Few understand threat America faced in 1941
AT PEARL HARBOR last week on Dec. 7
, the 65th anniversary of the Japanese attack was solemnly memorialized
, with speaker Tom Brokaw eloquently praising the tremendous effort and extent of sacrifice at home, at sea and on the battlefields, to bring that conflict to its victorious end. A recent newspaper article reported that 49 percent of the peoples of the United States believe that the 9/11 terrorist attack on America posed a greater threat to our country than did Pearl Harbor. Few people today seem to have any real knowledge of the devastating threat facing this nation in the early years of World War II. As a veteran of that conflict, I would offer the following reminder.
THIS COUNTRY and its freedoms were never in danger of being lost to Saddam Hussein or the terrorists. Yes, they can hurt us, create devastating damage and death, but they do not have the capability or the military might to conquer and overrun our country and thereby take away our freedoms. This is not to belittle or downgrade the heroic efforts, and the extraordinary, tragic sacrifices of those serving in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan.
They are unquestioningly offering their lives, as have millions in our history who have served before them. We owe them our support, honor and eternal gratitude. As Brokaw said, hate the war if you must, but honor the warriors.
WERE WE prepared for World War II? In 1940, the United States had only a small professional force including, Army, Army Air Corps, Navy and Marines, consisting of fewer than 500,000 men. In 1939, at the time of the invasion of Poland, Hitler's Wehrmacht consisted of 2 million highly trained, fully armed and armored soldiers led by a highly skilled officer staff. In 1941, the Japanese army consisted of 1.7 million men, many of whom were skilled and battle hardened from fighting since the invasion of China in 1931.
In the months following Pearl Harbor, the entire free world was dangerously near to being overwhelmed, crushed by the armed forces of Japan and Germany.
BY 1942, all of Europe was under the domination of Hitler's armed forces from the Spanish border to the northern coast of France, east through Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Denmark and Poland. Crossing the North Sea, they occupied Norway. All were overrun by the blitzkrieg of Hitler's Wehrmacht.
Czechoslovakia and Austria were occupied in 1938. By 1942 the Germans had moved southward to Hungary, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy, and in the north Finland, then south on a line extending through the USSR from Leningrad to the outskirts of Moscow and south to the city of Stalingrad.
In North Africa, the Italians had occupied Ethiopia in 1935. By 1942, German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel's elite Afrika Korps controlled all of Libya and nearly half of Egypt.
By 1942, Japanese armies occupied the greater part of east Asia, including Korea, Manchuria, a band along the east coast of China extending nearly 500 miles inland. They occupied Formosa (now Taiwan), and further south they occupied Canton, Hong Kong, Burma and Thailand. They occupied what was then French Indo China, Malaya, Singapore, the Islands of Sumatra, Java, Borneo, the Celebes, the Philippines and most of New Guinea.
IN THE South Pacific they held the Solomon Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall and Gilbert Islands, and to the north the Marianas, including Saipan, Tinian, Guam and Wake Island. The outlook for the Allies was distressingly bleak in 1942.
Is any hostile group on the face of the earth today capable of that? Our enemies would do well to remember the words often attributed to Japanese Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto after Dec. 7, 1941: "I fear we have awakened the sleeping giant, and filled him with a terrible resolve."
Norman MacRitchie served in the U.S. Army during World War II as a B-29 aircraft radar mechanic. A retired mechanical engineer in civilian life, MacRitchie is a Honolulu resident.