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Ron Kaye: Learning the lesson of the 9/11 tragedy

September 10, 2011|By Ron Kaye

It was just before 2:30 in the afternoon of Sunday Dec. 7, 1941 when a New York radio station interrupted the broadcast of the New York Giants football game with a shocking news bulletin: The Japanese had staged a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii.

Broadcast of the game quickly resumed after the brief report. It was the same across America as NBC, CBS and other radio networks broke into Sammy Kaye’s Sunday Serenade, a performance of the “Inspector General,” an intellectual discussion of Canada’s role in the war in Europe — and then returned to normal programming.

There were occasional bulletin interruptions throughout the afternoon and evening, but it was not until the next day that the nation learned just how devastating the attack was.

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“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he began his famous 6 ½-minute speech to Congress that unified the nation.

He detailed Japan’s coordinated “surprise” attacks throughout the Pacific region and acknowledged there was “severe damage to American naval and military forces.

“I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.”

He concluded, saying, “always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.”

Within the hour, isolationist sentiment evaporated and Congress voted to declare war on Japan, and four days later to declare war on Germany.

The losses caused by Japan’s 400-warplane assault were terrible: more than a dozen ships sunk or badly damaged, 188 U.S. aircraft destroyed; 2,402 service personnel killed, 1,282 wounded.

Those who lived through that date of infamy have never forgotten what happened. It was seared into their memories by the words of the president, and it unified the nation for a long and painful four years of war.

Yet, by the 10th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was helping to build Japan into the dominant economic power in Asia, and Germany into the dominant economic power in Europe.

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