How Soon We Forget

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Pearl Harbor, Hawaii–Sunday, December 7, 1941, 7:48 AM

Yesterday, December 7, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan. (click for link) 

On December 8, 1941, Franklin Delano Roosevelt began with these words; he ended with his request for Congress to declare that a state of war existed with Japan, as is consistent with our Constitution. 

Over sixteen million Americans served in the military in the Second World War, with 405,000 dying—292,000 killed in battle. Throughout the world, 1.9 billion people served in various armies, air forces, navies (including coast guards), and marines resulting in 72 million deaths.

The Japanese had not signed the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, killing, torturing, or enslaving Americans and their allies.

Nazi Germany established a series of efficient death mechanisms, including death factories (camps) to systematically murder over 6 million Jews, along with the handicapped, Roma (calling them gypsies is like using the n****** word), Jehovah’s Witnesses, and other innocent people who the Nazis considered unworthy or inconvenient.

How times change. That was the last war in which Congress passed a Declaration of War.

We won, and to the victor belongs the spoils, so by tradition, we could take whatever we wanted from those we vanquished. Instead, America provided aid to our allies and many of our former enemies so they could survive, recover, and rebuild. 

 This was not a business decision, it was a moral decision and the right thing to do. This was a long-term investment, which would cost the “greatest generation,” but benefit the children and the grandchildren of those who took the moral high ground. Many of these countries have worked together, with America as a senior partner, toward common goals, for decades. Together we have grown morally, intellectually, and economically. There is competition, of course, and we don’t agree on everything, but for over 70 years we’ve been able to resolve disagreements with these nations in western European and with Japan without a single shot fired in anger.

Today, if you ask people about the Second World War, many cannot tell you when it was fought, who we fought, or why. As the last veterans of that war die, is the knowledge and wisdom dying with them?

Although the United States has had military troops in combat more often than not since 1945, Congress has not enacted a declaration of war since 1941. They’ve avoided making a decision, but as was said in the 1960s, “Not to decide is to decide.”

This great nation of ours that broke the bonds that held them to King George III has, over time, allowed each president to assume more unilateral powers; to make the executive order as powerful as law—and if they’re not careful—as powerful as the constitution.

So, where are we? Without our leadership, other countries who once “had our back” are following our example and more concerned about how their nation can prosper regardless of the consequences.

 In 1775 it was “Give me liberty or give me death!” In 1836, “Remember the Alamo!” In 1864, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!” In 1898, “Remember the Maine!” In 1918, “Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?” In 1941, “Remember Pearl Harbor!”

 Today, it’s “I want mine.”

 Unfortunately, December 7th didn’t live in infamy and its lessons are barely remembered.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

https://www.ibtimes.com/franklin-delano-roosevelt-full-text-day-infamy-speech-famous-pearl-harbor-address-2456447

Jabberwocky*

In the eighteenth century, 13 North American colonies of Great Britain decided to declare themselves independent. Simplistically, the colonists had gotten used to doing things their own way and hey were determined to continue to do so.

The official explanation, as found in the Declaration of Independence states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed

The colonies traded a monarchy for a confederation, which evolved through various successes and painful challenges into a constitutional federal republic. Is it better? Many believe it is, but in any case, it is safe to say it is most definitely American.

A monarch rules while a president serves.

Throughout history, monarchs have claimed that their power was granted by God, gods, or another extraordinary source. People were convinced of this because the anointed monarch had a trained army with weapons, while the commoners only had farming tools.

On the other hand, Presidents derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, usually through the election process. A successful election process depends on a population that is educated and that makes rational decisions rather than ones that are responding to emotion. Compare the American Revolution, which had (and limited voting to) an educated and prosperous population with the French Revolution, where education was restricted.

So, where are we now? How will history judge the times in which we live?

 

 

*“The time has come,” the Walrus said,
“To talk of many things:
Of shoes–and ships–and sealing-wax–
Of cabbages–and kings–
And why the sea is boiling hot–
And whether pigs have wings.”   –   Lewis Carroll

 

Is it Real, or Is it . . . . ?

Often, as I waited in the checkout line at the grocery store I couldn’t help but notice the supermarket tabloids. They sort of look like newspapers—they seem to use the same type paper stock—but they consistently featured unbelievable, outrageous headlines about scandalous affairs, celebrity divorces, the latest news about the extraterrestrial aliens the government was hiding, Big Foot, and, of course, Elvis’s current whereabouts.

I used to feel a sense of superiority—I was certainly not going to read their tripe. In fact, I wondered what planet did the readers and writers live on?

I’m afraid it was this one. Today, legitimate newspapers are reporting scandalous affairs, celebrity divorces, and the latest news about what the government is hiding or ignoring. Unlike the tabloid articles, though, these stories are not figments of the writers’ imaginations; they are fact-checked descriptions of real-world events. The legitimate newspapers have not gotten worse, but reality has.

Ouch.

If you’re confused as to which is a tabloid and which is a newspaper–if the headlines include extraterrestrial aliens, Bigfoot, or what Elvis has been doing, it’s a tabloid.

