Thursday, December 7, 2017

December 7—A Day That Will Live in Infamy

Today, December 7th, is Pearl Harbor Day. On this date in 1941 Japan attacked the United States Navy fleet lying at anchor in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. President Franklin D. Roosevelt went to the Congress the day after the attack to ask for a declaration of war. In his remarks to the members of Congress he called December 7 “a day that will live in infamy.” Congress passed the resolution of war, and three days later Germany and Italy (Japan’s axis partners) declared war against the United States. After years of isolationism, America fully committed itself to participate in World War II.

This largest of world wars deserves the study and understanding by all citizens of a free world. The war had a significant personal influence on my life as a young boy, and its aftermath impacted my military service and civilian employment as I matured.

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor by John F. Wukovits is a book in the World History Series published by Lucent Books. The author, a retired junior high school teacher, knows how to write for younger readers. Wukovits explains the menace facing peace-loving people before the United States entered World War II. Throughout the 1930s, the majority of Americans strongly believed in isolation. They wanted nothing to do with the warfare that Japan, Germany, and Italy were inflicting on their enemies. The book tells how President Franklin D. Roosevelt worked to prepare America for war while appeasing those who opposed him. The book explains why Japan decided to start the war with America and the impact of that choice upon the Japanese people. Photographs provide vivid illustrations of the destruction of the fleet at Pearl Harbor and of airplanes on nearby airfields. Wukovits builds his agonizing story from both primary and secondary sources. He concludes by discussing the effort required following the attack to rebuild the Navy and how the sneak attack changed the attitude of Americans overnight.

World War II in the Pacific by Don Nardo is another book in the World History Series by Lucent Books. The author, having written over 200 books, is recognized as a leader in producing history lessons for younger readers. He contrasts the cultures of the United States and Japan, and delves into the transformation of Japan into a world power. Nardo writes vividly about the attack on Pearl Harbor. Excellent maps enhance the reader’s understanding of how the Japanese pulled off the surprise. He explains the defeat of the Americans in the Philippines, and discusses the horrors of the Bataan Death March. Twenty-two thousand Americans died on the march. My first grade teacher’s husband was one of the few survivors of the Japanese atrocities committed against their prisoners in the Philippines. Nardo appropriately documents the turning point in the Pacific War as the Battle of Midway, when the United States reestablished its supremacy of the seas. The American aircraft carrier USS Yorktown was sunk during that battle. An uncle of mine was one of the survivors of that sinking. Nardo discusses the development of the nuclear bomb and explains why President Harry S. Truman dropped two bombs on Japan. The author concludes by explaining how this horrible event caused the Japanese to surrender.

Kamikazes by Earle Rice, Jr., is a title in Lucent Books’ The American War Library Series. The Japanese high command created the Kamikaze Special Attack Corps late in the war. Rice explains how Emperor Hirohito approved the use of this suicide weapon after determining the war was not going well for his country. Kamikaze means “divine wind” and carries strong religious overtones. The sacrifice of one pilot and one airplane in exchange for sinking one American warship became an acceptable way to die for one’s country. The Japanese Army already had a reputation for seldom surrendering. Japanese soldiers died in banzai charges against the Allied troops confronting them in the Pacific. The author explains how the Japanese warrior had traditionally committed honorable death through seppuku. Disemboweling oneself with a sword, known in the vernacular as hara-kiri, had been the preferred way for warriors to die since the days of the samurai. The book is well illustrated with the destructive actions the Kamikazes inflicted on the American fleet. Today’s younger reader is aware of the suicide bombings committed by radical Islamic terrorists. This book confirms that such a way of attacking an enemy is not new.

Yet another book in the World History Series by Lucent Books is The Making of the Atom Bomb by Victoria Sherrow. The author begins by explaining what led to World War II and how it generated an arms race that resulted in the United States developing the atomic bomb. She provides a section on the science of nuclear physics and the roles played by such famous men as Albert Einstein and Enrico Fermi. She writes about the secretive Manhattan Project under the supervision of Robert Oppenheimer, known as the “Father of the Atomic Bomb.” To test this unproven weapon, the Army detonated the first atomic bomb near Alamogordo, a town in central New Mexico. I had recently completed the second grade in Hobbs, New Mexico, when on that July 16, 1945, morning, the first bomb was exploded at 5:30 AM. Those in my town who were awake at that time described an unusually bright light appearing in the sky 200 miles to the west. Ms. Sherrow covers the planning and execution of dropping the first bomb by the aircrew of the B-29, Enola Gay. She delves at some length into the horrific death and destruction to Japan caused by the event. After a second bomb fell on Japan, the country surrendered, and the war in the Pacific concluded. Ms. Sherrow ends her book with a discussion of what might happen to the world if atomic weapons’ development continues. The concerns she identifies impacted me when I served as an Army officer during the Cold War. In the decades following World War II, the threat of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union resulted in me being stationed in Europe when the Berlin Wall was erected. Later, I was stationed on Johnston Atoll in the Pacific Ocean as part of the U.S. National Nuclear Test Readiness Program. Since then, several nations have acquired the atomic bomb. The question of further nuclear proliferation is pertinent today because of the ongoing disagreement between the United States and North Korea over their desires to possess nuclear weapons.

World War II—Pacific by Barbara Williams is part of Lerner Publications’ America’s Wars Series. This book summarizes the entirety of World War II in the Pacific. Excellent maps allow the reader to follow the war from the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 through the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. The author covers each of the major battles through the intervening years. She provides information on the soldiers and sailors as well as the ships, aircraft, and armaments they used to wage war. A brother-in-law of mine served as a bomber pilot in the battles fought in the South Pacific. Ms. Williams also describes the effort required on the home front to support the war. She includes a short section on the unfortunate Japanese-American internment camps where thousands of men, women, and children were incarcerated in the United States during the conflict. The author writes about the special effort American women provided during the war. Williams’ book includes a timeline of the significant battles and events comprising the Pacific war. Although shorter than the other titles reviewed here, Williams’ book provides the younger reader an easily understood account of the entire war in the Pacific.

Today, December 7, is a good day for middle-grade students to commence or continue their study of World War II. They live in a world created by the results of that mammoth conflict.

1 comment:

  1. And don't some of us wish the lessons learned from that had sunk a little deeper than they appear to - ach, here's to the hope Suzanne expressed and a Happy, Healthy New Year to one and all - lang may yer lums reek.