Donald Lathrop’s Memoir: Pearl Harbor

I was born on January 30, 1934.  Hence, I was 7 years and about 10 months old. I suspect my parents told me about it.  I think I was a bit young to understand the magnitude of the event.

Now I think it was terrible.  We spent a day at Pearl Harbor in January of 1986.  It was abundantly clear what that was all about by this time.  As I understand it, the commanding Japanese Admiral also didn’t think it was a good idea.  Just think about it.  The U.S. had so many more natural resources, plus people, etc.  Even for a country making a war, it was not a smart move.

I don’t recall a great deal about Pearl Harbor being taught in school at the time.  However, I would have been in 2nd grade then so learning to read and write, plus learning some beginning arithmetic was the primary concern of my education at the time.  I recall some history being taught in the 4th Grade.  However, it wasn’t until 8th grade that one of my teachers taught history and then again, I had history classes in high school.

I recall that Pearl Harbor was an enormous event once I began to have history taught in school.  I’m quite sure that event is associated with the whole history of WWII, as the beginning, as far as most Americans know.  They probably know little about Japan already fighting in China at the time.  On the other hand, we were taught at least a bit about Japan’s war efforts in the South Pacific, such as the Bataan Death March, leading up to say Iwo Jima and beyond. Then we began to wonder what it would be like to invade Japan’s main islands.  It was widely conjectured that we would lose a million Americans in such an invasion, but now there are some reports that U.S. chief military officers felt perhaps much less than 100,000 U.S. lives would be required.

At any rate, months before the Hiroshima bombing, the Japanese were trying to surrender but maintained they wanted to keep their Emperor.  Oddly, months later, they were able to as I guess the U.S. wanted to end the war before the Soviet Union stood to gain much from entering it.

On use of the Atomic Bomb.  It’s hard to say.  I think the poll numbers make sense, with more younger people thinking it was wrong, than older people.  There’s much more information available today about the threat of any nuclear war.

I recall being at my grandmother’s house, with her and my family members present when the news came over the radio that the Atomic Bomb had been used on Hiroshima.  The reaction was generally positive.  I had two cousins in the navy at that time and the bombing made it much more likely that they would come home alive.  It was only later that some second thoughts may have occurred after pictures from the results of the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki began to become widely available.

Donald Lathrop: Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Berkshire Community College