NEW YEAR’S EVE

On December 31, people around the world will celebrate New Year’s Eve. Although the specifics of the celebration may differ in various countries, it is generally a time of social gatherings, parties, eating, drinking, and merriment. The Pacific island nations of Kiribati and Samoa are the first to celebrate; Hawaii is the last.

Below please find a sampling of celebration customs in various countries:

1. In the US NYE is celebrated with parties with family and friends and other special events. For example, since 1907 people have been gathering in Times Square to watch the “Ball Drop.” At precisely 11:59 pm, a 11,875-pound Waterford crystal ball begins its descent from the roof of One Times Square down a 70-foot high pole. Exactly one minute later, at midnight, the ball reaches the roof of the building, and huge lights signal the start of the New Year. The details of this “Ball Drop” have evolved over the years, especially technologically. It has become so symbolic of the celebration of New Year’s that it draws approximately one million spectators from all over the world, many of whom stand in the cold without access to food or toilet facilities for hours just to be there. The Drop has inspired similar celebrations in other cities, such as Atlanta (“Peach Drop”) and Nashville (“Music Note Drop”). Entertainment from various venues is also featured. The most famous and enduring entertainer was Guy Lombardo, who from 1928 to 1976 entertained from the ballroom at the Waldorf-Astoria, first on the radio, then on TV. After his death in 1977 other programs became prominent, most notably “Dick Clark’s Rockin’ New Year’s Eve.” Traditionally, NYE is the busiest day at Disneyland and Disney World, which feature Disney character-shows and fireworks.
2. In Canada the mode of celebrations vary by region. For example, in Toronto, Niagara Falls and other areas of Ontario, there are concerts, parties, fireworks and sporting events. On the other hand, in rural Quebec some people go ice fishing.
3. In Mexico families decorate their homes in various colors, each of which symbolizes a particular wish for the upcoming year. For example, yellow would symbolize a wish for a better job, green improved finances, white improved health, and red general improvement in lifestyle and love. At midnight, many Mexicans eat a grape with each chime of the clock and make a wish each time. Some people bake a sweet bread with a coin hidden inside. Whoever gets the piece with the coin will be blessed with good fortune in the coming year. Finally, some people make a list of all the bad events that occurred to them over the past year on a piece of paper and then burn the paper to symbolize a purging of all the bad luck.
4. As you might expect celebrations in England focus around Big Ben. People gather to observe fireworks and celebrate. In addition, many celebrate in pubs or at private parties.

At the stroke of midnight it is traditional to sing “Auld Lang Syne.” I have always been curious as to the derivation of this song and why it is sung at New Year’s. The origin is murky, but it has generally been attributed to the Scottish poet Robert Burns. He wrote it in 1788, but it is likely that some of the words were derived from other Scottish poems and ballads. “Auld Lang Syne” literally translates into English as “long long ago,” “old times,” or “days gone by.” Thus, at the stroke of midnight we bid farewell to the past year and, at the same time, wish to remember the good times. In some areas the song is also sung at funerals, graduations and any other event that marks a “farewell” or “ending.” Sometimes the singers gather in a circle and hold hands.

CONCLUSION

Whatever your NYE plans may be and however you celebrate, I urge you to be careful and drive safely and defensively. Pay particular care to watch out for the “other guy.” This is one night where too many people celebrate excessively and drive under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs. These people should not be on the road, but, nevertheless, they are, and they are dangerous both to you and themselves. For this reason, Ed McMahon, Johnny Carson’s long-time side kick on the “Tonight Show” and a noted party-goer, used to refer to New Year’s Eve derisively as “amateur night.” New Year’s Day is the second most deadly holiday for drivers. (Thanksgiving is #1.) Moreover, a whopping 42% of the driving fatalities on NYD are the result of DUI.

Enjoy yourself, but don’t become a statistic!

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MURDER OF TWO NYC COPS

Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu. If you have not heard these names, hear them now, and remember them. They were members of the NYC police force. On Saturday, they were brutally and cowardly murdered by a gunman as they sat in their police cruiser while on the job at a housing project in Bedford-Stuyvesant. They were there on patrol to protect the citizens of that high-crime area. Instead, it was they who could have used some protection.

