A look at some of the history and holidays on December 7
The U.S. and Japan were in ongoing peace negotiations when, at 7:48 AM Hawaii time on this day in 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy launched a surprise attack on the U.S. Naval Base at Honolulu, home to the U.S. Pacific Fleet. The goal of the IJN was to convince the U.S. to come to an acceptable bargain, or barring that, to sufficiently damage the Pacific Fleet that it would not hinder Japanese planned offensive operations in the Pacific against resource rich Islands controlled variously by Britain, the Netherlands and the U.S.
Three U.S. Aircraft Carriers assigned to the Pacific Fleet were operating outside of Pearl Harbor when the IJN attacked. The IJN was aware of this but was operating on the premise, incorrect, that battleships would be the decisive weapons of naval warfare. The reality turned out to be that airpower launched from the carriers was decisive. Thus, the IJN attack at Pearl Harbor, even though it sunk 4 battleships and damaged four others, was not the decisive blow the Japanese had hoped. Moreover, the IJN forces concentrated on the ships in and around the harbor and the airplanes on the ground. The IJN did not attack Pearl Harbor’s support facilities whose loss would have severely hampered the American navy.
Ninety minutes after the IJN attack began, it was over. The U.S. have suffered 2,403 people killed and 1,143 were wounded, Japanese losses were minimal, but they withdrew from the battle thinking incorrectly that they had succeeded in their mission. The U.S. was able to regroup, and with its aircraft carriers intact, scored a strategic victory in the Battle of the Coral Sea six months later.
In 1994, Congress passed a resolution making Dec. 7 Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day in honor of the Americans who perished and were injured in the attack.
43 BC – Marcus Tullius Cicero is assassinated
When our Founding Fathers looked to history to make a government that would last and that would exist for the benefit of its citizens, their starting point was the near five century period of the Roman Republic — a form of government in its death throes during the time of Marcus Tullius Cicero, or as he is known to history, simply “Cicero.” Julius Caesar had won a civil war and the government had warped into a dictatorship while still retaining the gloss of a Republic.
For his part, Cicero, a lawyer and politician, was the most eloquent defender of the Republic. When Brutus pulled his assassin’s dagger from the back of Julius Caesar on the Ides of March, 44 BC, he turned to Cicero and begged him to restore the Roman Republic.
That was beyond Cicero’s abilities. Within a year, his enemy in the Roman government, Caesar’s general Mark Anthony, had arranged to have Cicero tried and convicted in absentia for his role in the execution of the Cataline conspirators. Further, Mark Anthony obtained the conviction under an ex post facto law. In other words, only after Cicero oversaw the executions did Mark Anthony have a law passed that made such an act illegal, then had Cicero convicted for violating the law,
Cicero’s days were numbered. Within a year, soldiers of Mark Anthony hunted found Cicero and, on this day in 43 B.C., summarily executed him. It did Mark Anthony no lasting good, for in a few years, he would lose in the game of throne to Octavian, Augustus Caesar. But Cicero’s death was the final nail in the coffin of Rome’s Republic, and the era of tyrannical Emperors was at hand.
Cicero, is one of those few figures in history whose historical significance arguably exceeds his importance in the time of his life. He played a significant role in Christianity, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and the Founding of the U.S. Setting aside Cicero’s impact on Latin prose and oratory, Wiki does a good job of summing up Cicero’s legacy:
Cicero was greatly admired by influential Church Fathers such as Augustine of Hippo, who credited Cicero’s lost Hortensius for his eventual conversion to Christianity, and St. Jerome, who had a feverish vision in which he was accused of being “follower of Cicero and not of Christ” before the judgment seat. This influence further increased after the Early Middle Ages in Europe, which more of his writings survived than any other Latin author. Medieval philosophers were influenced by Cicero’s writings on natural law and innate rights.
Petrarch‘s rediscovery of Cicero’s letters provided the impetus for searches for ancient Greek and Latin writings scattered throughout European monasteries, and the subsequent rediscovery of classical antiquity led to the Renaissance. Subsequently, Cicero became synonymous with classical Latin to such an extent that a number of humanist scholars began to assert that no Latin word or phrase should be used unless it appeared in Cicero’s works, . . .
His voluminous correspondence, much of it addressed to his friend Atticus, has been especially influential . . . Cornelius Nepos, the 1st century BC biographer of Atticus, remarked that Cicero’s letters contained such a wealth of detail “concerning the inclinations of leading men, the faults of the generals, and the revolutions in the government” that their reader had little need for a history of the period.
Among Cicero’s admirers were Desiderius Erasmus, Martin Luther, and John Locke. Following the invention of Johannes Gutenberg’s printing press, De Officiis was the second book printed in Europe, after the Gutenberg Bible. Scholars note Cicero’s influence on the rebirth of religious toleration in the 17th century.
