Saturday, December 07, 2013

December 7, 1941

In Robert Sherwood's fascinating and very detailed chronicle of the World War II years in his 934 page book, Roosevelt and Hopkins,  a drama was already unfolding in the White House on Friday and Saturday, December 5 and 6, 1941.

Isolationist Republicans were zealously pursuing any indication that FDR was aiding the Allies against Germany and Japan, certain that there was as yet no threat to North America. Also they saw political advantage in tapping into the still widespread disillusionment with World War I, as well as the small but influential constituency (which included Charles Lindbergh) that admired the Nazi system and saw it as the wave of the future.   But FDR and the Democrats believed that if England and Russia fell, America would face the combined and much increased might of the Axis alone.  FDR did all he could to aid England and Russia.  He also did all he could to mollify Japan and avoid open warfare.

But by December 5, it was clear that negotiations with Japan had broken down irrevocably (even though formally they continued), and that war was imminent.  Observing Japanese naval and troop movements, U.S. military intelligence expected Japanese attack in southeast Asia, probably Thailand. Though these were British and Dutch interests, the U.S. had warned Japan against attacking them. This would put FDR in a delicate position.  It meant the Allies would be at war with Japan, but since American forces weren't attacked, he couldn't count on political and especially popular support for the U.S. joining them.   Few analysts believed Japan would attack American bases in the Philippines or Hawaii because they thought the Japanese were too smart and cautious .

When Japanese planes attacked the Pearl Harbor base, the local commanders were so lax that all the ships were in port and the planes bunched on the runways. Hesitancy among military and civilian leaders in Washington seemed based on political fears.  General Marshall recalled that earlier that year, Republicans had created havoc with the military budget over an order for "overseas caps."

   The attack on December 7, 1941 devastated the Pacific fleet, and Japanese forces followed up with victories in the early months of the war. But in other ways, the Japanese had erred, tactically and strategically.  Tactically they concentrated on bombing ships and planes. Though it took time, these were replaced with more modern ships and planes. (The battleships were already obsolete for the oncoming war.)  But they didn't attack the actual base facilities, which remained intact and became important as the war went on.

Strategically, by attacking American forces without warning, and by killing many Americans--especially sailors trapped in their ships--they guaranteed that there would be full public support for the U.S. declaring war against Japan and its allies, including the principal threat, Germany.

When FDR went before Congress on Monday he reported that Japanese forces had attacked not only Hawaii, but Hong Kong, Guam, the Phillipines, Wake and Midway Islands in the Pacific.  U.S. ships had been sunk "on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu."

Within hours and days, all the Allies and all the Axis countries had declared war on each other. There would be many very dark days in the coming year.  But FDR was able to coordinate with Churchill and Stalin a titanic effort that eventually defeated the Axis powers, without warfare on the North American continent.  It was the full beginning to 44 months of the largest and most destructive war in human history, that transformed America and changed the world.

Today most know of it through movies made about it during and directly after that war, that simplified it.  Or through the novels and movies of the 1960s that looked at it through the lens of Vietnam.  Here's Sherwood's assessment.  After noting the massive war effort undertaken by the vast majority of Americans he noted that "morale did not become a vital consideration.  Morale was never particularly good nor alarmingly bad.  There was a minimum of flag-waving and parades.  It was the first war in American history in which the general disillusionment preceded the firing of the first shot.  It had been called from the American point of view "the most unpopular war in history"; but that could be taken as proof that the people for once were not misled as to the terrible nature and extent of the task that confronted them."

Friday, December 06, 2013

A Little Bit Extreme

The second of two huge winter storms is atop us now, and is forecast to spread across the country to Washington and New York on Monday.  It comes with no interval from the first, leaving a continuous week of frigid Arctic air.  There is hardly a corner of the U.S. not touched by the cold, if not snow, frozen rain and wind.

Four people died overnight south of us in California, and of the 9 deaths attributed to the weather nationally, 8 were from hypothermia and exposure.  In other words, old people and homeless people.

For us in our normally unchanging strip of coast, a weird burst of summer turned into the coldest temperatures I can remember here (with officially record lows for several nights), although we did have a cold and clear period early last winter, too.  It is all a reminder of vulnerabilities and preparations, as climate disruption jars weather patterns to the big and extreme.

By most standards, our cold temps aren't extreme--into the low 20s at night, with daytime highs in the low 40s or 30s. But this is very unusual here. We're not really equipped here for temperatures that go below freezing for a week at a time, any more than we are for hot temperatures for a week at a time.   Pacific Gas & Electric is already curtailing natural gas to Humboldt State, so the university buildings are not heated part of the time.  I assume they're starting with institutions first before curtailing gas to homes, but that's the other problem: we have really lousy news media, and all the Internet seems to offer is pretty pictures with no meaning.  You really have to search to get an actionable idea of what's going on.

