George Will notes this morning that the 10th anniversary of Pearl Harbor passed quietly in 1951, with little public or media notice. It is quite true that the growth of insatiable mass media, and the sentimentalization of American life in the post-War era that is difficult to quantify but is nonetheless evident, would compel the excess of pathos we’re going to see played out today on TV. If I have to sit through one more interview with Tom Brokaw furrowing every wrinkle on his hangdog face I’m likely to break my TV.
It is significant, by the way, that in the wall-to-wall coverage we’ll see today, we won’t see two things: the media have assiduously avoided showing the awful video of the people who jumped from the towers, and we won’t see any video of the throngs in the Arab world dancing wildly in the streets celebrating on 9/11. Both might stir up politically incorrect sentiments. Instead, as Mark Steyn points out, we’re going to be treated to a lot of self-loathing equivocation that will avoid recognizing pure evil for what it was and still is.
This points to the most egregious theme that has been playing out for a while now, and will be reiterated again today with an exclamation point: that Pearl Harbor generated a time of national unity in World War II—remember, we “all came together” then—but that “we” (meaning President Bush and the mean Republicans) have squandered the potential for an extended period of national unity and global sympathy after 9/11. Nonsense. I was certain at the time that it wouldn’t take very long for the Left to channel its inner Noam Chomsky; besides, Michael Moore’s hoagie budget was running low.
But the familiar image of “national unity” and spontaneous choruses of Kumbayah in World War II is overstated, and in a few respects wrong. Fred Siegel’s terrific and underappreciated book, Troubled Journey: From Pearl Harbor to Ronald Reagan, reminds us that “Wartime surveys taken by the Army revealed that troop morale was dangerously low.” The isolationist America Firsters did not go away, but, like 9/11 Truthers today, spread the word that FDR was complicit in a plot to bring about Pearl Harbor: “They were convinced that a devilishly clever Roosevelt had maneuvered the country into an unnecessary war against the wrong foe just as he had used his wiles at home to foist the alien measures of the New Deal’s ‘creeping socialism’ on an unsuspecting nation.” A number of Republicans complained openly they while we should of course fight Japan, why are we fighting in Europe? (Shades of the criticism of our war against Iraq a few years ago.) In the 1942 off-year election, Republicans picked up 44 seats in the House, reducing the Democratic majority to just seven seats—hardly a ringing endorsement of FDR. In fact, Democrats had targeted 115 House members for defeat explicitly for their isolationism; 110 were re-elected.
And partisan rhetoric? How about Henry Wallace, FDR’s pro-Communist Vice President, who in the 1940 campaign said: “Every Republican is not an appeaser. But you can be sure that every Nazi, every Hitlerite, and every appeaser is a Republican.” His campaign slogan was “Keep Hitler Out of the White House.” Yes, that was before the war started, but it prefigured FDR’s 1944 State of the Union speech where he implied that a Republican victory in that year’s election would mean installing fascism at home and squandering our progress in the war against Hitler.
Personally, I always thought we should observe VE and VJ Day, rather than Pearl Harbor Day, and maybe we should make a new holiday now, to be called “Special Forces Day,” on May 1 (a nice counterpoint to May Day) to mark the day we bagged Bin Laden. Actually, I always send an e-mail to a few friends every August 6 with the subject line, “Happy Hiroshima Day,” as a deliberate politically incorrect gesture amidst what has become another occasion for leftist garment-rending. Which suggests a nice social experiment to try out in our post-9/11 world. Next time you hear some lefty say something along the lines of “it’s our fault” or “we had it coming on 9/11,” just say, “Yeah—just like the Japanese at Hiroshima,” and sit back and watch the reaction. Because as we all know you can only use that argument on America.