The gunman, whose name I will not mention, because he doesn’t deserve acknowledgment of any kind, snuck up behind them and shot them through the car’s passenger window without warning. He actually committed this heinous crime after bragging about it beforehand. Why did he do it? I don’t know, and I don’t care. There is no reason that could justify the murders, no possible mitigating and extenuating circumstances. Frankly, I’m glad he killed himself afterward. At least, we will be spared a lengthy trial, along with a self-serving attempt at justification by certain liberal mainstream media outlets and race-baiters.

Rafael Ramos was a 40-year-old two-year veteran of the police force. He was married with two children who will now have to grow up without a father. In his spare time, he was studying to become a lay chaplain. Wenjian Liu, 32, was recently married with no children. His family had emigrated here from China to make a better life for their only son. Rather than pursuing a career in medicine or some other lucrative profession, Liu decided to become a cop to serve the community. By all accounts, they were both solid family men and good citizens.

I don’t believe that this incident should be viewed in a vacuum. It is a by-product of the toxic atmosphere that has been created and fomented by certain politicians, race-baiters and biased media coverage following the recent events in Ferguson, MO and Staten Island, NY. This type of atmosphere provides “cover” for those who would have a tendency to acting out violently. Politicians, such as NYC Mayor de Blasio, Attorney General Eric Holder, and, to a lesser extent, President and Mrs. Obama, rather than trying to tamp down the anger among some African-Americans by calling for calm, reason and respect for due process, have been issuing comments citing perceived racism among cops and others and a “rigged” judicial system. These comments play to their liberal bases but do little to resolve matters. Collectively, they have taken these two isolated incidents and extrapolated them into a belief that a widespread racial problem exists in the US. In addition, they have perpetuated the myth that cops deliberately go into black neighborhoods to harass blacks. That is utterly ridiculous. They go there to protect the law-abiding blacks that live there and want police protection. They go there because, to paraphrase the notorious bank robber, Willie Sutton, “that is where the crime is.”

Mayor de Blasio’s comments have been particularly toxic. For example: (1) He characterized the recent attacks by a mob on two NYC police officers as “alleged” violence, ignoring the fact that the attack was recorded on tape; (2) He failed to condemn the recent demonstrators who chanted “What do we want? Dead cops!” (3) He disclosed that he had cautioned his biracial son to be careful around cops lest he be targeted because of his race. His anti-cop comments and actions during this crisis have lost him the support of the cops, perhaps permanently. Many of them have signed a petition requesting that he not attend their funerals. Also, when he showed up to pay his respects to Officers Ramos and Liu, the cops present actually turned their backs on him to express their displeasure of his lack of respect and support.

Messrs. Obama and Holder have mouthed appropriate platitudes, but their actions, or lack thereof, have revealed their true biases. Michele Obama’s gratuitous comment that she was approached in Target to retrieve something off a top shelf because the customer assumed that, because she was black, she must be an employee, was excessively inflammatory and not helpful to the discourse. I, too, have been asked to retrieve items from the top shelf in stores, and I have observed many other tall people doing the same for shorter people. It was not a matter of racism, but height. Just smile, and retrieve the item, and that’s the end of it. No need to perceive every imagined slight as racism. Finally, the reliance by Messrs. Obama and de Blasio on Al Sharpton as an advisor on race relations is definitely counterproductive.

Sharpton and other race-baiters have ascribed these situations to racial profiling by cops. They ignore the fact that with respect to the Ferguson incident independent, verifiable evidence demonstrated that Michael Brown had attacked Officer Wilson. Officer Wilson did not profile Brown; he was defending himself. Regarding the Staten Island incident the police officer in question was actually being supervised at the scene by a black officer. The video of the incident did indicate that the officer who choked Mr. Garner may have used excessive force, but if there is a beef regarding the Staten Island incident, it should be with the Grand Jury that failed to hand down an indictment, not the cops. (Additionally, we have not been privy to the evidence presented to the Grand Jury.) Even Eric Garner’s daughter does not attribute her father’s death to racism. Any objective person would have to agree. However, race-baiters are not interested in objectivity or helping minorities. They have their own agendas. They are interested in agitating, not healing.