Temps are usually in the mild range even in winter here, so 60s/50s in the dry seasons become 50s/40s in the wet winter.  So there are a lot of homes that depend on wood stoves for heat.  Probably not well insulated.  Practically no houses have basements.  We're just not adapted to even the extremes of western PA.  We have to wonder whether this is a taste of the future.

This storm will eventually touch much of the country, including Pittsburgh and Washington, which also make it different.  We usually don't experience this particular bond of weather.  Our exceptionalism is non-operative.

Right now it's cold and windy and rainy.  I guess it's not yet time to worry about how deep the water lines are (ours used to freeze up occasionally in PA.)  I do worry about the hummingbirds.  I'm seeing three of them around the feeders often these days.  They made it through last night, but the coldest night forecast is yet to come before temps start to head more towards normal on Monday.  Two of them seem abnormally frenetic, and the other seems abnormally torpid.

The first storm dumped an amazing amount of snow across the U.S. (and pretty far south in places), and this second storm is forecast to do the same.  Lots of problems in cities, on roads, flights cancelled, etc.  At least one of the bloggers at Weather Underground had to go back to 1950 to find a similar early winter storm pattern. This is happening in the contiguous U.S. around the same time that the UK and western Europe gets hammered by ferocious storms and cold.

Thursday, December 05, 2013


R.I.P. Nelson Mandella, a hero of our time.

Here's a Washington Post piece on Mandela's importance to a young student named Barack Obama, and President Obama's emotional statement on Mandela's life.

President Obama running away from Obamacare

President Obama spoke about the growing income divide and deterioration of the middle class in America on Thursday.  He ended his remarks talking about the economic and other effects of Obamacare, officially known as the Affordable Care Act.

"  Of course, for decades, there was one yawning gap in the safety net that did more than anything else to expose working families to the insecurities of today’s economy -- namely, our broken health care system. That’s why we fought for the Affordable Care Act --  because 14,000 Americans lost their health insurance every single day, and even more died each year because they didn’t have health insurance at all. We did it because millions of families who thought they had coverage were driven into bankruptcy by out-of-pocket costs that they didn't realize would be there. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens couldn’t get any coverage at all. And Dr. King once said, "Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Well, not anymore. (Applause.) Because in the three years since we passed this law, the share of Americans with insurance is up, the growth of health care costs are down to their slowest rate in 50 years. More people have insurance, and more have new benefits and protections -- 100 million Americans who have gained the right for free preventive care like mammograms and contraception; the more than 7 million Americans who have saved an average of $1,200 on their prescription medicine; every American who won’t go broke when they get sick because their insurance can’t limit their care anymore.

More people without insurance have gained insurance -- more than 3 million young Americans who have been able to stay on their parents’ plan, the more than half a million Americans and counting who are poised to get covered starting on January 1st, some for the very first time.

And it is these numbers -- not the ones in any poll -- that will ultimately determine the fate of this law. (Applause.) It's the measurable outcomes in reduced bankruptcies and reduced hours that have been lost because somebody couldn't make it to work, and healthier kids with better performance in schools, and young entrepreneurs who have the freedom to go out there and try a new idea -- those are the things that will ultimately reduce a major source of inequality and help ensure more Americans get the start that they need to succeed in the future.

I have acknowledged more than once that we didn’t roll out parts of this law as well as we should have. But the law is already working in major ways that benefit millions of Americans right now, even as we’ve begun to slow the rise in health care costs, which is good for family budgets, good for federal and state budgets, and good for the budgets of businesses small and large. So this law is going to work. And for the sake of our economic security, it needs to work. (Applause.)

And as people in states as different as California and Kentucky sign up every single day for health insurance, signing up in droves, they’re proving they want that economic security. If the Senate Republican leader still thinks he is going to be able to repeal this someday, he might want to check with the more than 60,000 people in his home state who are already set to finally have coverage that frees them from the fear of financial ruin, and lets them afford to take their kids to see a doctor."

Monday, December 02, 2013

The Dreaming Up Daily Quote

"Again and again, I find myself saved, in words--helped, allowed, returned to possibility and hope."
--Robert Creeley

Photo: accompanies an AP story about President Obama doing his Christmas shopping at a local bookstore.  And it sounds like some serious shopping, too.  And looking pretty cool doing it.