Thursday, February 3, 2011

Preamble #3: Pearl Harbor, FDR and the World at War

Pearl Harbor. There are more than a few theories about who knew what when but the truth of the matter is that this dramatic event propelled the United States into a world war that was already underway. The gloves came off. No more anxiously churning out weapons in our factories as an arsenal of democracy. We were now in it. The revisionist "Yanks to the rescue" mantra couldn't be further from the truth. Victory against the Japanese or the Germans was never assured. Fear of what failure could mean in this dark time created powerful motivation. The toll in dead and captured was staggering before America arrived.

Steve Rogers wanted to volunteer. His country was calling him and knew that evil must be met head on. He understood that the war could be lost, would be lost without a titanic effort. Now was the time!

Many able bodied American men signed up following the outrage of Pearl Harbor. The rush at enlistment centers was frenzied and every effort was made to classify as "4F" those who could not qualify for service. Due to heart problems and other ailments, Steve Rogers is continually denied enlistment despite trying several times. Note the tenor of Franklin D. Roosevelt as he directly appeals to both the American people and to the Congress while addressing a joint session...

quoted from speech to Congress Dec. 8th, 1941...

Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 - a date which will live in infamy - the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleagues delivered to the Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. While this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. Very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

This morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense.

Always will we remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounding determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, Dec. 7, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

Franklin Roosevelt
Remember that by the time FDR calls us to arms after Pearl Harbor, Joe Simon and Jack Kirby have already been publishing for several months their unapologetic, ultrapatriotic Captain America comics. The flag clad symbol of American spirit was going toe to toe with Hitler and his Japanese cronies before Pearl Harbor. There were strong urgings of moral willingness to get us involved which was counter to isolationist feelings as the war in Europe ramped up. Why is it important that Simon and Kirby published when they did? Cap was lightning in a bottle, larger than life and his jaw cracking, spy ring busting escapades tapped into the emotion of the time that wanted America to get off the sidelines. Pearl Harbor turned out to be a great big fat spark. The gauntlet was thrown. America and Steve Rogers were embarking on a perilous journey and nothing would ever be the same again.


  1. A while back there was a reprint of the original MLJ Shield stories that I regret I didn't pick up. As you probably know, the Shield was published 14 months before Captain America. From what I've read, Cap's triangular shield had to be changed to a round one because of complaints from MLJ Comics. Any chance you might discuss the Shield - Captain America connection? I'm not criticizing Simon - Kirby for their creation. After all, one can argue there is really no true "originality," that what makes something original is reworking old concepts. Inspiration can come from anywhere. Look at the old Flash Gordon movie serials and Star Wars.

    Anyway, getting back to my main point: an early Shield comic depicted an attack on Pearl Harbor before it happened -- but in the comic the attack was made by the Germans.

    Good luck with this project.

  2. Let me add to my previous comment. I should have said when the Shield appeared in Pep Comics. Pep #4 featured the Pearl Harbor story with "Nordics" behind the attack. (Talk about using a code word...)

    The book with Shield story reprints is still available:

    A commenter at Amazon wrote:

    "Story four is a two-part epic. In a tale that pre-dates the attack on Pearl Harbor by over a year, the Shield travels to Pearl to foil a plan of the Mosconians to cause a volcanic eruption that will wipe out the island."

    I do remember seeing a Captain America story reprinted from WW II with the theme of unfair discrimination against German Americans. Interesting to see a message of tolerance when in some parts of the US hatred was being directed towards "those dirty Huns." And while Japanese Americans were badly treated, rounded up and sent to "relocation" camps, they were not alone; there were also internment camps for German Americans during WW II.

    Of course, such events would never re-occur in the land of the free, right?

  3. These events already occurred in the "land of the free." In hindsight, such miscarriages of justice seem barbaric. Yet, what would Cap think of events following September 111th. No charges or trials for prisoners accused of crimes. Torture. Outright torture as an interrogation tool.

    As for the Shield, I will have to check it out. During the early days of comic publishing, characters were often swiped with few changes by unscrupulous publishers or some of an art team would be lured away to replicate their success elsewhere. I am sure that in this regard Captain America is not the "original" comic it is appears to be.

    And yet, many aspects of Cap are starkly original for the era. It was timely, up to the minute and used real characters and events as backdrops. Simon and Kirby produced artwork which was strikingly bolder and fluid - like nothing published up until to then. This was the first fully realized superhero comic with Simon and Kirby inventing much of the conventions of layout and storytelling that would be used by generations of comic storytellers. ALso, they cut a tremendously lucrative deal for themselves which was a landmark for the industry. Good timing which tapped into anti-isolationist feeling created one of the best selling comics of all time.

    The Shield, along with many other patriotic heroes, is probably more similar to Cap than different. In a fantasy world, America is besieged by threats from shadowy sources and only the wits, honesty and patriotic might of (fill in the blank) can save the day for decent folk. I would like to see how much of the comics during this period are influenced by film. Did you know that Jack Kirby got his pen name from James Cagney?

    Luke, thanks for providing links. I will be checking them out.