Generally, the media coverage has been slanted toward the agitators and protesters in both Ferguson and NY. Again, the media has a vested interest in fomenting conflict. It drives ratings and sells newspapers. Also, look at the misguided actions of certain celebrities, such as Samuel Jackson and his ridiculous song and the athletes who wore the “hands up, don’t shoot” jerseys. I know they have a right to exercise freedom of speech, but at least get the facts right. Independent witness testimony has proven that Brown did not raise his hands and say “don’t shoot.” Perhaps, a better jersey to wear would have been “Be a good father to your son.”

On the other side of the spectrum, many people, including former NYC Mayor Rudy Giuliani, former NY Governor George Pataki, former NYC Police Commissioner Bernard Kerick and many sensible media personalities, such as Bill O’Reilly and Charles Krauthammer have spoken out in support of the police. I also believe that there is a “silent majority” (to quote former Vice President Spero Agnew) that supports the police.

CONCLUSION

Anyone who thinks there is a “racial problem” in the US today is misguided and not cognizant of the history of race relations. Whatever one perceives the situation to be, one must admit that it is vastly improved over 50 or 60 years ago. Sure, things are not completely harmonious between whites and blacks, and, likely, they never will be. There will always be racists on both sides. Race relations could still improve. But, I submit that the overwhelming majority of Americans are NOT racist. I cannot cite a poll to prove this assertion, and, besides who would admit to a pollster that they are racist. I am basing this on empirical evidence of how I have seen people interact. Also, consider that we have elected and re-elected a biracial President. Moreover, we have a black Attorney General and a plethora of black, Hispanic and Asian congressmen, judges and State officials. Fifty-sixty years ago, blacks were being denied basic rights, such as the right to vote and access to educational and career opportunities. If you don’t remember this or forgot your history, watch the movie “Selma,” which will be released on Christmas Day. You will see what real racial problems were like. Then, try to tell me we have a race problem in America today.

In the meantime, we should recognize that 95% or more of the cops are fair and not racist. They are there for the protection of law-abiding citizens, and they do a damn fine job of it under very difficult circumstances.

TWO VIEWS OF ENHANCED INTERRROGATION

Last week the Senate Intelligence Committee issued its long-awaited report with respect to the CIA’s program of enhanced interrogation of suspected terrorists in the years since 9/11. According to the NY Times, the report, which was prepared and issued solely by Democrats on the Committee, characterized the Program as “more brutal” and “less effective” than the CIA had acknowledged previously either to government officials or the public. The Times article goes on to state that “detainees were deprived of sleep for as long as a week” and “subjected to medically unnecessary [procedures, such as] rectal feeding or rectal hydration.” Furthermore, the article characterized the water boarding of KSM as a “series of near-drownings.” Most damning, the Report concluded that little, if any, worthwhile intelligence was gleaned from these interrogations that could not have been learned from other, more humane sources. Dianne Feinstein, the Committee Chairperson, called the CIA’s Program “a stain on our values and on our history.” There was much more to the report, but I think you get the idea.

The report, if read in a vacuum, is devastating. However, as with most complex issues, there is another side to the story.

