Op-Ed: The day sleeping American patriots woke up



“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”

– Naval Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Japanese Commander at Pearl Harbor December 7, 1941

Seventy-eight years ago, on December 7, 1941, a Japanese strike force unleashed 353 warplanes on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. Relations between the two nations went south when the U.S. stopped exporting oil, metals and other war items to Japan after they invaded China in 1937. The U.S. had not interfered since Japan was a trading partner. But when Japan and Germany signed their Anti-Comintern Pact in 1936, the U.S. considered this necessary to curtail Japan’s assault against the Chinese and their quest to form a world military empire with Germany and Italy. The U.S. went the extra mile to avoid this conflict and was confident their laissez faire foreign policies were working.

The most devastating strike on U.S. soil in history lasted over two hours. Japanese warplanes sank or severely damaged 18 U.S. warships and demolished 200 military aircraft. Over 3,000 American servicemen and civilians tragically sacrificed their lives on this first day through “the gates of hell” on the high seas for freedom.

A daunted, dismayed, angry America remained resolute as President Roosevelt demanded Congress declare war against Japan that afternoon. Congress did just that the next day. Within days, Germany, Italy and Japan declared war on the U.S. A once circumspect America did an about face. The U.S. eagerly entered the mother of all global conflicts with Great Britain and the Soviet Union as their opposition to the war was replaced with patriotic vengeance.

This deadly attack was a success and a failure for the Japanese. It benefited the Japanese since it enabled them to invade Malaya, the Philippines and the Dutch East Indies with little resistance. It also allowed them to deter a two-front war. But Admiral Yamamoto misread how Americans would react if he failed to destroy the U.S. carrier force. By mounting an attack without declaring war on a Sunday morning, and killing thousands of Americans, he put American public opinion totally behind the war, which had been exspecto quid veli, wait and see. They changed their opinion when the first bomb hit!

“May God have mercy on our enemies, because we won’t!”

– General George Patton

Is has been reported that after the attack, Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto remarked, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” Whether or not he actually said this is debatable. But there is no doubt “the American sleeping giant” woke up that day! Those who did not go down immediately emptied weapons lockers; grabbed ammo and loaded their guns to fight back. Army pilots dodged bombs and bullets attempting to get to their planes to kill the attackers. Many put their countrymen before them and risked their lives to save others. Any ideas the Japanese had that Americans would roll over and cry uncle ended within minutes.

The U.S. was ill-equipped and wounded. It was at war with three formidable adversaries. It had to prepare to fight on two fronts; Europe and the Pacific. America needed to quickly assemble a vast fighting force. Patriots from every state and socioeconomic stratum rapidly volunteered. Roughly 10 million more were recruited via the draft. The nation needed to move swiftly to mobilize material resources to support the war. Americans quickly converted existing industries into efficient wartime machines. They organized government, industry, and labor into a cohesive force to meet the needs of a country thrust into war for democratic survival. Americans were fully aware we needed to win at any cost!

“Where the willingness is great, the difficulties cannot be great.”

– Niccolo Machiavelli

While our brave soldiers were waging strategic campaigns in Europe and the Pacific, opportunities and sacrifices of war were changing American life in profound ways. Citizen soldiers were fighting battles on their soil. Their battle was to survive on as little as possible because our soldiers needed supplies and munitions to carry on with their mission. If it had not been for the miracle of production and our sacrifices at home, our victory on D Day might never have taken place. We courageously met every need of our troops on all battlefronts around the globe. Businesses, labor, farmers, and citizens showed the Axis of Evil what America can do. FDR called this the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

There were shortages of everyday items. Rationing became a way of life. But Americans learned to conserve everything. People were required to give up material goods and food was rationed. In May 1943, Buying Cards were issued. Red stamps rationed meat, butter, fat and oils, and blue stamps allotted canned and frozen foods, plus fruits and juices. Even dry beans, ketchup and baby food were rationed. War Ration Books had more value than the dollar. These authorized a family to buy a commodity “only if it was available.” These citizens learned to utilize what they had, not what they needed.

“As I said all along, we are in this war to win, any way we can.”

– Franklin Roosevelt

Government ads, radio shows, posters and letters urged Americans to support the war. In addition to food, clothing, shoes, coffee, gasoline, tires, fuel and oil also were rationed. Rationing of gas and tires was determined on the distance and importance of one’s job. If someone had any stamps left at the end of the month, they locked them in a safe place for emergency. It was not easy to live this way but few complained. Americans united to help America. One war poster read: “Do with less so they’ll have enough.” Another one said, “Be patriotic, sign your country’s pledge to save our food.”

Wars cost money and the public did their part. Citizens financed the war by buying and selling war bonds. The sale of U.S. Treasury bonds was heavily promoted to increase our money supply. Our citizens knew a war bond was an investment in their security. By purchasing a $25 bond for $19, government could pay for uniforms, weapons, medicine, food and other supplies to fight and win the war. Although it took a decade to earn $6 on a $19 bond, Americans eagerly invested in world liberty and freedom. People considered this a patriotic obligation since their dividend was a victory.

It was once said, “War unites what politics divides.” America has been a country divided since our founding. But no matter how great the political cleavage, patriots have united each time blood was shed upon our soil. They passionately fought back during the Revolutionary War, World War II, and Sept. 11, 2001. American patriots set aside their differences and bonded to defeat a common foe when our nation was attacked. They showed enemies America was not built on fear. America was built on courage. America has only survived because patriots united under our flag to fight and win.

“There is not one incident in the history of humanity in which defeatism led to peace.”

– General Douglas MacArthur

On Memorial Day, we will honor those patriots that put our country above their political and social differences to preserve our liberty. It is a good time to reflect on all of the great things we could do if we were to call a truce and cast aside our differences for the good of our country, too. More than ever, America needs a united patriotic effort to keep our republic strong to protect our freedoms. In our hearts, we know it doesn’t take a war for us to work together for the greater good of America.

The enemy will divide and conquer us if we ever forget – united we stand.

“Putting people first has always been America’s secret weapon. It’s the way we’ve kept the spirit of our revolutions alive, a spirit that drives us to dream and dare, and take great risks for a greater good.”

– Ronald Reagan

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