Wednesday, December 7, 2016
The Briefing 12-07-16
Tags: Audio, Fake News, Late Night Television, Pearl Harbor, WWII
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not be in its final form and may be updated.
It’s Wednesday, December 7, 2016. I’m Albert Mohler and this is The Briefing, a daily analysis of news and events from a Christian worldview.
A date that still lives in infamy: Remembering the attack on Pearl Harbor 75 years later
Seventy-five years ago today at 7:48 a.m., Hawaii Time, forces of the Imperial Japanese Navy attacked the American Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor in a surprise attack that formerly marked this nation’s entry into what became known as the conflagration of World War II. The attack that took place 75 years ago today was the brainchild of Japanese Naval Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, and he had planned it while not believing that his nation would actually launch the attack before it would inform the United States government that it was declaring war. But as it turns out, others in the Japanese Imperial Naval staff conspired so that the attack actually took place before the Japanese diplomats delivered the announcement of the declaration of war.
Addressing a joint session of Congress asking for a Congressional declaration of war, President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously described December 7, 1941 as a date that will live in infamy, and that date still lives in infamy now just 75 years later. But that just 75 years reminds us that we are now looking at the fact that there are fewer and fewer veterans both of Pearl Harbor and of World War II in our midst. And we also are taken back to a moment of moral clarity in the United States to which many Americans now look with a certain kind of fondness, remembering that there was a time when the issues were crystal clear in this country, and what that brought about was an amazing moment of national unity.
The surprise attack on Pearl Harbor brought about massive casualties. By the end of the day there were about 2,000 American dead, another almost 1,000 wounded. But of course that was just a down payment on the carnage that would come in what was known as World War II. And from a historical perspective, it is still amazing that the Japanese pulled off this stealth sudden attack without any knowledge of the American government nor any detection by massive naval forces of the United States in the Pacific area. Thus it was at 7:48 on a Sunday morning; it was considered at that time a beautiful, absolutely sunny Sunday morning. People in Pearl Harbor and in Honolulu were going about their business as usual, and those on the continental United States were now well into their Sunday by the time the surprise attack began.
The numbers, especially by the scale of World War II, were absolutely amazing. 353 Japanese aircraft were launched from six aircraft carriers that had traveled undetected across most of the Pacific in order to launch the attack on Pearl Harbor. And the casualties on the American side in terms of ships were also remarkable: 18 major U.S. ships were sunk or run aground by the end of the day. That included several of the most important battleships of the United States Navy. The Naval casualties of Pearl Harbor included no less than five of the most important battleships the Navy had at the time. We also now know in retrospect that Pearl Harbor also basically brought an end to the age of battleships and announced the impending age of the aircraft carrier.
Military historian John Keegan would later describe Pearl Harbor as the most stunning and decisive blow in the history of naval warfare, and yet we also have to note that even as it was Pearl Harbor that signaled the American entry into World War II, it also signaled the end of Japan, or at least the end of Imperial Japan and its military impulses. Because it was just a matter of a few months later that at a battle off the Pacific island of Midway, the United States Pacific fleet dealt what was now known to be a basically fatal blow against the Japanese Navy. It did not bring about the end of the war, not by a long shot, but it did signal a decisive shift in terms of the naval superiority in the Pacific theater. At the battle of Midway all four major Japanese aircraft carriers were sunk—all four of them. That included four of the six carriers present just a few months earlier at Pearl Harbor.
I stated carefully that December 7, 1941 can date when America entered militarily directly into the war we know as World War II. But we have to acknowledge that the war by that time was already well underway. In the European theater, the Allies have been fighting against Nazi Germany, but it’s also fair to say at that point Nazi Germany appeared to have the upper hand. In the Pacific theater, militaristic Imperial Japan had been invading its neighbors trying to expand what it called its sphere of economic influence. It was a savage brutality that included attacks upon the nation of China and elsewhere, and by the time you get to December 7, 1941, many people thought that Japan just might be invincible in terms of its imperial ambitions throughout much of Asia, if not beyond.
