World War II Vets Would Not Have Stood for President-Elect
By Frank Gormlie / OB Rag
Remembering this December 7th – Pearl Harbor Day – has special significance for us today in this new Era of Trump. The 75th anniversary of the attack by Japanese forces on US air and naval power in Hawaii in late 1941 finds few surviving members still with us. And our collective memory of “the day of infamy” – as President Franklin Roosevelt declared it the next day before Congress – which pushed the country into World War II – has all but faded.
But yes, we need to remember this day – and all that it represents – all the contradictions of that historic moment and context. And all the parallels from that day to ours today.
Yet this day does have a special meaning for us now – not because Trump has praised veterans and made many vaporous promises to them, and not because of the new bellicosity of the president-elect – when he declares he knows more than the generals, or that he has now a new “Gen. Patton”, or that he’s going to build the military back up – no, none of these.
The special meaning arises because an entire generation of Americans 70 to 75 years ago – including my father – marched off to fight German Nazism, Italian Fascism and Japanese Imperial expansionism – along with millions of Allied soldiers – with many dying in those battles.
The generation that fought those battles, against those systems of authoritarian militarism – generally called “fascism” – would not be pleased at all to find out that now a man considered by many to represent a neo-American fascism is about to take over the helm of the largest power on earth. (This is not hyperbole, it’s a politico-social definition.)
These World War II vets – if they were still alive – would think their sacrifices were all for nought if they knew that now the very foundations of American democracy they fought to defend were being so dastardly threatened by what Trump represents.
My father, George Frederick Gormlie, was not at Pearl Harbor the day thousands of American lives were lost. But he was among the very first US troops to be shipped out to the Pacific right after. Within about two months of the attack at Pearl Harbor, George was on a troop liner steaming off from Massachusetts to Australia – where they then thought the Japanese would attack next.
Over the course of the next 4 years, George fought as a young Army officer in numerous battles, including the slaughter at Guadalcanal (memorialized in the film “The Thin Red Line”), in the Philippines, and in other bloody island fights. He did survive, although he was wounded several times – including one incident where he led the third charge against an enemy machine gun nest – the other 2 being unsuccessful. He caught malaria, which he carried with him for decades and when he returned home, he never talked about what had happened, what he had seen and experienced. At least not to us civilians around the house. And not during later years either as his health failed, finally taking him at the age of 60.
My father, a career Army officer, wasn’t a militarist; he didn’t own any guns, never taught me to shoot one, never tried to glorify his uniform – and didn’t particularly like to watch WWII war movies. He stayed in the Army through Korea and more tours during the fifties, finally retiring to the family house in Point Loma.
My mother – who spent most of the war in San Diego – had a few stories about life during those times; the ubiquitous black-outs where everybody had to cover their windows – preparing for the Japanese invasion that never came, the explosion of life in downtown San Diego where a mix of sailors, marines and war-industry workers – including many women – were the human catalyst of changes to the city.
However, one thing my mother never discussed was the disappearance of all the Japanese-Americans throughout San Diego – the internment of an entire people in barbwire-ringed “friendly” concentration camps.
This disgraceful element of our World War Two heritage also has special significance for us now, as Trump surrogates talk openly of internment camps for Muslims. And as Trump’s threats against Muslims today echo Hitler’s campaign against Jews in Germany – and throughout Europe – we have to be especially mindful of this historic juncture.
As we view the few Pearl Harbor survivors and listen to their stories of horror, we need also to remind ourselves of another “America First” movement that was mobilized during the late Thirties and very early Forties. Made up of isolationists, Nazi-sympathizers and arch-conservatives – this earlier version of Trump’s reincarnation – prevented our country to fully take on the fight against fascism until late 1941 – after the rest of the world had already suffered the onslaught of the war machines for years.
So, yes, as we honor the few still with us and the dead that fought in that war – the last good war – we need to understand the depths of the patriotism that sent Americans off to foreign lands to fight and die, that today, there is a need for another type of patriotism, the kind that fights domestic enemies – the kind that understands the liberal traditions of our flaying democracy, the free press, the right to free speech – which does include the burning of an American flag, according to the US Supreme Court – the right to freely associate, the right to be free from religious persecution, tolerance for others, the general good of civil society ….
We need a new patriotism that can mirror the patriotism of the Pearl Harbor vets, one that understands that Donald Trump is a threat to our democracy, that he represents what we can clinically call a new American fascism, a patriotism that will stand up, either in the streets, or in Congress, or across our cultural and political worlds – to this threat.
This is how we can honor Pearl Harbor today, we can honor our veterans who stood up to fascism by standing up to today’s version. Those vets would have seen what Trump is and represents, his lies, his bluster, his buffoonery – and they wouldn’t stood for him. They would not have stood up for him, they would have stood against him.
And that’s what we can do today to honor the dead and survivors of Pearl Harbor.