75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor attack: Was WWII the last time we were truly united?; Do we still “get it?”; Hearing from the vets; Identifying and bringing home the dead

Today, of course, is the 75th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. This is kind of a big deal, so there are many stories out there on the internet today. Here’s my roundup of some of the better/most interesting ones.

The Washington Post has a good piece that provides succinct coverage of the background leading up to the attack, Japan’s rationale for doing it, and the impact it had on ending strong isolationist sentiment in the U.S.

At Pearl Harbor today, thousands paid tribute to the few remaining veterans that are still with us. Most are now in their 90s and were young men barely into adulthood when the attack changed their lives, and the world, forever. Sadly, this will most likely be the last time that veterans get to gather for a milestone anniversary of that day.

As time passes, our understanding of how that day forever changed the world fades, and sadly it means increasingly little to current generations. While movingly focusing on the memories of one veteran, the Boston Globe today ponders whether we still truly understand the magnitude of December 7th.

The Washington Post also considers whether Pearl Harbor and WWII marked the only time that our country was ever really truly united behind a common purpose. A good case can be made that 9/11 is the only other time that comes close, but sadly that unity faded quickly. In my history classes, I always spend an equal amount of time discussing the homefront during WWII as I do the battles, because what we did here at home made our successes in the war possible. I like that this Post article focuses on those homefront efforts, and I think it is important that we realize and highlight that ALL Americans played a role in our ultimate success, whether they were soldiers, nurses, or factory workers, or whether they were just involved in rationing, buying war bonds, recycling, carpooling, or just volunteering their time to dance with soldiers on a Friday night. Yes, it probably was the most that we have ever been united behind a common effort, and that is a powerful thing.

Still, we can’t be blind to the fact that the war also saw many negative things here in the US that highlighted American hypocrisy. For example, we asked African Americans to fight for democracy abroad during a time of Jim Crow and workplace discrimination even when we needed all hands on deck.  The attack on Pearl Harbor also launched a wave of xenophobia across the country that resulted in the internment of around 100,000 Japanese-Americans. CNN reports today on how the attack set off a wave of paranoia and fear in the US, which led to the violation of the rights of certain American citizens, with race, not nationality, seemingly being the most important factor in that discrimination.  That also forms the backdrop for a historic photograph shared today by Quartz that was taken by legendary photographer Dorothea Lange.

Reuters has a piece featuring some recollections of veterans of Pearl Harbor that are still alive, including 95 year old Will Lehner. The naval fireman at Pearl Harbor was later the police officer that was handcuffed to Lee Harvey Oswald when he was shot by Jack Ruby!

Other veteran survivors are heard from in this piece from the Indianapolis Star and in this one from USA Today.

Popular Mechanics has a discussion of “5 things about Pearl Harbor that you may not know.” It is a very interesting list, including a newspaper ad that eerily seems to have warned of/predicted an attack on 12/7, a Japanese communications officer that is to blame for stopping a message from Japan to the American government that was to be delivered 30 minutes before the attack, and the fact that the USS Arizona is still leaking fuel into water.

In Wesson, Mississippi, the remains of a sailor that had long been in a grave alongside other “unknown” casualties, were laid to rest today in a marked grave. Using DNA and other evidence, the remains of Jim H. Johnston were finally identified and sent home from Hawaii. About 250 local residents gathered around the family plot at the Wesson Cemetery as Johnston was buried next to his parents. He isn’t the only one that has been recovered. So far, 59 other men have been identified from among 388 bodies from the USS Oklahoma that have long been in “unknown” graves. It is hoped that the majority of the rest will soon also be identified.

Several cable networks have Pearl Harbor/WWII themed shows scheduled all day and evening today, including the History channel and Smithsonian. Looks like some good stuff, but I will mostly be tuned to Turner Classic Movies, which has an impressive lineup of war movies and wartime propaganda films. What I am looking forward to the most, however, is that thanks to TCM, From Here to Eternity (1953) will be back on the big screen nationwide this Sunday and next Wednesday. Listen, if you want to see a great film that involves love and tragedy surrounding the events of December 7th, do yourself a favor and forget that truly terrible 2001 Michael Bay movie with Ben Affleck, and get to the theaters to see an authentic American film classic with Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, Deborah Kerr, Frank Sinatra, Ernest Borgnine, and Donna Reed.


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