1. Proponents of the Report and opponents of the Program could benefit from a little history lesson. Let’s not forget that in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 Americans were shocked, scared and angry. The terrorists had just taken down the World Trade Center Twin Towers murdering 3,000 innocent people in the process. In addition, the terrorists had intended to murder individuals who comprise our top layer of government – congressmen, senior Pentagon officials and even the President and Vice President. Were it not for the heroism of those on United Airlines flight 93, they might have very well succeeded. Also, there were rumors of further impending attacks, possibly even the detonation of a nuclear bomb on American soil. Many Americans were afraid to travel to NY or anyplace else, for that matter. Many foreigners were afraid to travel to the US. In response, there was an overwhelming flood of patriotism and nationalism. We were desperate for intelligence. We wanted information; we wanted revenge on the perpetrators and masterminds of 9/11, such as bin Laden and KSM; and we wanted it NOW. That was the context in which enhanced interrogation procedures were conceived and carried out by the CIA.
2. The Program was approved by the President and the Attorney General, and the interrogations were closely supervised. Extreme care was taken to ensure that interrogation techniques did not “cross the line” from interrogation to torture. Because of movies and TV, people envision a “knuckle-dragger” like the fictional Jack Bauer, physically brutalizing and berating detainees without limits or supervision. Nothing could be further from the truth. In point of fact, there were many people in the interrogation room besides the interrogator(s) (the exact number is classified), including attorneys, senior supervisory personnel, and medical personnel and equipment. Whenever a detainee was in medical danger the interrogation was stopped. Every precaution was taken within the guidelines of the Program.
3. Dr. James Mitchell, a former Air Force psychologist, was one of the chief interrogators. During his recent interview by Megyn Kelly on “The Kelly File” he discussed many of these points, in detail. In addition, he stated emphatically that, at first, he had been reluctant to participate in the interrogations. He found it “repulsive at times,” but he did it to save American lives. Furthermore, he stated that the CIA’s Program had been investigated thoroughly by the Attorney General. It was deemed not to be within the definition of “torture.” If it was [torture], I would be in jail.” He and several others maintain that enhanced interrogation of KSM led us to bin Laden’s chauffeur, who, in turn, led us to bin Laden himself.
4. Most telling of all is the fact that the authors of the Report, though they claim to have conducted exhaustive research, did not interview Mr. Mitchell, any of the other participants in the Program, or the former and current Directors of the CIA for their side of things. Also, no Republicans participated in the Report.

A sampling of comments and opinions, which, generally, fall along party lines:

1. President Obama praised the CIA interrogators as “patriots,” but added that the techniques employed “constituted torture in my mind.”
2. Senator John Wyden (D-Oregon): was “disturbed by the CIA’s continuing defense of torture tactics.”
3. Former President George W. Bush has reiterated often that the Program was not torture, and the information gleaned from it was instrumental in capturing not only bin Laden but other senior terrorists as well.
4. Senator John Comyn, (R-Texas) – “Enhanced interrogation techniques …save American lives, and Senate Democrats should thank these brave men and women who worked to protect us – not vilify them.”
5. Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jim Risch (R-ID) issued a joint statement that characterizes the release of the Report as “reckless” and expressed the concern that it could produce a backlash that could “endanger the lives of Americans overseas, jeopardize US relations with foreign partners, potentially incite violence, create political problems for our allies, and could be used as a recruitment tool for our enemies.”

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, I realize that this is an extremely emotional issue and one on which reasonable people may disagree. My personal opinion is that we are and have been in a state of war with terrorism and those who plan, support and execute terrorist acts since even before 9/11. This is not the time to retreat into one’s ivory tower and take the high moral and ethical road. The other side has shown no mercy. It has murdered violently and indiscriminately and will continue to do so. In just the last few months, we have witnessed beheadings and bombings of innocent non-combatants. Who knows what else they have planned for us.

It is important to realize that historically, people have done things during wars that they would not do normally. If you doubt me, re-read the history of wars, any war. As George C. Scott, who played the title role in the movie, “Patton,” stated: “the idea is not to give your life for your country, but to cause the other [guy] to give HIS life for HIS country.” As with any war, the idea is not to be the good guy, but to WIN, whatever it takes. There are no “style points” for good behavior. Second-guessing events and decisions from several years ago is misleading and unfair. The relevant question should be were the actions in question appropriate based on the facts and circumstances that existed at the time?

Finally, regardless of your opinion on this issue ask yourself why the Committee wrote and released the Report without any input from those who conceived and carried out the Program, the politicians, the interrogators and the current and former heads of the CIA. It was akin to holding a trial with only the prosecution presenting evidence. Anyone who would have had a contrary or dissenting view was excluded. Why not try to develop a bipartisan report? Indeed, why release it at all? The obvious conclusion is that it was for political expedience, and, as a result, whatever credibility the Report may have had has been severely damaged.

