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Remembering December 7, 1941
In December 1941, I was a member of the Junior Society of New York’s Temple Emanu-el. On Saturday evening December 6, 1941, the Junior Society held a formal dance. I was within a month of my 18th birthday and the dance was the first time I wore formal dress. I actually wore an overly-formal, white tie and tails outfit, actually a hand-me-down. After the dance, all of us gravitated to 52nd Street, at the time New York’s café society center. Some of us stayed in one of the cafes until about 2:00 A.M. I got to bed at about 3:00 A.M. We were carefree.
I must have slept until 3:00 PM Sunday December 7. The next thing I knew, a Junior Society friend was shaking me. “Wake up,” he said, “the Japs have bombed Pearl Harbor!” Almost immediately, I knew that the lives of all of the young men in our age group had irrevocably changed. A group of us found our way to Times Square where a huge, stunned crowd had gathered. All of us were watching the electric moving sign on the Times building which was doling out whatever meager information was available. We did not know for years the full extent of the damage Japan had wrought that morning, eight battleships, three cruisers and three destroyers damaged or sunk, 188 aircraft destroyed (almost all on the ground), and 2,402 Americans killed.
After a while, we gravitated to Emanu-el at Fifth Avenue and Sixty-fifth Street, and hung around in an available room. All of the men were of the age, 18-25, that would be the first to be called to serve. The girls stood around saying very little, but they clearly understood the situation. What a change from the frivolity of dressing up for a dinner-dance the evening before and the stark realization that some of us would not survive the war and that others would be permanently impaired by the injuries sustained in battle.
My situation was different from the other men. I had already made known to the Hebrew Union College (HUC) that I intended to enter in September. This meant that my draft classification was 4-D, divinity student exempt from service. In 1944 I had doubts about wanting to continue at HUC and volunteered for the army, but was turned down because of a minor back problem that has never bothered me since.
The United States was unprepared for the disaster in spite of the fact that we had credible warnings that the Japanese were planning something that would drastically affect US-Japanese relations, but complacent US officials ignored them.
Once again, the United States has been warned and once again has elected complacency in the form of sanctions (that the President seeks to weaken) to facing the peril that confronts us. From the start of the 1979 Revolution, enthusiastic crowds have responded to the Ayatollah Khomeini’s characterization of America as the “Great Satan” and Israel as the “Little Satan,” by chanting “Death to America; Death to Israel.” In the same spirit, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has asked rhetorically: “Is it possible to witness a world without America and Zionism? You had best know that this slogan and this goal is attainable and surely can be attained.” (Transcript of keynote address of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at the World Without Zionism Conference, Teheran, 26 Oct. 2005, <http://www.iranfocus .com/modules/news/article.php?storyid=4164>)
The real question before America is whether our cultural narcissism will prevent us from seeing that the Iranian leaders mean what they say. Even without a nuclear arsenal, Iran has been responsible for the recent assault on the British Embassy in Tehran, a mini-replay of the 1979 assault on the US Embassy, plotted the assassination of the Saudi and Israeli ambassadors to the United States, and engaged in numerous other terror acts either directly or through client-proxies. These include the killings at the Mykonos Restaurant in Berlin (whose convicted killers were released by the German government in 2007), the bombing of the Beirut US Marine Barracks killing 241 servicemen, the Khobar Towers bombing in Saudi Arabia killing 19 US servicemen and wounding 372 of many nationalities, the bombing of the Buenos Aires Jewish Community Center, killing 87 and wounding 100, and many more such attacks.
If the Iranian regime can act so brazenly at a time when they have yet to possess nuclear weapons, can anyone believe they will act with greater restraint if and when they acquire a fully operable nuclear arsenal? There is also the issue of whether the Iranian regime, headed by men imbued with an apocalyptic-messianic view of existence, might actually welcome a nuclear attack on the United States in the hope that the ensuing chaos and destruction caused by American retaliation would somehow hasten the “return” of the Twelfth Imam, the Shi’ite Messiah. Does this sound far-fetched? Of course it does, but apocalyptic messianism is not exactly the breeding ground of rational political calculation.