Posted by: bkivey | 7 December 2010

“A Date Which Will Live In Infamy”

This part of the first sentence of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s speech to Congress shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor this date in 1941 is the best remembered and became the defining narrative of the American experience in WW II. Similar to another surprise attack nearly 60 years later, Congress acted immediately, near-unanimously, and in some case, precipitously. Although war had raged in Europe for over two years and the Japanese had started their campaign for control of the Pacific with the invasion of China in 1937, the United States had officially pursued a policy of neutrality.

While the Japanese attack was tactically near-perfect, it suffered from two major strategic flaws: the lack of formal declaration of hostilities and the failure of the Imperial Navy to destroy the American carriers. The former would solidify public support for war while the latter would prove to be the undoing of the Japanese navy. I highly recommend the 1970 movie Tora! Tora! Tora! for a reasonably accurate depiction of the attack and the events leading up to it. This is not a slam-bang action movie, but does provide a fascinating look at this historical event.

While living in Honolulu I spent a day visiting Pearl Harbor. You can read what I have to say about that experience here.

The Other December 7th

Not nearly as well known and little commemorated is another event that took place on December 7th, 1972: the launch of Apollo 17. The last of the program’s moon landings, Apollo 17 was the first mission to include a trained scientist (geologist Harrison H. Schmitt) and the first to take place at night. I watched the launch on TV and it was as spectacular as you might imagine. If you want to see it for yourself, there are any number of places on the Internet with archival footage.

For a look at what some people have done on a slightly smaller scale, check out this video of the launch of a 1/10th scale model of a Saturn V. To get an idea of the size of the rocket , note the people next to it after recovery.

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