What is your opinion of the Report and this issue in general? I would welcome your comments.

TERROR ATTACK ON PAKISTANI SCHOOL

The story is all too familiar. Most of us remember the terrorist attack on the Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newtown, CT. in December 2012. We remember how horrific that attack was and how devastating, particularly to the families and friends of the victims. Well, the recent terrorist attack by a unit of Pakistan’s Taliban on a school in Peshawar, Pakistan was equally horrific. Once again, parents sent their young children off to school with every expectation that they would be returning home safe and sound like they had every other day. Alas, in many cases, it was not meant to be. The terrorists murdered 141 persons, 132 of which were children. The word “killed,” which has been used by many media outlets, is extremely misleading and way too benign a term for what they did. This was out and out indiscriminate murder, by any definition of the word.

This attack, carried out by a unit of the Pakistani Taliban, was arguably the worst in Pakistan since a terrorist bombing in Karachi in 2007 murdered 150 persons. The hurt is exacerbated because most of the victims were innocent children. Witnesses stated that seven terrorists stormed the school wearing suicide vests, and opened fire indiscriminately. Again, describing them as “militants,” as some media outlets have done, would be too benign a description. Obviously, their goal was not to take hostages to make a political statement but to murder. It was a suicide mission designed to cause maximum damage and pain. Subsequently, Pakistani army commandos counterattacked, and in the ensuing gun battle all seven terrorists were killed either by the commandos or by blowing themselves up. The attack was roundly condemned by other governments, including President Obama on behalf of the US. Fine as far as it goes, but these statements of condemnation were largely symbolic gestures that will have negligible impact. It will be up to the Pakistani government to deal with its terrorist problem.

Most Americans tend to view Islamic terrorists as a homogeneous group. In reality, there are many separate factions. Some of them are allied as they do have some common goals, such as murdering “infidels.” Some observers even believe that some terrorists are members of different groups from time to time.
On the other hand, some of the groups are in conflict with each other. Apparently, the Pakistan Taliban, aka TTP, is in conflict with the Afghani Taliban. The TTP is a more extreme faction, and their beliefs are closer to those of al-Qaeda. Some alliances are temporary depending on the situation. Hussain Haqqani, former Pakistani ambassador to the US, has likened these shifting alliances to how various mafia families interact.

The Pakistani government has been inconsistent in its internal war on terror. For example, it has been in conflict with the TTP for last six months, which it feels is actually seeking to overthrow the government. Their latest offensive resulted in the deaths of approximately 2,000 TTPs. Nevertheless, Mr. Haqqani characterized the offensive as “inadequate” and “flawed.” Indeed, there is evidence that the TTP had been tipped off as most of its key leadership was able to escape.

The TTPs justified the attack on the school by claiming it was in retaliation for that offensive. Suffice to say, in their twisted minds Islamic terrorists equate attacks on defenseless children with attacks, bombings and other military actions waged against them, even though in those cases children and other non-combatants are not targeted. (As we know, terrorists often hide among non-combatants for security reasons.) To a rational person the two don’t equate.

In contrast to its ongoing conflict with TTP, the Pakistani government has largely ignored other terror groups, such as Jamaat-ud-Dawa (“JUD”). The US has labeled JUD a global terrorist organization, and has complained that it has been aided and abetted by the Pakistani government, which appears to be accurate. Furthermore, the US government has placed a $10 million bounty on JUD’s leader, Hafiz Saeed who, it appears, is being harbored by the Pakistani government. If you are confused by how all these terror groups fit in and relate to each other and the Pakistani government, you are not alone.

CONCLUSION

The Pakistani government’s inconsistent attitude toward the various terrorist factions is not helpful. In particular, it has fed the hostility between TTP and JUD, which has exacerbated violence. There is little the US can or should do. Interfering would only unite all the terrorists groups against us and incur the ire of the Pakistani government, which has made it clear it does not want us involved in their internal affairs. Remember, this is the same government, though technically an ally, that harbored Osama bin-Laden.