Cicero was especially popular with the Philosophes of the 18th century, including Edward Gibbon, Diderot, David Hume, Montesquieu, and Voltaire. Gibbon wrote of his first experience reading the author’s collective works thus: “I tasted the beauty of the language; I breathed the spirit of freedom; and I imbibed from his precepts and examples the public and private sense of a man…after finishing the great author, a library of eloquence and reason, I formed a more extensive plan of reviewing the Latin classics…” Voltaire called Cicero “the greatest as well as the most elegant of Roman philosophers” and even staged a play based on Cicero’s role in the Catilinarian conspiracy, called Rome Sauvée, ou Catilina, to “make young people who go to the theatre acquainted with Cicero. Voltaire was spurred to pen the drama as a rebuff to his rival Claude Prosper Jolyot de Crébillon’s own play Catilina, which had portrayed Cicero as a coward and villain who hypocritically married his own daughter to Catiline. Montesquieu produced his “Discourse on Cicero” in 1717, in which he heaped praise on the author because he rescued “philosophy from the hands of scholars, and freed it from the confusion of a foreign language”. Montesquieu went on to declare that Cicero was “of all the ancients, the one who had the most personal merit, and whom I would prefer to resemble.”
Across the Atlantic, Cicero the republican inspired the Founding Fathers of the United States and the revolutionaries of the French Revolution. John Adams said, “As all the ages of the world have not produced a greater statesman and philosopher united than Cicero, his authority should have great weight.” Jefferson names Cicero as one of a handful of major figures who contributed to a tradition “of public right” that informed his draft of the Declaration of Independence and shaped American understandings of “the common sense” basis for the right of revolution. Camille Desmoulins said of the French republicans in 1789 that they were “mostly young people who, nourished by the reading of Cicero at school, had become passionate enthusiasts for liberty”.
Jim Powell starts his book on the history of liberty with the sentence: “Marcus Tullius Cicero expressed principles that became the bedrock of liberty in the modern world. . . .
1776 – The Marquis de Lafayette is commissioned a major general in the American military.
Many of the finest cheeses, the best wines, and the philosophies most destructive to civilization have emerged from within the borders of France. Socialism, the war on religion, and the modern police state all came out of the French Revolution. Before the Revolution, the word “surrender” was introduced to the Anglo-Saxon world by the French. After the Revolution, the post modernism of Foucault is at the heart of the current toxin infecting America.
But, like the Irish and Scots-Irish, get a French citizen outside of their European country of origin and they are often the finest and most productive of people, such as the many Huguenots who settled in America or individuals like Marie Joseph Paul Yves Roch Gilbert du Motier de La Fayette, the Marquis de Lafayette. As to his name, Lafayette said in his memoirs, “It’s not my fault. I was baptized like a Spaniard, with the name of every conceivable saint who might offer me more protection in battle.”
Lafayette was a 19 year old, idealistic and unfathomably wealthy French aristocrat living in Paris when he became swept up in the stories he was reading about liberty, republicanism and the American Revolution. Coming from a military family (his father died fighting the British in the Seven Years War) and trained to be an officer, he contacted Ben Franklin, America’s diplomat in France, and arranged to go to America and be commissioned in the Continental Army. Forbidden to do so by his father-in-law, who even enlisted the King of France to proscribe Lafayette’s plans, Lafayette none-the-less purchased a ship for £112,000 from his own pocket, convinced his mentor, the battle tested general and soldier’s soldier, Baron de Kalb, to accompany him, and set sail for America.
Lafayette was received in America by the Continental Congress with more than a bit of cynicism at first, as many Europeans were coming to America with the expectation of being made high ranking officers to lead the backwoods Americans in their fight against Britain. But on the recommendation of Ben Franklin, they voted to give him, on this date, the honorary rank of Major General in the Continental Army. Soon after, Lafayette was introduced to the notoriously distant George Washington and charmed him with his idealism, vigor and forthrightness. Washington had no intention of giving him a command, but befriended the young man and made him a staff officer.
In his first taste of battle at Brandywine, Lafayette comported himself well. Despite being shot in the leg, he stepped in to lead to a Continental brigade in an orderly retreat from the battlefield and was cited for his bravery under fire by Washington. As a result, Lafayette was given a command and performed well during the remainder of the war. That said, his contributions were not just on the battlefield. His personal relationship with Washington gave that great man an outlet and sounding board throughout the war and during some of its most trying moments. Moreover, Lafayette was a direct conduit to the upper echelons of the French government whose material support for the war was critical. And lastly, Lafayette charmed the colonists as well, improving the attitude of amity that allowed the French and American alliance to succeed. Likewise, Lafayette’s American exploits were publicized in France, and he became the “Hero of Two Worlds.”
Lafayette’s popularity in America was tested long after the American Revolution concluded and Lafayette had returned to France, There, he and was caught up in the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars. He fully supported neither and ended up imprisoned for a period of years. Still, in 1824, as America prepared to celebrate it’s 50th anniversary, President Monroe invited Lafayette to attend. In August, 1824, the Marquis de Lafayette landed in America for the final time, accompanied by his son, Georges Washington, and was feted from one end of the country to another for his service to America. Nearing the end of his life, he requested and was given soil from Bunker Hill to be sprinkled on his grave when the inevitable came to pass.
