Wednesday, 8 December 2010

Pearl Harbour

Sixty years ago today, barely twenty-four hours after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbour in which 2,300 US servicemen were killed, Franklin Delano Roosevelt went before Congress to seek it's authority to declare war. He had this piece of paper - a first draft with his own handwritten amendments - in his hand. It contains the immortal words, 'a date which will live in infamy' (the original wording, with much less potential for immortality, having been, 'a date which will live in world history')

'Yesterday, December 7th, 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..

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory. .

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.'

Congress did give it's blessing and the Asian, Pacific and European theatres became linked in what could justifiably be called, for the first time, a world war. Churcills prayers were answered, and - forgive me but sometimes the old ones are the best - the rest is history.

Franklin 'We have nothing to fear but fear itself' Roosevelt is generally counted by historians as among the three finest presidents in US history, not just for his managing of the depression and his leadership during the war, but for his extraordinary courage in the face of personal hardship. It's not an exaggeration to say that he more or less woke up one morning, at the age of thirty-nine, without the use of his legs. He was diagnosed with infantile paralysis, and spent the rest of his life (he died at sixty-three) both fighting his disability, and hiding it from public view. A natural showman, he knew how to stage his rare 'standing' appearances so that his vigour matched his rhetoric - as here, in 1941, the year America entered the war, when he uses the prodigious strength of one arm to hold the rail, while calipers help to support his legs (you can just see the footstraps). While his entourage and the press were well aware of his disability, they observed the convention of the day, and ignored it. How times have changed.

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