The Pakistani government must exhibit the military capacity and political will to rein in these terrorists on its own. So far, it has not demonstrated either. The central government is weak, and it has been harboring various and sometimes competing terrorist groups. It has even been harboring Afghani terrorists in western Pakistan just over the border, probably because it is too weak to expel them. Therefore, an argument can be made that the Pakistani government’s own actions and inactions have created the situation that led to these terrorist attacks.

Sadly, this attack was merely the latest in a long chain of Islamic terror attacks. There is no need to list them all here. They have all been burned into our collective memories. Political correctness aside, of all the terrorist attacks since 9/11 and even before, one would be hard-pressed to find even one example of any one act NOT perpetrated by extreme Islamists.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that these attacks will likely continue, or even accelerate in intensity and/or frequency. At the present time, the 5% or so of Muslims who are acting out their radical views are overshadowing the other 95% who live their lives peacefully and in a law abiding manner. This cannot be allowed to continue. Moderate Muslim leaders, especially religious leaders, have a responsibility to speak up. All we Americans can do is to remain vigilant and steadfast in doing all we can to protect ourselves. Unfortunately, we can thwart dozens of plots and attacks, and we probably have, but, as we saw on 9/11, it only takes one successful one to devastate us.

THE FORTE TENORS

Americans love a good success story. With all the bad news in the world today, “feel-good” stories resonate with us. We love to hear about a person or persons who seemingly “come(s) out of nowhere” to be successful. It’s nice to see hard work, talent, and persistence be rewarded. Such is the case with Sean Panikkar and the Forte Tenors. Often, as the expression goes, truth is stranger than fiction. If one were to present this story to a Hollywood producer he would laugh you out of his office.

Panikkar was born and raised in Bloomsburg, PA. His parents had emigrated to the US from Sri Lanka in 1981. His father and brother are both physicians at the prestigious Geisinger Medical Center in Bloomsburg. With a familial background like that, one might wonder how come Sean did not become a physician himself. Well, his once-in-a-lifetime musical talent, in particular his spectacular voice, got in the way. One might say “a funny thing happened to Sean on his way to Med School.”

When he was in elementary and Junior High School his family was so skeptical of his singing ability that when they heard him sing with the school chorus, they thought he was lip-synching. They thought “we’re a family of doctors. Where did he get this exceptional musical talent from?” Eventually, he became a star performer in high school. He trained with Li Ping Liu, a renowned Julliard-trained soprano. He went to the University of Michigan to study engineering, but at some point he transferred to the School of Music, Theatre and Dance where he earned both a Bachelors and a Masters Degree in vocal performance. Later, he trained with the San Francisco Opera and, eventually, became an Adler Fellow with the company. In addition, he has performed several roles with the Metropolitan Opera.

As if the above-described story isn’t enough, it is surpassed by the manner in which Sean actually became a member of the Forte Tenors and the group’s resultant success. Briefly, the Tenors were competing in “America’s Got Talent,” and one of their performers developed Visa problems, which necessitated him leaving the country. The remaining two members of the group, Josh Page and Fernando Varela, commenced scouting desperately for a replacement. Time was exigent as the competition was already underway. They literally found Sean on U-Tube. At first, they had difficulty convincing him to join their group as Sean already had a successful solo career, but, in the end, they did. With only one hour of rehearsal time they got through their next performance. The group became extremely successful, reaching the finals before being eliminated.

One indication of their success was that they received a 12-minute ovation after one of their performances, which was the longest ovation in the history of “America’s Got Talent.” Another was that when they were finally eliminated in the finals the result was very controversial. Many people thought they were “robbed,” including my wife, who is a fervent devotee of the show.

Such is the risk when the fans vote, not the experts. Often, the best performer doesn’t win. Past winners on this show as well as the longer-running “American Idol,” for that matter, have had mixed success in their subsequent careers. On the other hand, former “AI” non-winners, such as Constantine Maroulis and Jennifer Hudson, have been very successful. Maroulis has appeared on TV and as a leading man in two hit Broadway shows – “Rock of Ages,” for which he received a Tony nomination, and “Jekyl and Hyde.” Hudson has won an Academy Award for a supporting role in “Dreamgirls” and a Grammy.

