Marvin's Window

Pearl Harbor's lesson: Pacifism does not make the world safer

I was really too young to understand what it meant when I looked out my window Dec. 7, 1941, at the worried looks on my parents' faces. They were talking with friends about the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that Sunday morning.

It meant we were thrust into WW II.

The good part for me was the steady work for my dad and mother. It was the end of migrant farm work and meant more money and living in one place. I heard talk I did not understand and watched older cousins and neighbor's sons disappear then return in uniform for a short visit before they were shipped to Europe or the Pacific.

It meant not seeing my father during daylight hours for more than a year as he helped build ships in Portland, Ore. Mother was gone most of the time, and I became responsible for three younger siblings.

I heard my parents and friends talk about the war around the card table on Saturday nights. "Roosevelt had to get us in this war to end the Depression," was said often. I heard people repeat the theme in conversation and listened as the radio news repeated the conspiracy theory. To this day, some still believe President Franklin Roosevelt "knew" about the Pearl Harbor attack. Some went so far as to say he helped arrange it.

Those were the conspiracy theories during WW II.

Congress declared war on Japan on Dec. 8, and Germany and Italy declared war on the U.S. on Dec. 9. FDR could not ask for a declaration of war on Hitler even after Pearl Harbor.

The U.S. had saved Europe from Germany in 1914-18 in the "war to end all wars" less than 20 years before Hitler invaded Poland in 1937 to start WW II. My aunts and uncles had little stomach for another war.

We almost waited too long, and had Japan not forced our hand, we could be speaking German today.

During WW I, the U.S. had 4.7 million men in uniform and we lost 116,000.

WW II cost 400,000 American lives. Russia lost 25 to 28 million, including 20 million civilians.

The U.S. armed forces reached 16 million during WW II, and four million veterans remain. The number of WW II vets is shrinking rapidly. It amazed me to see so many coming back home, storing the uniforms and taking up their lives. They talked very little about their experiences. I was in college with many of them and they had a single purpose to restart their lives.

Some of my most cherished conversations today are with the vets working to record the history of the Kingman Army Airfield and recognize the thousands of bomber gunners trained in Kingman. The island at Lake Havasu City was an extra airfield and a place for recreation.

I find it strange these few work so hard to record Kingman history most others want to forget. It is that airfield that provides the Industrial Park that is the lifeblood of the local economy.

The U.S. lost another 40,000 servicemen during the Korean (police action) War. Many of them were vets of WW II. The armed forces had been reduced to 5.7 million, and 1.8 million served in Korea.

We did not finish the job in Korea and face the danger of nuclear weapons in the hands of North Korea today.

Vietnam is the war most noted by fellow citizens today and is the only war this country did not win. It is sad that we dwell on that conflict and downgrade the armed forces and all their victories over 225 years that have kept us free.

We were in Vietnam for 11 years through presidents John Kennedy, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon. It was the fear that China would enter the Vietnam War, just as they did in Korea, that made those wars so difficult.

There is no such threat in Iraq. The Congress had reduced the armed forces to 2.2 million over the 15 years prior to Sept. 11, 2001. That meant our ground forces were thin because a majority of those 2.2 million were on Navy ships or keeping the Air Force flying. National Guard troops have filled the gap and saved our necks.

About 300,000 U.S. troops went to Iraq at the beginning and the number was reduced to 130,000 after Baghdad fell. About 160,000 troops are in Iraq today, with expectations of reducing the number after the Dec. 15 elections in Iraq. The Sunnis are expected to vote in large numbers and join the political process this time.

The death count has passed 2,100 since Operation Iraqi Freedom was launched in March 2003. Our U.S. Marines lost more the first day of the invasion of Iwo Jima in WW II. Nearly 6,000 Marines were killed in the month it took to secure the island and its key airfield. Most Americans do remember the famous photo of the flag raising on Iwo Jima.

We all want to see our troops home. But we should remember that 37,000 are still in Korea after 50 years. Troops are still in Germany, Italy and Japan after the end of WW II 60 years ago. President Clinton sent troops to Bosnia for a six-month stint about 10 years ago.

We have had troops deployed around the world since President Teddy Roosevelt's "Carry a Big Stick" policy following the Spanish American War in 1898.

Remember Pearl Harbor. The lesson is pacifism makes the world more dangerous, not safer.

Marvin Robertson writes a weekly column for the Miner.