By the time you get to 1941 as well, Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany had entered into a pact. The Axis powers included both Germany and Japan, those were the two major players, along with allied nations, and after Japan attacked the United States on December 7, 1941, just four days later Nazi Germany declared war on the United States as well.
We now know in terms of historical context that America was deeply divided in the period between World War I and World War II between those who saw Nazi Germany as inevitably a foe America would have to fight and those who were identified as isolationists, who called for the United States to stay out of all foreign wars, having had made that pledge in terms of World War I and then being brought into the war against American will, and then at that point deciding that America would never do so again. That was a pledge, that was a determination that was not long to last.
Even as December 7, 1941 donned, there were millions of Americans who thought it just might be possible for America to stay out of World War II and to be a noncombatant state, that even after the United States, through the Lend-Lease program with Great Britain and other forms of assistance, was covertly in the war and even after the United States acknowledged grave vulnerabilities and at least at the highest echelons of the government and of the military recognized that it was a question of when America would be drawn into the war, not if.
One of the interesting things for us to note is that it is now apparent that the isolationists were operating on a very naïve understanding of the war and of the fact that America had deadly enemies. This brings to mind the statement often attributed to Leon Trotsky, one of the leaders of the Bolshevik revolution in the Soviet Union. He said famously,
“You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you.”
That statement well described America on December 6, 1941. It was an undeniable fact by the next day. It still staggers the imagination to consider the death toll of World War II. Just in the Pacific theater, 4 million military dead on all sides, but about 26 million civilian deaths also directly attributable to the war. In terms of the total carnage of World War II, the numbers are even greater. The low end of the estimates are 60 million dead, the high end of the estimates may reach 120 million dead. The reality is the war was so savage and bloody and brutal that there is no way even today to have an adequate calculation of how many people died.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, an historian who also served as national security advisor to President Jimmy Carter, referred to World War II and to the 20th century of which it was a part as the Age of Megadeath. Furthermore, the British historian Eric Hobsbawm described the two world wars we know as World War I and World War II as the two great fault lines of what he called the Age of Extremes, the Age of Death.
But the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the larger lessons of World War II also point us back to the fact that that massive war was fought on what would now be considered very traditional terms. It was undertaken as nation against nation, eventually nations against nations. It was fought with traditional armies and navies. It was fought, of course, on many different ways, under many different terms across most of the earth’s surface at least being affected by World War II. But we look back to that now and we recognize that the wars America has fought since then have been very different wars. Every single military action subsequent to World War II undertaken by the United States has been fought and it has been in so many cases ended on anything other than the unconditional surrender that was brought about in both theaters of World War II.
Historians look back to World War II and refer to it as symmetrical warfare, that is the war had symmetry of nation-states and coalitions. We are now in the age of asymmetrical warfare, where the enemy may be someone with a bomb strapped to himself or herself rather than an army. And looking back to World War II, there was a moral clarity that was achieved only rarely in American history when it came to this kind of event. It was a moral clarity that within a matter of just a few weeks, if not days, after December 7, 1941 had gripped the vast majority of the American people. It was a moral clarity that identified the savage attack undertaken by the forces of Imperial Japan as being by any definition evil and the same in a different context of all the undertakings of Nazi Germany. In 1941 the Holocaust was not yet known. It was not even real to be yet denied.
Patterns of murderous oppression and racial superiority were already present in the teachings and in the actions of Nazi Germany, but the Third Reich had not yet come to the point in which it made what would be called the Final Solution a matter of national official policy. The same kind of racial superiority drove the ambitions of Imperial Japan. And back in 1941, by the time that year ended, the majority of Americans understood with that kind of crystal moral clarity that these were foes that could not be persuaded; they would have to be defeated.
That raises the interesting and troubling question from the Christian worldview as to what would now be required for Americans to reach a common degree of consensual understanding of a moral issue. It has been clear subsequent to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001 that there is not yet that kind of clarity on the part of the American people, nor for that matter on the part of the governing elites in this nation. December 7, 1941 and today the 75th anniversary of that date reminds us of the burden of history and all of us should remember that that burden of history right now is also a matter that remains with some still living among us.
