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2017-12-07

MyBias, Have we learned a lesson?

By Bev Barr, BCC Editor

Every year I observe Pearl Harbor Day. I don’t “do anything” specifically — other than think about the eventful day when we were attacked by hundreds of Japanese aircraft and the consequences of that day in our history.
Pearl Harbor Day serves as a reminder to me that we-the-people — Americans — were caught off-guard by something that we should have been and could have been fully prepared for, that is if vital information had been disseminated in a forthright manner to the people who could use it and needed it.
Franklin D. Roosevelt said that Dec. 7 was “a date which will live in infamy” because of the shocking behavior of being attacked while seemingly still actively involved in negotiations with the Japanese. But that wasn’t entirely true.
Between Nov. 27 and Dec. 6, Washington and top ranks of the War Department knew with certainty that war was imminent, and yet they kept vital details of that discovery— including the day, date and hour of the attack — from the people who needed that information the most. Our elected officials and military leaders manipulated us, even while the Japanese took advantage of America’s sense of “fair play” and “trust.”
But the Japanese underestimated us, too. Our cultural differences reveal underlying cultural biases. Even though we Americans may adopt a cliché wholeheartedly – All’s fair in love and war— we don’t really mean it. We define acceptable rules of engagement based upon our values and our respect for human life itself. We think our rules are universally true and correct and we expect the whole world to comply — only to realize too late that our enemies (foreign or domestic) may not share even our most basic values.
We underestimated the Japanese, too, in so many ways. One underlying Japanese belief that shaped the way Japan waged war against us was a belief in a divine wind, “kamikaze” — otherwise known as the jet stream. In response to the Doolittle raids on Japan’s mainland, the Japanese military built and launched about 9,000 paper balloons with mounted bombs. The paper was made from mulberry trees and the balloons stitched together by schoolgirls. It took three or four days for a balloon and its bomb to reach the northern part of the West Coast of the United States, although most of them landed in the Pacific Ocean.
Most people consider the balloon attack a laughable failure, and it’s true that there were very few direct casualties from that stealth attack. Yet those balloons are still being found in remote areas of the West Coast today. Some refer to the balloon attack as “the first drone warfare” or “the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile attack,” as author Ross Coen described in “Fu-Go: The Curious History of Japan’s Balloon Bomb Attack on America.”
But, if divine intervention played a part in the war at all, it most surely played a part for us. It was a stroke of god-sent good fortune that American aircraft carriers were not docked in Pearl Harbor that day. For us to have had to rebuild and replace the aircraft carriers – not to mention the planes on those carriers – certainly would have changed the trajectory of the war as we know it, for those who fought it and for those who study it.
Reflection and contemplation are active processes that require a commitment of one’s time and energy, and are every bit as much a service to one’s community as parades, celebrations and memorials — without the photo ops. Contemplating our country’s historic battles for freedom is worth one’s effort, even if the only souvenirs that we come away with are greater understanding and appreciation of where and who we are now.