December 7 Still Lives in Infamy

Some people may have missed the fact that yesterday was Pearl Harbor Day, the day in 1941 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. But with the world a pretty scary place these days due to terrorism, rogue states like North Korea, and wars raging in Iraq and Afghanistan, is it really necessary to remember the event that kicked off the U.S. entry into World War II?

December 6, 2006

Every year I swear I’m going to hang out my American flag on December 7 in honor of Pearl Harbor Day, 1941.  Trouble is, this time of the year in the Pacific Northwest it’s dark when I leave in the morning and pitch black when I get home. Even worse, it’s either raining, snowing, or – like yesterday – the wind is howling in the Columbia River Gorge at 40 mph.  A flag doesn’t stand a chance.

Still, it’s important to remember December 7th NOT because we are at war on two fronts in the world, NOT because the Global War on Terrorism (GWOT) has changed our lives, and NOT to think of our Japanese allies in a negative light.  Rather, there are three reasons I like to think of December 7, the day that then-president Rooseveldt said will “Live in Infamy”:

  1. Japan and the Japanese people are U.S. allies. Japan has consistently sided with the U.S. in recent world events, and was even an active member of the “Coalition of the Willing” during OEF (Operation (Iraqi) Enduring Freedom). I believe that Japan has now withdrawn most of its “advisors” in Iraq due to pressure from the Japanese people, but that doesn’t negate the fact that they stood by us over the past 4 years.

  2. A lot of critical U.S. military technology comes from Japan. Don’t believe me?  It always makes me laugh when people of my parents’ generation speak ill of “foreigners” like the tech powerhouses in Southeast Asia.  Where do you think the majority of our LCD displays used in fighter cockpits come from?  (Answer: Japan and, increasingly, South Korea.).  In fact, the typical Nimitz class aircraft carrier has over 3,000 LCD displays on it.  Last time I checked, there were only one or two domestic manufacturers of LCD displays (One of them is Planar, close to me in Oregon).  The U.S. military relies on a global technology supplier base.

    And although the recently introduced Sony Playstation3 (PS3) is making headlines because there aren’t enough of them to go around for the 2006 Christmas season (only a paltry 200,000 are rumored to be available for sale in the U.S. – and they’re gonzo, man), the PS3 is based upon the IBM/Sony/Toshiba CellBE processor. Guess which multi-core CPU forms the core (pun intended) of Mercury Computer’s next-gen ultra high-performance image processors for military radar and sonar systems?  Yep: the CellBE…jointly developed with Japanese engineers.

  3. And finally, World War II brought to us incredible technology, and really was the last century’s catalyst for breakthroughs we today take for granted. I’m a student of World War II history and am constantly fascinated by electrical, mechanical, and other breakthroughs from the late 30s into the transistor age. 

    Some key examples:  FM radio, nylon, production-worthy plastic (remember bakelite, the precursor to modern plastic?), tin cans, microbots (insects and bats were rigged with explosives but never successfully deployed), long-haul telephone encryption, the first mainframe computer (a huge subject I won’t go into here), robust and no longer “fragile” vacuum tubes, high quality production recording machines (used by Hitler to spread “real time” propaganda across Germany), rockets, jet engines (like that used in the German fighter the ME262), and of course: the atom bomb.  Love ‘em or hate ‘em…these are but a small example of the technology developed as a run-up to, during, and shortly after World War II.

For me, December 7 – Pearl Harbor Day – isn’t about remembering the death and carnage, the hatred, or the “glory” of war. It’s a time to reflect on what we learned about technology then, and how quite literally the “world of technology” continues to evolve today – from America, to Europe, to India, Korea, China…and Japan.