano Roosevelt referred to it as "a date that will live in infamy." He asked for Congress to declare a state of war. For all the military actions in which the USA has been involved since the Big War ended in 1945, this is the last time that we have actually been at war in the formal sense of the word.

Dad was in high school at the seminary at the time. But he remembered the older boys from the minor seminary having to wear cassocks when they took the bus into town. People would think nothing of stopping to ask a man out of uniform why he wasn't in one. After all, that passerby would have a husband or a son overseas. We were all in this together. Who did this person think they were? Even after the war, after Dad left the seminary, he joined the Air Force Reserves. It wasn't that he longed for adventure or a military career. It was simply what was done. Eventually his unit was activated, and he was stationed in Germany for about a year shortly after he married Mom.

Closer to the present, the "Iraq Study Group" is recommending we set a timetable for pulling out of Iraq. Now, those who serve there are proud of the work they do, which involves more than shooting back at people who shoot them. They are working at providing humanitarian aid, rebuilding public works, and providing emergency medical care. I personally have met the man who is working to revive Boy Scouting in Iraq, a situation where Sunnis and Shiites are willing to work together rather than separately. You don't hear much about that. There is a danger that we would look like the good guys.

The problem, is seems to me, is not so much whether we went into a country which never did anything to us (other than lend support to those who did). Nor is it whether we are in the middle of a civil war (which only happens when one of the disputing parties is not part of the government, and they are in this case). No, the problem is that we as a nation never had the belly for a fight, which is the very lesson that Vietnam should have taught us. (I don't see ration cards for gasoline or groceries, do you?) We are not willing to sacrifice our prosperity at home as "the greatest generation" once did, and the privileged among us are not willing to send their own sons and daughters into the fray. Back then, even FDR's son was in uniform.

When Senator Jim Webb-elect was at the White House recently for a reception, he was asked by President Bush how his son was doing in Iraq. Webb replied that he wished the President would bring him home soon. According to the report, the President said that was not what he asked, and pressed Webb again. Webb walked away rather than do what most gentlemen would do in the face of such indignity. If the report is correct, neither showed a great deal of class. Webb could have walked away the better man, though, had he asked the President why his two younger daughters were not in uniform.

At one time, it would have been the only question worth asking, because it would have demanded an answer.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

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