Tag archives: President George HW Bush

The Pearl Harbor Attack—December 7, 1941: A Date Which Will Live in Oblivion?

by Robert Morrison

December 7, 2011

Defense Sec. Leon Panetta has issued a commemorative message to the survivors of Pearl Harbor. It might better be called Leons Amazing Whodunnit. The secretary waxes poetic, calling the generation that fought World War II the greatest generation and lauding their heroic sacrifice. He thanks them for their courage and steadfastness. This is entirely appropriate.

Theres only one thing missing: Nowhere in Panettas paean to the vets does he mention why this date, which President Roosevelt called a date which will live in infamy, should be remembered. He never mentions that the attack was staged by air and naval forces of Imperial Japan.

Now, if you are a modern Secretary of Defense, you must remember always that America has had a close and cooperative alliance with democratic Japan for more than half a century. You doubtless recall as well that we have U.S. armed forces stationed in various bases in Japan today. You will also want to keep in mind the fact that Japan looks to us for military assistance in the event that North Korea attacks South Korea, or China attacks Taiwan. And we rely on Japan for vital intelligence about movements in Asia.

All of that is well and good. It would have been quite fitting to denounce only the infamy of Japans militarists of 1941. For more than twenty years prior to that dastardly attack, the forces of democracy in Japan were under assault at home. Leaders of Japans parliamentary government were systematically targeted for assassination by young fanatics in the military. Those militants were given encouragement and shelter by these same senior militarists.

No good purpose is served by failing to point these things out. When Saigon fell to the Communists in 1975, the hapless President Ford said this is no day for recriminations.

Ronald Reagan, soon to mount a powerful challenge to Ford, reportedly said: What better day?

So it is today. What better day to recall that on this date in 1941, air and naval forces of the Empire of Japan staged a bloody attack on a nation with whom they were at peace? Failure to point these things out today leads us to underestimate the miracle of our genuine friendship of today.

Former President George H.W. Bush spoke to the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen several years ago. He said the most underreported story of the second half of the Twentieth Century was the renewal of close friendship between the American and Japanese peoples. Bush told the Mids they could not imagine the hatred that existed toward all Japanese in the Second World War. As the youngest naval aviator in history, Bush described his plane being shot down by the Japanese over Chichi Jima.

As the waves pushed his inflatable boat inexorably toward that Pacific island, Bush described how he frantically paddled to get away. He knew that captured American fliers were tortured, killed and eaten there. Crying and puking, he said, he thanked God when he saw the submarine USS Finback surface to rescue him.

President Bushs remembrance was of vital importance to those Midshipmen. Within the Brigade of Midshipmen that listened attentively to him that night were several cadets from the Japanese naval academy. Also in attendance were several exchange officers from todays Japanese Navy.

My own family cherishes the friendships we have with foreign exchange officers at the Naval Academy, including those from Japan and Germany. Those nations were our bitterest foes in World War II. We have reached out to our foreign friends, as well as to those Midshipmen who come from newly independent navies of the former Soviet Union.

Peace and reconciliation are sweet rewards of American victories. They are the fruit of peace through strength. Nothing is served, however, by memorial messages that dont memorialize. Amnesia is never a good policy. Mr. Secretary: There is a who in this whodunit!

For a Peace Prize: George H.W. Bush

by Robert Morrison

October 7, 2009

We are approaching the twentieth anniversary of the Fall of the Berlin Wall. That year, 1989, deserves to go down in history with 1648, the end of the Thirty Years War in Germany, 1815, the fall of Napoleon, 1914, the outbreak of the Cataclysm we know as World War I, and with 1945, the end of World War II that led to the tragic division of Europe. The Heritage Foundation this week presented an important conference on the Fall of the Wall and its meaning today.

I want to focus on just one portion of that vital conference: the Reunification of Germany.

Ambassador Klaus Scharioth. the urbane and witty diplomat assigned to Washington by the Federal Republic of Germany, paid fulsome tribute to the United States for helping his country achieve reunification. He thanked Americans for the 60 million young servicemen and women who had helped to protect Germany from Soviet aggression for forty-five years. I was stunned to hear that amazing figure. That heroic and generous contribution by America is not something we need to apologize to anyone for.

Ambassador Scharioth also noted how the Hungarians and Czechs helped greatly to bring down the Wall. The liberalizing communist regimes in those countries had opened their gates to East Germans desperate to escape the Workers Paradise in the Soviet puppet state behind the Iron Curtain. The ambassador recalled the important work of West German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, who never wavered in his devotion to reuniting his beloved land. Most of all, Ambassador Scharioth credited President George H.W. Bush with steadfast support for bringing down the Wall and peacefully reuniting Germany.

The former President is famously modest, perhaps too modest. As a boy, his dad, Prescott Bush, used to quiz him on his report card. How are we doing in claims no more? The elder Bush, a U.S. Senator from Connecticut, was referring to the portion of his sons prep school report that gave a high mark to any young lad who claims no more than his share of attention. Young George always scored high in claims no more.

Consider the world of the 1980s. For some of those years, millions of people in the U.S. and Western Europe really feared that Ronald Reagan would stumble into World War III. They watched films like The Day After, a made-for-TV, made-for-terrifying-us-all movie that purported to show the after-effects of a nuclear war in Kansas.

Yes, by 1989, when George H.W. Bush took office as President, the fears of nuclear war had largely abated, thanks to President Reagans steady strategy of peace through strength. But there were still tensions. The Berlin Wall symbolized those tensions.

It took infinite skill and tremendous presence of mind to manage the end of the East-West confrontation that had been a daily fact of life since 1945. George Bush had that skill, that courage, that much-lampooned prudence.

If, in 1988, candidate George Bush had said: Id like to preside over the Fall of the Berlin Wall, the peaceful reunification of Germany, her incorporation into NATO as a free and democratic state, and I propose to do all of this without firing a shot, without alienating our allies or breaking relations with the Soviets, the reaction would have been one of stunned silence. The gray beards and chin strokers of the chattering classes would have pronounced Bush a madman. Alarmed, they would have said: Hes even worse than Reagan!

Yet, the magnitude of Bushs achievement is there. He managed all that so calmly, so prudently, that it seemed the most natural and unavoidable of conclusions.

Britains staunch Margaret Thatcher did not want Germany reunified. Francois Mitterrand did not want a new great power to challenge Frances preeminence in Europe. The Soviets did not want it. The Poles did not want it. Even the West German Socialists did not want it.

So, how did it happen? America supported her stalwart ally. President Bush backed up with American resolve Chancellor Helmut Kohls yearning for unity. And he did so for the most American of reasons: We had given our word to the Germans and the world for forty years. When the time came to end the division of Germany, the United States would be there. The time came in 1989.

For this, President George H.W. Bush clearly deserves a Nobel Peace Prize. They have been given for far, far lesser achievements. As we celebrate twenty years of peace in the heart of Europe, as we recall that two world wars were fought in the heart of Europe, we can all be grateful to the skillful statecraft, the personal modesty, and the honoring of promises that characterized the brilliant diplomacy of this very American hero.