Vote, Dammit, Vote!

Every person who chooses to dedicate some portion–even a few years–of their life to serve in the United States military takes an oath. An oath was once was considered the most binding of promises, but is not taken very seriously, anymore. It’s kind of like adultery–no big deal.

The oath they take includes this phrase, “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Americans do not swear an oath to a person or an organization, they swear to uphold the very idea that has allowed this great American experiment to exist for 231 years. The Declaration of Independence declared our intent, but it was the Constitution that made us who we are. Why is this important? Why an oath?

Those who take the oath have sworn to defend the Constitution in its entirety–every single part. This includes freedom of speech and the press–not just for those with whom they agree, but especially for those whose views they not only disagree with, but may even absolutely abhor.

Military members know that “to protect and defend” may mean that they are called upon to give the “last full measure,” as Abraham Lincoln called it–giving one’s life, if necessary.

I’ve never seen anything that claims that this oath expires at the end of one’s enlistment, retirement from the military, etc. Therefore, my belief is that it does not expire; there is no “use by date.”

It’s interesting that the President’s oath is more casual, he or she says, “I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”

For what it’s worth I respect those who put their money where their mouth is their life on the line for their beliefs.

 

Hail, Caesar!

They come, they wreak havoc, they die.

Caesar, the Tsar, the Kaiser–all variations on the same title. Each intending to assume total power and control over a major portion of the world. Unfortunately, we have learned little, so we face the same thing over and over. We do not learn from history, so we are doomed to repeat it. The titles may change, but little else.

One might have thought that modern humans would have learned after dealing with Hitler, Stalin, and Hirohito all at once. Alas, one generation may, indeed, learn. It may even attempt, and occasionally succeed, in teaching the next generation. To expect anything beyond that is folly.

Today, we again are faced with another slate of those who would be Caesar. Vladimir Putin is has unified his power in Russia and already “annexed” parts of Georgia and Ukraine. Xi Jinping has consolidated his power in China and is extending his reach throughout Asia, Africa, and even South America. Kim Jong Un has his little corner of the world, but would gladly, if given the chance, expand his territory.

And, as you know, there are others.

When leaders demand or expect loyalty to themselves, rather than to a higher cause, expect trouble. Unfortunately, the road is dependent on obtaining that which gets the individual into power, not that which is best for the common good.

The good news is that since the twentieth century, most empires arise and disappear within a relatively short time. The bad news is that during that time, great damage and havoc occur, harming millions, and taking many generations to correct.

 

The Ways of Kings

Kings and other high personages have different ways of dealing with their station in life.

Legend has it that Roman conquerors returning from the wars enjoyed the honor of  a tumultuous parade, riding in a triumphal chariot with dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. A slave stood behind the conqueror holding a golden crown and whispering in his ear a warning–that he was mortal and all glory is fleeting.

On the other hand, my study of history seems to tell me that most rulers or victors surround themselves with sycophants who whisper how wonderful, brave, and wise they are.

When the Press Became the Media

In Colonial times, and the early days of the United States of America, there was nothing that even resembled true journalism. Port cities would glean what news they could from passengers and crew of arriving ships and print it. There was no independent verification, no one would even think of having two sources. The Port City Herald (or whatever) would print the gossip that had come ashore. The next city over, once they got a copy of the Herald would reprint the story; like a stack of dominoes, the story would fall into place in other newspapers. It might be weeks or months-old when the Gazette first printed it, and it might not age well as it trickled through the countryside. No matter–it was something to read.

Most newspapers were primarily political in nature, printing articles that promoted the owners’ views shamelessly. Since everybody knew this was the norm, nobody got upset and few took the news at face value. Ben Franklin, after learning the business from his brother, bought the Pennsylvania Gazette, for which he wrote many articles under various pseudonyms; after all, there was more credibility in multiple authors sharing a viewpoint than in a single person’s opinion. However, it’s probable that most who read the Pennsylvania Gazette knew that it leaned away from King George III and toward independency.

Things changed, probably because of the invention of the telegraph, so that current events could be printed in newspapers. There was still–and always will be–bias, but for many people a single newspaper was not their only source of information. People were interested in the outcome of battles during the Civil War, but then, as now the newspapers promoting the Union reported the same story quite differently than those favoring the Confederacy.

Eventually, there was at least a modicum of journalistic ethos, if for no other reason than newspapers did not want to be sued or be defenseless against opposing political forces. Perhaps the late twentieth century is a good example, if for no other reason than the reporting on the Watergate break in.

Today, newspapers are being killed by social media. It is difficult to compete with the 24 hour news cycle on the internet in which anyone with a smartphone (which is pretty much anyone over the age of three) can record an incident, present it from his or her own perspective and post it to social media without any vetting, editing, or oversight and without identifying the source of the author. Comments in response are unconstrained as well. There’s no way (or interest) in checking sources, determining facts, or balancing biases.

When Twitter becomes the communication channel of choice for the President of the United States, you can see what I mean.