By James A. Marples
Most everyone knows the compelling words of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, addressing a joint session of Congress on December 8, 1941, in which he asks Congress for an official “declaration of war” due to the Japanese attack on American military forces at Pearl Harbor a day earlier.
I mourn our dead and wounded American military personnel. That sudden attack mobilized the American people from being neutral, or “isolationist,” to a unified nation as mad as a wounded tiger, eager to fight its enemy. I’m not minimizing the tragic date in 1941. It will always be a “date which shall live in infamy.”
However, in a quirky twist-of-fate, just a mere nine years earlier, on Dec. 7, 1932, it was a day of salvation and rescue for one man. Many readers will ask who? On that Dec. 7, the noted German-born Swiss physicist Albert Einstein was granted a visa to enter the United States. He eventually became a legally naturalized American citizen and he died in America — in Princeton, New Jersey, in 1955.
Einstein’s importance cannot be overstated: It was he who penned a letter to President Roosevelt alerting him to the the potential development of “extremely powerful bombs of a new type” and he urged FDR to commence research in the United States of a similar type. Einstein’s recommendation led to the Manhattan Project, resulting in the development of the atomic bomb. Due to Einstein’s Jewish faith, he dared not return to Hitler’s Germany or else face certain death.
The two dates intertwine in multiple ways: each date separate yet one date represents good while the other date represents evil — or infamy.
President Roosevelt responded to fighting a war on two fronts. First, responding to the Japanese attack on America. Then, responding to Hitler’s insane act of declaring war on the United States.
America was initially not inclined to help Britain, nor eager to enter another gruesome, bloody war in Europe so soon, barely two decades after the conclusion of World War I.
Sir Winston Churchill begged for American help and was rebuffed. FDR was technically forbidden to outright “sell” arms and munitions to Britain so he used clever semantics by devising the “lend-lease program.: The Brits were cash-strapped. However, they needed warplanes, tanks and ships so badly that this astute language was phrased so America would lend (or lease) arms to Great Britain with the understanding they would be paid back in kind. Congress accepted the plan overwhelmingly. Few people realize America commandeered what was left of Britain’s gold-reserves and investments to help pay for this defense strategy.
President Roosevelt was elected to an unprecedented four terms as president of the United States. He saw the war almost to its finish, but not quite. He kept his then-Vice President Harry S. Truman in the dark, even as to the existence of the atomic bomb. FDR may have been the commander in chief who countered the attacks of the Axis powers; but it was President Truman who proverbially finished the fight.
Truman said he had no regrets about dropping atomic bombs. The first fell on Hiroshima, Japan. Then, three days later, a second bomb dropped on Nagasaki, Japan. Within days came the Japanese unconditional surrender.
Nearly every uncle I had was in some branch of our military in WWII. And, my own dad was building Boeing bombers that flew over Germany, Japan and elsewhere. Many people felt, and I concur, that if Truman hadn’t dropped the bombs, many more hundreds of thousands of American troops would have perished.
What does Dec. 7, 1932, tell us? It’s a perfect example of a man (Einstein) legally obtaining a visa to enter the United States, sharing his expertise to help this nation, becoming an American citizen and dying in his adopted nation with respect and esteem.
Two different, yet interconnected, Dec. 7s. One should be remembered for an obscure decision saving one man’s life, who proved pivotal, in helping to heal the horror and infamy of the other year.