As of the end of 2016, the Veterans Department of the United States government estimates that there are still 620,000 American veterans of World War II alive. But that same Veterans Department estimates that 372 veterans of World War II die every day. That is more than 2,000 World War II veterans dying every single week. To state the matter just in terms of biblical temporality, this is one of those last anniversaries in which there are likely to be many of the veterans of World War II who are still alive. Just do the math. An American sailor or servicemen who was 17 years old when Pearl Harbor took place in 1941 would now be 92 years old. A young person in uniform at age 17 at the end of the war would be just slightly younger at about age 88. This anniversary represents not only the burden of history, but also the burden of honor as we have a final opportunity to honor some of those who paid so much in order for Americans to have liberty now 75 years after Pearl Harbor.
There are other lessons on the 75th anniversary of Pearl Harbor. One of them was the missed opportunity on the part of military intelligence in the United States. We now know that enough data existed and was known by at least disparate parts of the U.S. government and its military that it should have been able to stitch together a knowledge that Imperial Japan was getting ready to launch some massive surprise attack on the United States. And there were clear indicators that that just might be on the Hawaiian naval base at Pearl Harbor. It is now also known that earlier in the morning as the air forces were unleashed on those aircraft carriers there were at least some indications in the early technology of radar that there was an attack imminent, and yet that was dismissed as being unrealistic.
This reminds us that sometimes historical naïveté can be a deadly naïveté. Military historians also point out that there seems to be a pattern among major military powers, and that is that they get ready to fight the last war. That was certainly true on December 7, 1941. Again, I point to the fact that the United States naval forces were largely concentrated in the assumption that it was battleships that would form the major power of any kind of navy, certainly an oceangoing Navy. But by the end of the war, the United States reigned supreme as a naval power and beyond that as a military, and even beyond that, as a political power in the world.
World War II, we now know in retrospect, actually marked the eclipse of the British Empire and other major forces in the world and led to the rise of the United States. But it also of course led to something else, and that was what became known as the Cold War, to a coalition of nations that came after the world was so shaped by World War II. And one of the things we now recognize is that a certain spirit of exhaustion set in at the end of that war that led once again to a very dangerous naïveté on the part of the American government and its people. We also now know that in retrospect World War II completely reshaped the world in terms of its political powers and alliances and we would not know the world today without the explanation of what took place in what became known as the Second World War.
We remind ourselves of the fact that Pearl Harbor as an attack was the brainchild of Japanese Admiral Iser Roko Yamamoto. He is quoted as having said at the end of the attack,
“I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.”
That’s a statement that is oft repeated, and it’s a statement that bears repeating. There is no actual historical evidence that Admiral Yamamoto said such a thing. Instead, the words are attributed to him in the 1970s film on the Pearl Harbor attack “Tora! Tora! Tora!” But we now know that regardless of whether Admiral Yamamoto said such a thing, the insight was real. What Pearl Harbor did was to awaken a sleeping giant, and it did indeed fill that giant with a terrible resolve. But that resolve also came with a terrible price.
Now 75 years later on December 7, not 1941, but the year 2016, we pause to remember all those who gave their lives, never seeing the year 2016 precisely because of their bravery and courage in service during World War II. And we also pause to remember the burdens of history and all of the questions that arise when we consider so monumental an event as the Japanese attack upon Pearl Harbor 75 years ago today. And we must also in this generation exhibit a resolve equal to that of the generation of World War II. Because the challenges to which we are called in the 21st century are likely to be equal if not more daunting to the challenge of that generation now 75 years ago. We now know that that generation was up to the challenge. The big question remains this: are we?
The real problem of fake news: Why does the Left give late night television a pass?
