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Constance Alexander: Will we witness the end of an error or beginning of the end? It’s time we spoke out


Even though I am the youngest of five children, I am the keeper of family history, including momentous events that predated my birth. For as long as I can remember, I listened to the stories told by my parents and older siblings about life before I was in the picture. As the “baby,” I learned to shut up, stay out of the way, and pay attention, which is how I learned about my family’s life during World War II.

In the beginning of the war, they lived close to Mitchel Field, an Air Force base on New York’s Long Island. On December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese attack on the U.S. Naval base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, the story I heard years later is that it was late Sunday morning when the radio broke through regular Sunday programming with the devastating news. Facts were slow coming – given the distance, the shock, and old-time technology — but the drumbeat of war had been quickening for a few years.

(Image courtesy of The Conversation)

When President Roosevelt addressed a joint session of Congress the next day, the gravity of the situation was clear. His inspiring words resounded in the crowded chamber:

“Yesterday, December 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.”

President Roosevelt went on to detail bombings in Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippines, Wake, and Midway Islands, emphasizing the deliberate plotting by Japan that led up to the attacks.

“Hostilities exist,” he continued. “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.”

Without further ado, the President asked Congress to declare war.

A veteran of World War I, my father was too old to serve in the military, but young men in every community in America were ready to sign up. In support of the war effort, my city-bred parents managed a Victory Garden and my siblings collected cans and other recyclable materials. Daddy, one of the few men on the block not in the military, was an air raid warden. The white helmet he wore during blackouts was a plaything of mine in the 1950s. I loved hearing about him going up and down the block on Grove Street, knocking on doors and yelling, “Lights out!” at any house that was not complying when air raid sirens wailed.

Constance Alexander is a columnist, award-winning poet and playwright, and President of INTEXCommunications in Murray. She can be reached at constancealexander@twc.com. Or visit www.constancealexander.com.

Family history comes alive with everyday details, and tales of mother improvising to make do are part of family lore. Getting enough sugar to make a birthday cake, for instance, was a challenge. Butter was another scarce item, so the family resorted to fake butter, the equivalent of solid fat colored with a red dot to make it yellow. Getting rubber bands to secure my sisters’ braids was another inconvenience, so Mother asked at the bank if there were any extras she might have.

“Don’t you know there’s a war going on, lady?” was the answer she got.

With the 79th anniversary of Pearl Harbor coming up, I wonder what would happen if such a tragedy befell our country today. Would close-minded individuals reject the veracity of news reports and refuse to follow common-sense policies enacted to defend the country in response?

Could we depend on honest, coherent leadership from the top? Would it be too much to expect formal broadcasts and statements to the nation as a whole without taking swipes at individuals or states that did not vote in the majority for the president’s re-election? Would important decisions still be relegated to tweets, complete with personal attacks, name calling, lies, bad grammar, and faulty spelling?

At the end of a holiday weekend where millions of Americans were on the move, medical experts anticipate another spike in coronavirus cases. By Christmas, some of those who insisted the whole thing was a hoax will experience losing a loved one to Covid, or finding themselves in intensive care with a shortage of nurses, doctors, and adequate personal protective equipment.

It is time we spoke out.

The way it happened in the 1950s, after years of Senator Joe McCarthy’s unfounded accusations in his increasingly erratic anti-communism campaign, Frederick G. Fisher, a young lawyer mustered the courage to fight back. When accused by McCarthy that his law firm was a “legal arm of the Communist Party,” Fisher looked him straight in the eyes and declared, “Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.”

The audience burst into wild applause and McCarthy, exposed as a feckless bully, was condemned by the Senate. During the next two-and-a-half years, his fans lost interest as he spiraled into alcoholism and died in office in 1957.

Time is getting short. The president continues to say he won the election while offering no proof. He is fiddling with the Constitution while the country wrestles with Covid-19.

McCarthyism flourished until a few lone voices denounced the perpetrator. Republican Mitt Romney has not remained silent, along with a few others, but one must ask, “Where are the rest?”

How long must we wait for those with enough integrity to speak truth to power, separate the wheat from the chaff, the facts from the fake?

An account of the confrontation between Senator McCarthy and Frederick Fisher is online at www.history.com.


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3 Comments

  1. Desiree Owen says:

    Excellent! Thank you for insightful commentary.

  2. Mike Nolan says:

    I hope at least a few of those who have been conned by the man in the White House will read this column, and begin to understand that the future of the U. S. is at stake. Lies and self-dealing have harmed this country, and those who fail to accept hard truths over satisfying lies, increase the danger.

  3. Pam says:

    Wow…truth to power. Excellent commentary!

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