Wednesday, May 24, 2017

MEMORIAL DAY

Next Monday is Memorial Day. I will offer special prayers in memory of a man I never met, but who, had he survived WWII, would have been my brother in law.

Polly’s brother, Emanuel Weinberger, was a paratrooper of the 82nd Airborne. He was killed by enemy fire on the beach at Salerno in 1943. He was 26 years old.

World War Two affected millions of lives and in many ways revised the map of Planet Earth.

It was in name and in fact a “world” war. In Europe, it began in 1939 when Hitler’s armies invaded Poland. In Asia it began when the Japanese invaded Manchuria on September 18, 1931.

To an unschooled historian, like me, the idea that a little country like Japan could invade and subjugate a massive nation like China seems preposterous.

In truth, the Japanese had much in common with Great Britain, another tiny island nation which managed to assemble a world wide empire, upon which, it was asserted, the sun never set.

The Japanese, like the British, were an industrial people. They made things and they sold things. They imported raw materials and exported manufactured products. They were much in the vanguard of the Industrial Revolution.

Folks of my generation well remember the products of Japanese manufacturing. We considered anything that bore the stamp “Made in Japan” to be inferior. That was long before the descendants of Henry Ford and William Durant were driving Toyotas and Hondas.

In the ten years between 1931 and 1941, Japan assembled a massive Pacific Empire, at its pinnacle incorporating Korea, Manchuria (about a third of China) Burma, Thailand, French Indo China, which included Viet Nam, the Philippine Islands, and the Dutch West Indies, stretching nearly to the shores of Australia.

By the waning days of 1941, Japan considered the Pacific Ocean as an integral part of its Asian hegemony. Hawaii was considered to be under foreign occupation.

Historians have rather conclusively proven that Franklin D. Roosevelt wanted the United States to enter the European war in aid of Great Britain, but he realized that the American people were opposed to the idea.

FDR was, of course, aware that Japan had a mutual defense pact with Germany and Italy, and it was quite obvious that if America found itself at war with Japan, Germany and Italy would immediately declare war against us as well. So much for U.S. public opinion.

The idea of populating Hawaii as a forward naval base came directly from the White House. One voice raised in opposition was that of Admiral James Otto Richardson.

Born in Paris, Texas on September 18, 1879, Richardson graduated fifth in his class at the Naval Academy and rose to the rank of Commander in Chief of the Pacific Fleet by 1940, when he was given the task of moving the fleet’s base of operations from the West Coast to Hawaii.

Richardson balked at the idea. He believed that Hawaii was basically indefensible, too far from reinforcement, and poorly configured to defend itself.

Richardson pleaded with Roosevelt to reconsider the move, making the unusual effort as a naval officer to travel to Washington to present a personal plea to the President as well as to members of Congress. Not only did FDR ignore the Admiral’s warnings, he rewarded Richardson by removing him from command of the fleet.

As we honor the heroes who gave the last full measure of devotion for their country on this Memorial Day, it is perhaps appropriate to give a tip of the hat to those whose service and counsel were generously offered but unhappily ignored by the political powers.

Admiral Richardson might have prevented the Pearl Harbor debacle. For that, he deserves recognition which I gladly proffer to him. And besides, he is, according to my brother, Ray, a distant relative of mine.

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