West of Woolwich: Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

Posted Tuesday, November 29, 2011 in Features

West of Woolwich: Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

The USS Arizona Memorial, Pearl Harbor

A monument to America's indecision

by Fred Kahrl

December 7, 1941 …

       Almost Not In Time

 

They say that , when Churchill heard that the Japanese had attacked Pearl Harbor, he locked himself in a private room, fell onto his knees, and thanked God.

This is not what we are asked to remember when today we visit the Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor, its sweep of white astride the sunken hulk of the once-great battleship. We are asked instead to consider the long lists of names of those whose lives were spent on that fateful day.

Two and a half years later, Allied troops swept ashore over the beaches of France and succeeded in overcoming Hitler’s steel and concrete fortifications. Today there are extensive cemeteries maintained on the wooded heights above those bloody beaches … burial grounds whose white markers ask visitors to remember the American sacrifice that paid the price of victory on D-Day.

It is our way … to think of such losses in narrow American terms. Ask today’s student what was going on in WW II between Pearl Harbor and D-Day, and most would be puzzled. Ask what was going on between December 1, 1939 … when Germany overran Poland … and the December 7, 1941 … which President Roosevelt called “The Day of Infamy”… and the uncertain silence would doubtless be absolute.

The fact is, after two years of fighting in Europe, England was so devastated that Churchill and his staff were preparing to Sue for Peace rather than try to resist Hitler’s imminent invasion of the British Isles. Britain was still recovering from The First World War when they had been drawn into battle again. They quickly exhausted their military strength and, despite material aid from America, they were running out of money to pay for it.

Meanwhile, America was dithering. As in WW I, America was late bringing its strength to the fight. “Isolationism” was the excuse in both wars … as in, “… let Europe sort out its own problems.” After all, “we” were finally crawling out of the grim national cellar created by the Great Depression.

Not surprisingly, the publisher of a new book about the reluctant American entrance into WW II, has released it in time for the annual retrospection that occurs briefly around December 7.

“DECEMBER 1941:

31 DAYS THAT CHANGED AMERICA AND SAVED THE WORLD
”

By Craig Shirley

Too few will read Mr. Shirley’s book, which has already received excellent reviews. Americans need be reminded that our country’s delayed entrance into these two great wars had catastrophic consequences for our Allies and for the rest of the civilized world.

I have a small list hanging next to my desk. On it I have written the comparative Allied casualties in WW II. Here is a shortened version:

USA              418,500 dead            . 32% of American population (please note the decimal)

England         450,900 dead            . 94% of population of United Kingdom in 1939

France           567,600 dead            . 1.35% of 1939 population of France

Russia           23,400,000 dead      13.88% of Soviet Union population at start of war

My sons’ grandfather … Francis Galuza … was the youngest son of an immigrant Russian/Polish family. Half of his siblings were born in Poland, half in the U.S. His father worked for the Czar, and had to flee the Russian Revolution, leaving his family to follow several years later. Knowing that family, I went back and read my history of WW II much more closely.

This is a part of the war history that is barely mentioned in U.S. classrooms, but is known and remembered by every living Russian.

One of my mother’s sisters married an Englishman, and another married a Frenchman. My English aunt lost a son in the Balkans … fighting with guerillas behind German lines … in WW II … before I was born.  My French uncle was Second Captain on the newest, fastest, largest luxury liner in the French Line. The ship was impounded in New York Harbor when the Nazis overran France, and my uncle was soon forced to watch the New York City Fire Dept. sink his ship at dockside because they lacked any understanding of how to fight a shipboard fire … a small galley fire that the ship’s crew would have snuffed out in minutes. But we didn’t trust our French brothers, so they were repatriated to Southern France where most of them joined the Underground to fight the Vichy Government.

Because of these connections, I have perhaps looked at WW II through different lenses than most of my fellow school chums, or even friends and family. While it is true that we tipped the scales of victory when we entered both of the great wars, our reluctance and delay cost our Allies dearly … a fact that, even in their gratitude, they well remember and will not forget.

And make no mistake, when we have played the “Now it’s Your Turn” card in every conflict since the Korean War, their sense of obligation to support the U.S. has been understandably tempered by a remembrance of those times when the fate of the free world was teetering and America was fiddling … when the World was at War.

Having read the reviews, I am eagerly watching the mail for author Shirley’s new book. I suspect that, among other things, he may suggest that the American late arrival in WW II was the foundation for a lasting and profound Russian distrust of the United States … that, in fact, it was the USA itself that spawned the Cold War. After all, 23 million dead still can speak with a loud voice.

So, when next you pause on your community’s hallowed ground, and run your eye down the chiseled list of men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, perhaps … in this new global society gathering strength around us … it would be well the remember that, in WW II, 56 Russians died for each name in that list.

Oh … and if you count ALL the countries that fought on the side of the Allies, that number climbs to 167 to 1 … that died protecting our freedom. We may have been heroes, but it is time to be humble heroes.

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