The Charlotte News

Wednesday, December 10, 1941


Site Ed. Note: The front page and "Terrible Blow" in the editorial column point out something which has been in history eclipsed, at least for Americans, by the attack of Sunday, the sinking of the British battleships H.M.S. Prince of Wales and Repulse off the Malayan coast this day, with a total of 3,000 men on board. Of those, 840 were killed, over one-third the death toll at Pearl Harbor. As a symbol, the Prince of Wales was a major bag for the Axis as it was aboard this brand new ship just four months earlier that Churchill sailed to Newfoundland to meet Roosevelt and where their meetings occurred which resulted in the formation of the Atlantic Charter.

The Japanese air corps, considered amateurish by the Allies, had struck again with decision just three days after the strike at Pearl. The result was the worst sea disaster yet of the war for the Allies and the first time ships of 35,000 and 32,000 tons respectively had been sunk by air assault.

Given the other reports of fighting in Manila and all along Luzon, along the Malay Peninsula and into Thailand, the evacuation of Wake Island, etc., the predictions being made just a few weeks earlier by columnists advocating a pre-emptive strike, that a war with Japan could be won in a matter of a month or two, were proving quickly to have been the stuff of Panglossian nonsense tending Pollyanna to appear a pessimist.

The one bright spot for the country was that the Axis had chosen not to exert itself at once in both theaters. Hitler couldn't move of course because of the "genius" he had displayed in attacking Russia with harbingers of the worst winter in memory staring him in the face, taking all of his troop strength away from England in the process. As it turned out, it was probably a necessary accord to assure Japan that Russia would not attack from its eastern front, in order to obtain from Japan the promise to attack in the Pacific and thereby tie down Britain and America elsewhere than Europe and North Africa. Thus far, Hitler could celebrate the immediate success of this plan. He had done his part for Japan by tying down Russia's forces in the west so that Japan could leave its home waters largely unguarded against Russia, its natural enemy. Hitler now could try to let his army rest for the winter and replenish itself.

The Russians, however, accustomed to the cold, had other ideas and continued to pound away at the invader to its soil.

These early air and naval successes of Japan, combined with the reverses of the Wehrmacht in Russia, led to speculation: Would the war at last be won by upstart Japan, with the Emperor and Tojo calling the shots to the rest of the world including Hitler, not the reverse? Would Russia be the victor in Europe, after all? Would Russia and Japan rule the world? Or would they, as uneasy bedfellows, fight it out to the death just as Hitler and Stalin were now doing? Who would rule the Chinese? Could Japan replenish itself sufficiently in its southern campaign to continue the war in China while acquiring and guarding the newly acquired possessions in the south? Who in the end was to rule America and Britain, Red or Yellow or both combined to make Orange?

"'Air Raid'" tells the story of the previous day's false reports which led to air raids along the east coast and evacuation of New York City amid a report of an inbound squadron of bombers. Had the country become jaded by such false alarms by this point? After all, they laughed uproariously after the Halloween stunt of Orson Welles. Who wants to be made a laughing stock by reacting as if the sky is falling to nothing overhead save the birds, themselves chirping unmercifully in derision at the crazy two-legged creatures scurrying for cover below? Did this very sort of reactive mentality against being made the butt of laughter help to form the mindset, as set forth in "At Hawaii", which led to the forces on Oahu not being prepared on Sunday, preferring golf to following the advice of their previous week's "war alert"? The preparatory exercise on November 14 had worked to spot and successfully intercept inbound enemy planes at sea; why didn't the real thing? Could the country no longer distinguish reality from fantasy in a world now impressed by the color of "The Wizard of Oz" and "Gone With the Wind", yet without sufficient appreciation of the prestidigitation of the old man behind the arras?

Page two shows a map of the Pacific theater. A larger map, also with flying distances, is on another page of today's newspaper. Note that the track of Nagumo's Task Force was considerably longer than the most direct approach to Hawaii from Japan, 3,500 miles. The northern route, plus the spout of the pump, caused the actual distance traveled to be about 4,500 miles. The Fleet averaged about 375 miles per day for four and a half hours short of twelve days.

Another piece on page two tells of the newsreel of the attack which held audiences in Charlotte spellbound just 54 hours after the fact. The film, however, could not enable the viewer to feel the percussive shock as the ground shook in an instant, to understand firsthand the grim attitude of resignation to death in a moment's blink and breath, to say good-bye to all in human fealty which was meaningful as the fight or flight mechanism inherent to the instinct of self-preservation grabbed unconsciously something deep inside while the disembodied hands and arms shook violently against the burning heat of the machine gun trying to bring down a skyward marauder mercilessly tramping its quarry as if no more than an insect in its sight, asking for extermination. The film, replete with soft drink and popcorn, playing to a darkened theater with insulating walls covered by curtains and that pervasive odor of antiseptic fluid, conveyed only the scarcest glimpse at the palpable reality which it sought to approximate to the senses in between the gates of still photographs, the sick sense of the dead reaching out as the living sought to survive. The reality was no film. The bullets, no popcorn. The blood, not in black and white. The screams clutching burning flesh, not in silence under music and alliterative narration. The shadowbox of puppetry had given way to that which cannot be communicated on film, death's faint receding glare, the dry, shrunken glaze of a spiritless body where moments earlier a life one knew spoke laughter and wisdom, fear and hope, determination and youthful ardor, all incongruously overseen by a Polynesian palm tree paradise in the quietude of a Pacific Sunday morning.

The shock had worn off; anger began to ripple among them to muster the need to do something in response. They would trundle down the dusty road to the city to volunteer.

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