Next, shifting back to the United States and the battle of ideas, it is still clear that there is much to be learned from the controversy over what is now being called by so many in the media ‘fake news.’ Now a first stipulation, there is no shortage of what is actually, by any measure, fake news, and we certainly have seen that expanded and multiplied exponentially with the rise of social media and the digital age. We shouldn’t be surprised that when you make everyone a publisher, someone, if not many people, are going to be talking about things that simply aren’t true, and it becomes a particular responsibility for all of us to be careful in understanding whether or not we are talking about something that is real and not something that is artificial. But we’ve also been noting that what that is signaling is the fact that so many in the mainstream media that skewed so far left are also trying now to label as fake news what doesn’t meet their muster, either in terms of the media age or also of their political perspective. This is something we’re also going to have to watch.
Now we have a new way of dismissing media we don’t like. We simply refer to them as fake news. But there are several aspects of this for now that demand our attention. For one thing, in an article by Ari Fleischer, he was the former White House Press Secretary for George W. Bush, he points out that when you’re looking at the White House press corps, you’re looking at the most rarefied atmosphere of all. And if you fear that unrepresentative, well, let me just tell you some of the numbers Mr. Fleischer makes clear. There are approximately 750 reporters who hold White House credentials. But the White House briefing room seats only 49 and, as he writes,
“Occupied overwhelmingly by mainstream media reporters, with barely any assigned to the new dot-com world.”
Fleischer points to the White House briefing room as itself representative of the problem as he writes,
“The briefing room itself, the place where reporters sit, and the adjacent space in which they are provided offices reflect the power of the mainstream press, based largely on the media-consuming habits of the American people from decades ago. The Associated Press, ABC, NBC, CBS, CNN and Fox News, for example, sit in front-row seats that have their names on them. The Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the Washington Post and NPR sit right behind them. While approximately 750 reporters hold White House credentials, the briefing room holds 49 seats.”
And there is, he says, a huge reason why the mainstream press doesn’t want to lose any of its hold if not monopoly in terms of access to the White House. We’ve often discussed how the mainstream media skew far to the left. They come from the same schools and they hire themselves, and furthermore, they share a worldview that largely means that many of them do not have much interaction at all with the kind of Americans with whom they would disagree. The Democratic Party and its leadership have been especially close to the mainstream media, including many who are assigned the task of being reporters, not just opinion writers or editorialists. In 2013, The Atlantic reported that no less than 24 reporting journalists, not columnists or opinion writers, took positions inside the Obama Administration after President Obama had been elected.
But while we’re thinking about the problem with fake news and as we are admitting it’s not a fake problem, it’s a real problem—it’s just not the problem that is defined by the mainstream liberal press—we also have to understand that there is a pass that is given to others, in particular, the so-called news programs or comedy programs or some combination of comedy and news that take place in late-night television, those also skew far to the left, almost universally. Evidence of this comes in an article by James Endrst and he wrote it at USA Today. He wrote,
“But it’s clear who made it happen. It was Jon Stewart who took a basic-cable comedy, half-hour spoof of the news and turned it into a progressive, powerful and highly influential voice in American culture. The show won 23 Emmys during his tenure, was voted one of Time magazine’s 100 best TV shows of all time.”
But USA Today also notes,
“For many viewers, became a primary news source.”
Now just note carefully. You don’t see the left complaining about that. Upon leaving his program to his successor, that is, Trevor Noah in September 2015, Jon Stewart said,
“We were never cavalier about the twenty-two minutes of television we had. We might not have hit it every night. You can’t. But I feel like we brought it every night.”
Well, let’s be clear about what Jon Stewart meant. He and his colleagues did and now do attempt to bring it every night, and what they’re bringing is stinging left-wing commentary that is often presented as news. That represents another challenge to all of us in terms of intellectual honesty in our engagement with the culture and with the news media, we have to recognize that in an age in which there is now a controversy over fake news, we as Christians have a particular responsibility to make certain that we are not merely watching entertainment and taking it as news, whether we agree with it or disagree with it. And we also come to understand that there is no news source anywhere that does not operate from some kind of ideological perspective, and inevitably that ideological perspective is going to come through. That’s just a matter of intellectual honesty, but it’s the kind of honesty that seems to be sadly missing from our contemporary debate.