The Charlotte News

Tuesday, August 19, 1941


Site Ed. Note: Today's page begins with a quite appropriate diatribe, inappropriate only in its considerable restraint, regarding Governor Broughton's ordering an investigation of the African-American men from CCC who went to Roxboro with baseball bats to break up the lynch mob formed outside the jail, but not lifting a finger to try to determine who was behind the mob itself.

That hypocrisy, of course, represented a very typical, though by no means uniform, reaction of politicians in the South of that time to such situations which pitted white constituents against black constituents. They knew of course that their voters were within these lynch mobs or at least were quite sympathetic to the ends sought by the mob, that the black community did not sway elections, especially in a one-party state such as North Carolina. Even though in those times the North Carolina governor could not succeed himself, it represented a stepping stone often to the Senate, or at least a comfortable return to private life after the four years was up. No need to spoil that nice comfortable future with something so unnecessary as trying to insure equal rights for all, including some accused rapist in a jail cell, by ruffling the feathers of the Ku Klux Klan. Why, no. That could mean political ostracism. Why, they might not put your name on a building. Head off to Nashville, instead, and tell them how progressive you are and how progressive your state is. That you want to build plenty of roads and schools.

Incidentally, the number of traffic fatalities for the first six months of 1941 in excess of those for the same period in 1940, 2,390, happens to be precisely the same number of men, women, and children killed in two hours on the island of Oahu, 111 days after yesterday's editorial and Herblock cartoon appeared in The News.

How did such a thing happen?

It is not that the Japanese warlords could have planned it such that precisely 2,390 people would die that morning. Indeed, some of the deaths occurred from exploding American munitions on the ground, after being hit by bombs from the air.

If you lean toward explanations in the realm of witchcraft or superstition brought into reality by some power of dark human will, or by some negative, confusing supernatural force within the world which goes by many names but which generally implies the Devil, then the spell, exacted with precision, equally applies to both the negligently driven automobile and to the very deliberate and intentional action impelling war. Why?

We can no more explain it than we can explain why Miss Briggs still had the handle of the china teacup on her finger as she died in the bombing raid over London back in the spring, as recounted by Dorothy Thompson's piece of this date.

We might speak poetically of the scales of human life: that the regard for life in those times had become so degraded, that there was such a fatalism afoot in the world after the World War, the 1918 flu epidemic, for instance, the Depression, the horror stories out of Europe and China, that, collectively, this fatalistic mentality did form a kind of devil of itself, some extra-human entity which manifested these sorts of dark coincidences--human consciousness collectively frazzled by deliberate barbarism to the point that such intersections between that which was deliberate and that which was accidental were bound to occur.

And, perhaps, there is something to that form of explanation, without probative evidence though it may be.

Or, perchance, the explanation might be made by application of the theory of extensionality--or at least with the notion in mind that mathematics deals with possible correlation between classes of objects as opposed to defining objects. Defining the objects under discussion by the common number involved, we might say that the attack on Pearl Harbor relates to the increase in automobile fatalities in the first half of 1941 over that for the first half of 1940. But that, standing alone, should we know anything else about these two apparently disparate classes of events, devolves to a meaningless, even ludicrous, proposition. For it would only make relational sense if the automobile fatality rate increase deliberately impacted the attack, and the death toll at Pearl Harbor was also a precisely controllable result by any man or group of men. While we don't know about the former, as we have to make room within the irrational for anything motivating such an attack or contributing to it, we do know that, rationally, the latter was not within the control of any human being or group of human beings, at least to any degree of precision. Thus, there is no relational description available rationally to embrace both events. Consequently, we must seek some correlation between classes of two apparently disparate events, if anything more than pure randomness exists between the coincident numbers.

Where is the correlative within the classes?

That is actually rather simple. The Japanese, as we have many times indicated, bombed Pearl Harbor to cripple the American Fleet in order to leave unimpeded their quest for booty in the Dutch East Indies, the Philippines, Malaysia, Burma, and Thailand, the quest primarily for oil, rubber, and tin, to continue their expansionist policy in China and generally throughout the Pacific.

Automobiles in 1941 also depended for their manufacture and operation on oil, rubber, and tin, even if at the time, of necessity, rubber substitutes were fast in the making.

So rather than attribute the coincidence to randomness, we might venture instead to say that, in light of the fact that the whole bloody affair at Pearl Harbor, indeed, that the whole bloody war, was about acquisition of territory and its contained booty, to build a greater Germany, a greater Italy, a greater Japan, and thus primarily about acquisition of oil, rubber and tin to keep the machinery of war going, there is a subtle connection between the grim identity of these two statistics.

By yet further extension, perhaps, we might say that we discover that coincidence now, 67 years later, for the very reason that we have not learned our collective lesson well enough through time. Indeed, the great majority of us seem to have learned the lesson scarcely at all, but continue to go apace down the road wasting precious resources, while now waging war to get more--all in the name of some strange concept of "freedom" and "democracy".

That the planet itself is not feeling too well these days is obvious. Katrina, the increase in frequency and fierceness of hurricanes and twisters over time generally, attest visibly to this notion. That the planet is not very well pleased with its human inhabitants taking at every turn indecorous advantage of its bounty, as if the present generation were the only one around worth saving--a bunch of greedy idiots waging war for oil--is also equally obvious and based on the same evidence.

