Putting in­no­cent Amer­i­cans on trial

An avalanche of fed­eral fi­ats means al­most every­one is a law­breaker

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Ed Feul­ner By Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. His lat­est book is “What Works: Com­mon Sense So­lu­tions for a Stronger Amer­ica” (Zon­der­van, 2014).

Only five of the 335 men who sur­vived the un­pro­voked at­tack that sunk the USS Ari­zona on Dec. 7, 1941 re­main alive. Don­ald Strat­ton, 94, is one of them. He has added to the his­tor­i­cal knowl­edge of that day and the be­gin­ning of Amer­ica’s en­try into World War II in a new book, “All the Gal­lant Men: The First Mem­oir by a USS Ari­zona Sur­vivor.”

Typ­i­cal of so many men of that era, the book (writ­ten with Ken Gire) is less about Mr. Strat­ton, a 19-year-old kid from a tiny Ne­braska town rav­aged by the Great De­pres­sion, and more about the men with whom he served.

Ac­cord­ing to the book, to­tal casualties at Pearl Har­bor on that fate­ful day amounted to 2,403 dead and 1,176 wounded. Many of Mr. Strat­ton’s ship­mates lie in­terred in the bow­els of the Ari­zona, which still se­cretes oil, a con­stant re­minder to “never for­get.”

Peo­ple too young to have known men of that era, or who never asked grand­par­ents about their World War II ex­pe­ri­ence, will find in Mr. Strat­ton’s book a qual­ity that has de­clined in mod­ern times — mod­esty. “We were not ex­tra­or­di­nary men,” he writes. “Truth be told, most of us had en­listed be­cause there were pre­cious few jobs to be found where we lived.”

The iso­la­tion­ist spirit was strong in 1941. Here’s Mr. Strat­ton on the pa­tri­o­tism that over­whelmed iso­la­tion­ism af­ter the at­tack: “Love for coun­try welled up inside seem­ingly ev­ery Amer­i­can, com­ing out in the songs we sang, in the movies pro­duced, in the news­pa­per ar­ti­cles that were writ­ten. … We were or­di­nary men. What was ex­tra­or­di­nary was the coun­try we loved.”

Com­pare this sen­ti­ment to what we see in to­day’s movies, news­pa­per ar­ti­cles and songs. Mr. Strat­ton writes, “We loved who [Amer­ica] was, what she stood for. We loved her for what she meant to us, and for what she had given us, even in those mea­ger times.”

Peo­ple of that gen­er­a­tion were taught to be grate­ful for the lit­tle they had and not to be en­vi­ous of oth­ers, who might have more. That’s an­other con­trast with the envy-greed-en­ti­tle­ment spirit of our age.

There have been nu­mer­ous ac­counts of that aw­ful day, but few as per­sonal as Mr. Strat­ton’s. What comes through as one reads about the un­be­liev­able cru­elty of “smiling and wav­ing” Ja­panese pilots, as they rained death on a na­tion that was of­fi­cially at peace, was the hero­ism of young men who wit­nessed ex­plo­sions, fly­ing body parts, burn­ing oil, shat­tered me­tal and peel­ing flesh.

Where did that hero­ism come from? Th­ese were still mostly ado­les­cents whose pre­vi­ous bat­tles were over acne and get­ting a date for a Satur­day night dance. It is a ques­tion raised by his­to­ri­ans and com­men­ta­tors over the years. The an­swer is that their strength was in­stilled in them by par­ents and the cir­cum­stances of their lives. Do­ing with­out ma­te­rial things can force one to fo­cus on what mat­ters, such as de­vel­op­ing char­ac­ter and other virtues that seem in short sup­ply in to­day’s celebrity cul­ture.

“All the Gal­lant Men” is deeply per­sonal. Mr. Strat­ton still re­mem­bers the names of many of his ship­mates who died, as well as those who sur­vived. He brings them back to life as ghosts from the past, their fu­tures snuffed out by war.

To­day we are a di­vided na­tion. Noth­ing unites us. We pre­fer tear­ing down to build­ing up, and suf­fer for it.

Mr. Strat­ton’s book re­minds us of a bet­ter Amer­ica, an Amer­ica that was strong in char­ac­ter, not just mil­i­tary power. As pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump at­tempts to “make Amer­ica great again,” he might re­call that true great­ness is not found in ex­ter­nal pros­per­ity or mil­i­tary might alone. Rather, as Don­ald Strat­ton re­minds us, it comes from within.

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