Enid News and Eagle
ENID, Okla. —
How different might the world have been had the bombs not begun to fall, shattering the peace of a quiet Sunday morning in paradise?
The world was at war on that sunny late fall day, but the battle raged far from America’s shores.
Hitler’s march across Europe that began in September 1939 was in full swing.
Japan’s incursion into China and its ambitions for further expansion were likewise well along.
But America remained out of, if not above, the fray. Americans were reluctant to become involved in another global conflict, still clinging to the notion that World War I was truly, “The War to End All Wars.” Besides, the nation was still getting over the effects of the Great Depression.
The Axis powers’ advance across Europe, and Japan’s ambitions to conquer east Asia, led many Americans to conclude that the U.S. could not sit idle much longer.
But the non-interventionists, led by the America First Committee, had strong support as well. The AFC’s membership swelled to nearly 800,000 by early 1941.
The face of the AFC was “Lucky Lindy,” famed aviator Charles Lindbergh, who went so far as to say “I have been forced to the conclusion that we cannot win this war for England, regardless of how much assistance we extend.”
The isolationists were not pacifists. They advocated a strong defense against threats to America or its neighbors in the Western Hemisphere.
Not that they were concerned about an attack on the United States, mind you.
“Even in our present condition of unpreparedness, no foreign power is in a position to invade us today,” Lindbergh said in April 1941.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was trying to move the country toward involvement in the European conflict, thanks to entreaties from Winston Churchill, as Great Britain was trying to stand strong in the face of relentless pounding by the Luftwaffe.
Keeping with his 1940 campaign promise that “Your boys are not going to be sent into any foreign wars,” FDR instead crafted the lend-lease program to arm and supply the British. Later in 1941 America and Great Britain agreed to the Atlantic Charter, an agreement on war aims between the two nations.
In the Pacific, there were rumors of war. In January 1941, U.S. ambassador to Japan Joseph Grew warned Washington that Japan was planning a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor. No one believed him.
More warnings are ignored. In September, a coded Japanese message mentioning a bomb plot and requesting a map of the exact locations of U.S. ships in Pearl Harbor is intercepted and decoded, but the information is not shared with commanders in Hawaii.
Even on the home front, it appeared inevitable that we would soon go to war with Japan. A 1941 Gallup Poll found that 52 percent of Americans expected war with Japan.
Few people expected it to come on that December day.
But come it did.
By the end of Dec. 7, 1941, that date and the name Pearl Harbor had been emblazoned indelibly on the American psyche, and in the pages of history.
The attack shocked, stunned and saddened the nation.
But it served another purpose, as well. It made us mad. By Dec. 8, 1941, isolationism was dead. The enemy had attacked us, killed our people, destroyed our ships and planes. If it was war they wanted, it was war they would get. By Dec. 11, we were at war not only with Japan, but with Germany and Italy as well.
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who oversaw the bombing of Pearl Harbor, is famously quoted as saying, in the wake of the attack, “I fear we have awakened a sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve.”
Historians claim he never said it. He might as well have, since it turned out to be true. After Dec. 7, 1941, the sleeping giant slumbered no longer.
In truth, no one wins wars, but merely survives. Freedom and tyranny remained locked in a pitched battle across the globe over the next few years, but in no small measure because of the events of Dec. 7, 1941, freedom survived in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds, though many millions of combatants on both sides did not.
How might the world have been different had Dec. 7, 1941, turned out to be just another ordinary day?
We’ll never know. That turned out to be a day whose impact has resounded down the decades, and will continue to do so for as long as this nation exists.
Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.