Monday, December 5, 2011

Days of Infamy

President Roosevelt called December 7, 1941, “a date which will live in infamy.” He was referring, of course, to how Pearl Harbor “was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
And he was right. Now, seventy years later, Americans remember that date well and December 7 does live in infamy.
As it turned out, though, the war with the U.S. initiated on 12/7/41 was a day of infamy for Japan also. In my thirty-eight years in Japan, I never heard Japanese people speak of the attack on Pearl Harbor except in embarrassment, with shame, and, often, with resentment toward the Japanese militarists who (mis)led their nation into war.
The loss of around 3,000 American lives at Pearl Harbor on that fateful Sunday morning was tragic, indeed. And, of course, a vastly greater number of U.S. servicemen (and perhaps some servicewomen) were killed in the ensuing war. The number of Japanese, though, who died as the result of the war begun on that day of infamy was considerably larger.
In one of the biggest understatements in history, the Japanese Emperor said in his surrender speech on August 15, 1945, the war situation has developed not necessarily to Japan's advantage.” That surrender came after what can legitimately be called other days of infamy earlier that year.
“All’s fair in love and war” is an expression sometimes heard. But international ethicists believe that there are legitimate rules of war, and the wanton killing of civilians is against those rules. In September 1938 the League of Nations unanimously passed a resolution for “protection of civilian populations against bombing from the air in case of war.” That resolution was clear and direct: “The intentional bombing of civilian populations is illegal.”
Thus, March 10, 1945, could also be considered a day of infamy. On that day the U.S. Air Force firebombed Tokyo. Some 100,000 people were killed, most of them civilians! Then in August the terrible war ended soon after atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And again, most of the causalities were civilians. Two more days of infamy!
In this country September 11, 2001, can be considered a day of infamy worse than the attack on Pearl Harbor. The terrorist attacks on 9/11 were on American soil, and almost all the causalities, about the same number as those killed on 12/7/41, were civilians.
And then there is good reason to consider March 19, 2003, a day of infamy also. That was the day the preemptive U.S. war on Iraq began. In the eight and a half years since then, more U.S. soldiers have been killed than the number of people killed by the attack on Pearl Harbor.
But even more, 3/19/03 is a day of infamy because the war initiated on that day has taken the lives of at least 100,000 civilian Iraqis, and perhaps considerably more than that.
Military and terrorists attacks, the wanton bombing of civilians, and the launching of preemptive wars are all days of infamy. And they are the very opposite of the Christmas vision of “peace on earth,” God’s dream for the world, about which I plan to write later this month.

P.S. I had not heard of others calling 3/19/03 a day of infamy, but after I posted the above TF Phil Rhoads sent me this picture:


  1. You are so absolutely right. Thanks.

    I could add a lot of others, especially from World War II (notably things done by Germany, the U.S.S.R., and Great Britain); however, I'll only mention two additional days of infamy because the reactionary political correctness in our land does not allow one to mention them: the atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

  2. Oops! Somehow I missed the fact that you mentioned them, too, in your column. My apologies. Let my slip underscore my appreciation for your courageous column.

  3. Thanks as always for such valid insights. I have never understood why Hiroshima or Nagasaki were chosen over major military targets to demonstrate Japan's hopeless situation. It is valid to note as well that our military personnel losses in Iraq numbered more than the 9/11 civilian loss we were supposedly responding against.
    Les Hill

  4. I have a photo from 3/20/03 at a protest in Seattle of some folks holding a sign: "Sep. 1, 1939 . . . Dec. 7, 1941 . . . Mar. 19, 2003 . . . Days of Infamy"

  5. Maybe someday we will learn that war does not work to solve international problems anymore than beating up someone fixes a domestic dispute. War is evil. Only love can defeat hate.

  6. I agree with your list, and the dates others add. But I can remember the atmosphere in July-August 1945. I doubt there were a dozen Americans who would have condemned atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the time, given the extensive publicity given to Japanese atrocities against Chinese, Americans, Phillipinos, and other Asiatic peoples. This is not to justify those bombings, but they are understandable.

  7. The Japanese militarists/soldiers certainly did commit many atrocities, especially in China. And certainly the American bombings are understandable. But, still, there surely were ways the war could have been conducted without the U.S. committing the same sort of barbarities that were committed by the Japanese. As an American I am embarrassed about what the U.S. did just as my Japanese friends are embarrassed about the atrocities of the Japanese.

  8. Once again I deeply appreciate the comments received from an esteemed Thinking Friend in Kentucky:

    "Thank you, Leroy, for listing other days besides Pearl Harbor so offensive to our humanity. I suppose all peoples think of themselves as special and like to single out offenses against them, but we Americans seem to have an uncommonly difficult time acknowledging horrors we have perpetrated against others. You have put things in genuinely Christian perspective."

  9. Reading these dates, and thinking on others as well, I am reminded of the need for just wars, some which were exceptionally brutal, and some which could probably have ended earlier with a stronger strategy. I am also thankful for some of the unknown (not of US public interest) wars which have ended the barbary in the least of places - Thanks to Presidents Kennedy, Nixon, Reagan and Clinton for doing the right thing to prevent a bigger wars in the unknown places which did not affect US security.

  10. Focusing on days of "infamy" may be something like focusing on wedding days. We know that a wedding is just one moment in a relationship that started well before (usually), and ended, hopefully, long after. In the case of marriage, we usually celebrate the whole cycle. War is not nearly so happy, and the rationale not nearly so clear, so we typically highlight certain key points to the exclusion of understanding the whole.

    What does declaring a day of infamy mean, except that it is time to stop thinking? If nothing exists before December 7, 1941, then Americans can easily feel very smug about our role in WW II. However, once we look at the longer history of Japanese-American relations, things get more muddled. Yet, I believe we need to investigate these muddles, and attempt to understand them, if we are to prevent future "days of infamy."

    This certainly applies to September 11, 2001. Centuries of painful history lie behind that day. Until we can set it down, look at it, analyze it, and begin to understand it, we cannot move beyond it. The one thing that struck me most about the tenth anniversary was how totally raw the wound of that day remained for America. Well, we have not come to terms with the Civil War, a century and a half ago, so I suppose it is too early to expect much progress on 9/11, especially since it is part of a dynamic that is still very active today.

    Yet, what does it mean to be a Christian, if not to be seeking to be an agent of healing? Jesus taught us, "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God." If America, the strongest and richest nation on earth, cannot find the courage to be patient and kind in this time of fear, then who will? Jesus also said, "Pick up your cross and follow me." Not an easy instruction for American Christianity. So, for those who can, an all the more important goal.

    Let us begin with the knowledge that Ismael was the first-born son of Abraham, and Muslims are our fellow children of God. Just maybe the God beyond all gods is a little bigger than any of our visions. We learned algebra, algorithms and even Arabic numerals from the Muslims. They saved our ancient Greek heritage for the West to rediscover. Maybe it is time for a little alchemy to give birth to a dream of mutual respect and acceptance. We are more alike than many of us want to admit.

    We have made peace with Germany, Japan and even Vietnam. Any day we might get there with Korea. Things are better with Russia and China. We can do this. God is great!

  11. Well, LKS I challenge you to elaborate how the US could have conducted the war without aerial bombardment. Many writers and bloggers find it easy to make such a statement, however they never offer any realistic alternative. Perhaps you will be different in this regard. I eagerly await your thoughts on this matter.

    1. Hans, at the very least there is surely a way to conduct war without bombing civilians.