1932 – German-born Swiss physicist Albert Einstein is granted an American visa
Albert Einstein, the father of modern physics, was perhaps the most well-known scientist in the world by 1932. He was a professor at professor at Berlin University who applied for and received, on this date, a visa to visit America, a trip from which he would never return. Just as Einstein arrived in America, Hitler was in the process of consolidating his position into a dictatorship in Germany, Einstein, like many of the German Jewish intelligentsia, made America his home.
Einstein’s most significant contribution to America would come in 1939, just before the outbreak of World War II. Einstein was approached by another German Jewish scientist, Leo Szilard who had likewise made the U.S. his home. Szilard was involved in nuclear energy and could foresee the reality of an atomic bomb. He knew that German scientists were working to create such a weapon and he feared that, if Hitler were to get his hands on such a weapon before anyone else, he would not hesitate to use it. Szilard had already tried to warn the FDR administration of the danger and been dismissed. He opted to enlist Einstein in getting FDR’s attention.
Einstein was a devout pacifist. When Szilard was first told of the possibility of an atomic weapon, Einstein’s response was “I did not even think about that.” Szilard was quickly able to convince Einstein of the reality and enlist him to help convince FDR. Szilard drafted, and Einstein signed, a letter directly addressed to the President. It stated:
Some recent work by E. Fermi and L. Szilard, which has been communicated to me in manuscript, leads me to expect that the element uranium may be turned into a new and important source of energy in the immediate future. Certain aspects of the situation which has arisen seem to call for watchfulness and, if necessary, quick action on the part of the Administration. . . .
In the course of the last four months it has been made probable—through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America—that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.
This phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable—though much less certain—that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat and exploded in a port, might very well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. . . .
I understand that Germany has actually stopped the sale of uranium from the Czechoslovakian mines which she has taken over. That she should have taken such early action might perhaps be understood on the ground that the son of the German Under-Secretary of State, von Weizsäcker, is attached to the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Institut in Berlin where some of the American work on uranium is now being repeated.
The letter had its desired effect. The U.S. administration took the warning with the utmost seriousness and the Manhattan Project was the result. Einstein was ambivalent about his role in it. A year before his death, he told a friend, “I made one great mistake in my life—when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made; but there was some justification—the danger that the Germans would make them , , ,”
1703 – The Great Storm of 1703, the greatest windstorm ever recorded in the southern part of Great Britain, makes landfall. Winds gust up to 120 mph, and 9,000 people die. And here I was told that such catastrophes only started occurring with anthropogenic global warming.
1787 – Delaware becomes the first state to ratify the United States Constitution on this date. It would be several months before the minimum number of states, nine, was reached to bring the Constitution into effect. That came with New Hampshire’s ratification June 21, 1788. Virginia and New York followed shortly after. North Carolina and Rhode Island, rejected the Constitution, but later reversed their votes. Their ratifications came after Washington’s first inauguration. Rhode Island was the last to ratify the Constitution in 1790, when ratification passed 32 to 30
1995 – The Galileo spacecraft arrives at the “gas-giant” Jupiter, a little more than six years after it was launched by Space Shuttle Atlantis. After 8 years of collecting information on the planet, Galileo‘s mission was terminated by sending it on a suicide run into Jupiter’s atmosphere.
1873 – Willa Cather, a turn of the 20th century author most famous for her novels of frontier life, including O Pioneers! (1913), The Song of the Lark (1915), and My Ántonia (1918). In 1923 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for One of Ours (1922), a novel set during World War I.
983 – Otto II, Holy Roman Emperor, an accomplished knight and military commander who died at age 28, before he could expel the Muslims from Italy. His death plunged the Holy Roman Empire into a succession crisis.
1383 – Wenceslaus I, was the Duke of Bohemia and is the man about whom the carol “Good King Wenceslas” was written. Wnceslaus, famed for his piety and vigor, was murdered by his younger brother after a fifteen year reign.
1817 – Vice-Admiral William Bligh was an officer of the Royal Navy and a colonial administrator. The Mutiny on the Bounty occurred during his command of HMS Bounty in 1789; after being set adrift in Bounty‘s launch by the mutineers, in an incredible feat of navigation, Bligh and his loyal men all reached Timor alive, after a journey of 3,618 nautical miles
1970 – Rube Goldberg, a man famous for his cartoons of complicated gadgets used to accomplish simple tasks. His name is synonymous with over-complicated devices.
Away in a Manger is a 19th century carol of uncertain authorship. It is the second most popular carol in Britain today.
O Little Town of Bethlehem is the collaborative effort of a 19th century Anglican priest and his parish organist. The priest, Phillip Brooks, wrote the words to the song after a visit to Bethlehem in 1865.
And for extended listening . . . Johnny Mathis