While recalling my father in WWII, I wonder what he would think of our lack of First Amendment rights today?
Today is the 70th anniversary of the attack at Pearl Harbor which pushed the U.S. into World War Two. The Japanese surprise dismantled a good part of the US Pacific Fleet. Whether FDR knew about the coming attack is not our concern today.
Our concern today – expressed by an Open Thread – is what it means for us so many decades later, when most of that generation have taken their leave from this world.
If my father was still alive, he would remind us that he heard about the attack at Pearl Harbor coming out of a movie theater in the Boston area. He was already in uniform, as part of the Massachusetts National Guard. He was ordered that day to report immediately to his unit. And he was in one of the first contingent of American troops to be shipped out — to Australia initially, as somebody high up thought the Japanese were going to attack that huge continent. My father, who was an Army officer for most of his career, spent the war in the Pacific, battling machine gun nests and malaria. He fought at Guadalcanal and on other islands with names that previously had no meaning to a country coming out of the Great Depression.
Lucky for me, he made it. Although at one point, as he would later recount to me while in a hospital bed weakened by his family’s famous heart 3 decades later, that in one battle he was ordered to take out a machine gun nest, a machine gun nest that two earlier attacks had failed to dislodge. He told his captain, all right sir, and gave the captain his watch, as he didn’t think he would need it any longer.
He did make it, as you can see by the type-written words of his son many moons later.
My father didn’t have a political bone in his body, being career army, but he wasn’t gung-ho. He never kept a gun at home and while I lived with him for nearly two decades, he never came across as a war-monger or saber-rattler. I guess he had seen enough war, as he also went to Korea in 1950 to fight on that peninsula, while the rest of the family took up residence in Point Loma.
Yet, I wonder what he would think today, watching how police departments and big-city mayors all over this country routinely squash the American rights and freedoms that he and his generation fought for. The Occupy Wall Street movement – if nothing else – has shown the limits of freedoms of expression, assembly and free press that our current society permits. And they are downright pitiful.
What would his generation of soldiers have thought when protesters could not even set up tents as a form of freedom of expression? When protesters are arrested for trying to register people to vote, when protesters are arrested for staying in a public plaza? When demonstrators are arrested for laying on the ground? When citizens are rounded up because the grass they were staying on was dead? When mainstream reporters are arrested while police trample on peoples’ rights? When public plazas and parks are no long safe refuge for the expression of dissent?
I hope he would be royally pissed off. I’ll ask him when I see him again.
What are your thoughts and/or memories? Let us know in the comments below.