That, the anthropomorphization of the planet itself, assumes, of course, an intelligence beyond that of our individual intelligence, either a collective living intelligence, or something at least beyond the empirically demonstrable world, something forming an entity which impacts things visibly.

It also assumes that the coincidence in the number has a meaning, has any correlation at all, and did not occur merely randomly, despite the correlatives present between the antecedent events producing each number.

But, what are the odds of randomness? If only 2,390 people existed in and around Pearl Harbor that morning and all were killed, that is one thing, increasing the odds of randomness, diminishing the probabilities of such a coincidence. But that of course is not even close to the case. If bombs had been dropped on particular targets which collectively only contained 2,390 people, that would be something else. But, of course that, too, is anything but the case. If the statistic on automobile accidents had remained hidden before the attack and had only been revealed and published quite publicly afterward, implying some sort of mystical connection, that would also, of course, devolve to silliness. One could come up, no doubt, with numerous subsets of numbers which come out to 2,390 and even bear on 1941--after the fact. Or, if the statistic had related to another year, not the first half of the same year in which Pearl Harbor occurred, the likelihood of randomness would be significantly increased, the probability of the coincidence being anything more than a random coincidence decreased. Or, if one of the numbers were a rounded number, an approximation, rather than a precise number. Or if the number were a relatively small number, say, 23, then...

But what is the probability of occurrence of a pre-published statistic finding coincidence in an event 111 days later which took precisely that number of lives, the same increase in number of lives taken during the first half of the same year by ostensibly unrelated accidents, yet both impelling events involving the same ultimate necessary material incidents for maintenance, and the latter event being one which arguably had more impact on greater numbers of people than any single event in the country's history?

Well, we are not fascinated too much by coincidence of numbers, other than as they reveal something sometimes about the human make-up and the fascination itself with numbers within a certain subset of human beings, that is how our subconscious minds might deploy singly or collectively to bring about such coincidences. For all of that remains in the realm of speculation. And, indeed, in this particular instance, the amount of deployment of the subconscious would itself be so astronomical in its force as to supersede anything in the realm of the ordinary of daily life. For who determined who would survive and who would die among the injured at Pearl Harbor? those among the many men of the U.S.S. Arizona and the U.S.S. Oklahoma who were trapped below decks when the ships capsized in the Harbor, the Arizona pulling 1,177 men to their deaths, the Oklahoma 429 more, or the additional 189 killed at Hickam Field?

Likewise, who determined who would live and who would die in those many individual automobile accidents in the first six months of 1941, accounting for that increase of 2,390 deaths over 1940?

Was it a random coincidence? What are the odds?

If there is a message in the coincidence, whether collectively brought forth by human consciousness or something beyond living human consciousness, perhaps it is that we had better find a way to drive less, to appreciate more sloth rather than speed, and, moreover, to find a way to enable freedom and democracy to thrive in the world without war, without the countries which pride themselves on being democracies becoming totalitarian fascists to bring something about which we like to label freedom and democracy, but which only devolves all too often to a form of continued empire, to enable our own empire quest for booty to run our automobiles faster and faster and faster.

For the science tells us that by doing so, by driving less and warring less, more people, for more generations to come, will enjoy life on this planet more freely. That is a simple enough statement from which truth-functions within the laws of extensionality might be derived. We shall let you have at it.

If the premise is wrong, nothing untoward will come from following through with it. If the premise is correct, failure to do so and allowing the continued unabated warming of the planet, melting of the icecaps, will have the direst of consequences.

So, logically, which path do we choose here at the crossroads?

Do we have to wait until it is too late to try to do something about it? Oh well, good old American know-how, the skeptic blithely says, will, as always, pull us through. We can worry about all of that later, when it occurs, when the low-lying lands show the signs of being flooded. Then, we shall act. Didn't Doolittle, after all, find a way to launch those B-25's from the too short carrier runways and catch Tokyo sleeping in April, 1942? Didn't we find a way to split the atom in July, 1945 before they did and end the war finally with it just a couple of weeks later? Leave it to us Americans who know how.

But this war, as we have stressed, will not be won this time with attack planes and bombs, even hydrogen bombs. We cannot blast our way out of this one. For the enemy is not them this time, but ourselves, all of us human beings on the planet.

And the symptoms have been ever-increasing for a hundred years, even if the greater share of us are only now beginning to awaken to the reality. The war is already nearly lost. The enemy has been attacking right before our eyes in stealth for a century and more. We talked mightily of alternative energy resources in the latter 1970's. But that soon gave way to talk of trucks and SUV's to replace mom's and pop's Caddy and Lincoln.

We had best get a grip on something other than the road if we are to have any chance of winning this particular war. This one, when won, will have no celebration. For it is won only by continuing responsibility. But if lost, the destruction will be worse than anything man has ever witnessed.

Tell us all about the impracticality of it when worldwide crop cycles change, when people are starving in formerly industrialized countries, in this country.

When the day comes that a brand new Hummer joins those finned dinosaurs sticking their tails out of the ground, nosed down along the highway out in Texas, then perhaps we at least might be on our way to winning that war. Yet, we need not drive there to see it. We need only now push a button on the computer and voila! Oh, we know, that consumes fossil fuels; but not so much, not nearly so much.

If any one asks you why you don't want to consume so much energy anymore, why you have suddenly become so globally aware in this regard, you can respond with a number, a rather patriotic number actually: 2,390.

...So far away from home.

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