CONCLUSION

In retrospect, losing was the best thing that could have happened to Forte. Instead of being bound by a restrictive contract to the show’s producers, they were free to sign with whomever they chose. In point of fact, a representative of Sony/Columbia Records was literally waiting off-stage to sign them up asap. Their first album has been a rousing success, appearing on the Billboard Classical Albums chart for 16 weeks and reaching number three.

In addition, they have had a successful concert tour. They have appeared at Carneigie Hall, headlined a solo show in Las Vegas and performed before the President. All in all, this was a clear case of “winning by losing.”

As a final ironic touch, recently Forte performed before a sellout crowd at Bloomsburg University. It was a phenominal concert with a 78-piece orchestra. That’s right – 78 pieces. Many in the audience, including family, friends and former teachers, had known Panikkar since he was in grade school. The group was performing in the very same arena in which Panikkar had attended his high school graduation ten years earlier. In addition, he sang the same song, “You’ll Never Walk Alone,” he had sung on that occasion. His voice is so powerful that he sang without a microphone. Yes, truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.

A DATE THAT LIVES IN INFAMY

December 7, 1941. Mention that date to a person of a certain age and their reaction will be akin to later generations’ reaction to November 22, 1963 or September 11, 2001. Most any person over the age of five on those dates remembers where he was, what he was doing and how he felt when he heard the news. Those are dates that had a profound effect on our lives both individually and collectively.

On December 6, 1941 America was still working its way out of the Great Depression, which began in 1929 with the stock market crash. Unemployment was at 9.9%, not good, but a significant improvement from the peak of 25% in 1932. Americans were not thinking about war. After all, we had just fought the “Great War,” (the “war to end wars”). Sure, there was a war waging in Europe, but we were not involved directly. We had no boots on the ground, and we had two vast oceans between us and them. Most Americans were focused on their own lives, not on world events. America was in full isolationist mode. All that was about to change suddenly, violently, tragically and irrevocably.

We all know what happened on December 7, 1941. We know that the Japanese executed a devastating surprise attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor that precipitated our involvement in WWII. Approximately, 3,500 lives were lost along with much of our Pacific Fleet and airplanes. America switched immediately from peacetime mode to wartime mode. Patriotism and nationalism abounded. The “greatest generation” was on the march. After the attack FDR called December 7 “a date that will live in infamy,” and he was right. It has.

Automobile manufacturers switched from making cars to tanks; men volunteered for service by the thousands; women took their places in factories most of them working outside the home for the first time; children participated in scrap drives, paper drives rubber drives, and the like. We re-elected FDR to a third and even a fourth term, which broke with a tradition dating back to George Washington. As we all know, America recovered to win the war after four years of intense and costly fighting. Consequently, there is no need for me to rehash those events. The central theme of this blog will focus on the events that led up to the war with Japan.

Every war has its immediate cause and its underlying causes. The attack on Pearl Harbor was the immediate cause. But, what were the underlying causes? What would make Japan start a war that it had virtually no chance of winning? Glad you asked. Read on.

Many, if not most, historians maintain that the US actually provoked Japan into starting the war, although we did not intend that they devastate our naval fleet in the fashion they did. Over the course of the 1930’s we took various actions that, in reality, left Japan no choice, to wit:

1. The US was providing assistance to the Chinese who were at war with Japan. This included airplane pilots, armaments and other supplies and materials. Japan had been at war with China since the 1930’s. Its extreme brutality was exemplified by the Nanking Massacre, aka the Rape of Nanking, which began in December 1937. In a six-week period over 300,000 Chinese civilians were murdered, and there was widespread raping and looting. This shocking brutality was a portent of the Pacific War.
2. Along with the British and the Dutch the military was actively planning prospective military operations against the Japanese in the Far East to counter its aggression.
3. Japan had few natural resources of its own; it needed to import raw materials, such as coal, iron, oil, rubber and bauxite, from the US and other countries in Southeast Asia to fuel its burgeoning industries. In the late 1930’s the US began to severely limit its access to these materials by enforcing sanctions, limits and embargoes. This aided the British and the Dutch, who were concerned about Japan’s aggressive behavior in the Far East, but it provoked the Japanese.
4. Thus, one can view the attack on Pearl Harbor, not as an isolated event, but rather as the last act in a long line of connected ones.
Many historians believe that FDR provoked Japan intentionally, because he wanted to go to war against the Axis Powers, and the American people were decidedly against doing so. Before you scoff at that notion, consider that we have fought other wars following provocations that may or may not have been fabricated. For example:

1. The Spanish-American War in 1898 began when the battleship “Maine” was blown up in Havana harbor under mysterious circumstances. 75% of her crew was killed. “Remember the Maine” became the signature battle cry of that war. There is evidence that suggests that the “Maine” was not blown up by the Spanish, but may have blown up by accident or been sabotaged to provide a pretext for us to enter that war.
2. The legal basis for commencing the Vietnam War was the Gulf of Tonkin incidents of August 2 and 4, 1964. A US destroyer, the USS Maddox, exchanged fire with North Vietnamese torpedo boats in the Gulf, which is off the coast of Vietnam. As a result Congress passed the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, which authorized President Johnson to assist any Southeast Asian country that was being jeopardized by “communist aggression.” Johnson was only too eager to do so. It was later determined that some key facts, such as who fired first, are in dispute.
3. President Bush, 43, “sold” the Iraq War to the American people by asserting there was “proof” that Iraq possessed “weapons of mass destruction.” Such weapons have never been found.

So, if FDR did, in fact, goad Japan into attacking us so that we could enter the war against the Axis Powers, it would not have been the only time the US Government used that tactic. In the 1950’s the renowned historian Harry Elmer Barnes (who, ironically, later lost much of his credibility by becoming a vociferous denier of the Holocaust) published a series of essays describing the various ways in which the US Government goaded the Japanese into starting a war it could not win and manipulated American public opinion. After the war, Secretary of War Henry Stimson admitted that “we needed the Japanese to commit the first overt act.”

CONCLUSION

Most historians agree that even the Japanese leadership in the 1930’s knew it could not win a prolonged war with the US. The US was vastly superior in terms of men, material and resources, and eventually, it would wear down the Japanese. That, in fact, is precisely what happened. In 1941 the die was cast when a more militant, nationalistic government came into power headed by Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Hideki Tojo. They spent several months planning the pre-emptive strike. No doubt, they were influenced, in part, by the successful surprise attack on the Russians in 1905 led by then-Admiral Tojo during the Russo-Japanese War. Their intention was to neutralize American naval power in the Pacific so that it would be unable to block Japan’s aggression in Southeast Asia. They determined that Sunday would be the best day of the week to attack. They also weighed the advantages and disadvantages of attacking the fleet in the harbor or at sea before settling on the attack in the harbor. Although the battleships were sitting ducks in the more shallow harbor, Admiral Chester Nimitz denoted later that one crucial advantage to the US was that we were able to raze several of them later.

Despite its years of provocations, the US was ill-prepared for an attack. In the summer and autumn, we had intelligence reports that an attack was probable, but the reports did not specify where or when (similar to the case with prospective terrorist attacks now). The Philippines was more likely as it was closer to Japan and in the heart of Southeast Asia where the action was. Hawaii was a very bold strike. Eventually, we found out, but communications being more primitive in 1941 we were unable to warn the Pearl Harbor command in time.

Ultimately, the Japanese underestimated the US. Their leaders knew we were in isolationist mode. They did not think we had the “stomach” to fight a prolonged, brutal war. Also, they knew we would be fighting the Germans and Italians as well. Furthermore, they figured that with our Pacific Fleet decimated, if not destroyed, we would be unable or unwilling to counter their aggression in the Far East. The Far East was their end game for reasons discussed above; they were not interested in attacking the US mainland.

Obviously they were wrong. They were not the first enemy to underestimate the US, and they likely will not be the last.