Cold War spy books and movies are my favorites. A good spy story transports me back to the dark, foggy streets of post-World War II East Berlin or Moscow where all the men wore gray flannel suits and a fedora, and drove clunky little cars like the Soviet’s ZAZ Zaporozhets. (Google it.)
I get engrossed in the complex plots, the intrigue, and the tension of not knowing the good guys from the bad guys. I am the son of a soldier who fought in the Great War, so I suppose that explains my attraction to such movies.
In fact, I enjoy spy stories so much that I sometimes forget that tales like John le Carré’s Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy or Farewell by Sergei Kostin and Eric Raynaud are based on real history and real people. Men and women who operated in the murky netherworld of espionage and who often gave their lives in anonymity trying to protect the world from nuclear annihilation.
Those of us who lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962 experienced a bit of what became known as “Cold War Anxiety.” Although I was only 11 years old at the time, I can still remember something of the fear that the Russians may drop a nuclear bomb on my house. During those 13 unsettling days that the U.S. faced down the Soviet Union, the newspaper headlines leaped off the page and into my reality.
Today is the 75th anniversary of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor – another event so devastating that a movie could never capture its impact, although many excellent efforts have been made over the years.
Japan’s surprise military attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drew the U.S. into World War II. Consider this: Before that war ended, 15,000,000 soldiers were killed on battlefields around the world, and three times that many civilians lost their lives.
The weight of such unimaginable sorrow can never be expressed, much less fully portrayed in a movie. As we attempt to comprehend those mind-numbing numbers, we must remember that they represent real lives, real families, real parents, brothers, sisters, friends – all made in the image of God.
Among others, author Norris Caldwell has helped remind me of the reality of that war. Norris offers his eyewitness account in War and Home, first published in 2000. It is not the tales of a soldier in battle, rather the remembrances of a boy, who was in sixth grade when the war began, watching history unfold from the vantage of his small Southern community – also, my hometown – Tupelo, Mississippi. His story also serves as a reminder of how much America has changed from a nation where enemies are easily identified and dependence in a Sovereign God is assumed.
Caldwell, now 86, is a retired merchant and deacon in his local Baptist church. In the following excerpts from War and Home, Norris shares his memories of events surrounding “a date which will live in infamy.”
Sunday, December 7, 1941, Tupelo, Mississippi – Sunday afternoons around the Crane-Caldwell house at 114 Robins were pretty much the same every week. Sometimes we took a drive in the country in my grandfather’s Pontiac, but mostly, we just sat on the porch and talked. On this particular Sunday, we really hadn’t done much at all, and daddy said we better get ready to go to training union and church. That was a regular occasion for our family, and I never minded it at all. In fact, I looked forward to going because that was where all the cute girls were.
My brother Jimmie and I had gone outside to wait on our folks to go to Calvary Baptist just two blocks away. We saw several people standing outside their houses talking to each other, but we didn’t think that anything might be wrong. Up toward the high school on the corner of Jefferson and Robins, we saw two young boys coming down the street and yelling, “EXTRA, EXTRA – PEARL HARBOR ATTACKED BY JAP BOMBERS!” We ran into the house and told everyone what was happening, and they all came outside to see.
My grandfather, “The General,” still had shaving cream on his face. Nanny, my grandmother, went across the street to get Mildred Reader. Her oldest son Stanley had recently joined the Marine Corps. I remember Miss Mildred crying because she said Stanley was supposed to go to Pearl Harbor, and she did not know whether he was there or not. …
[I] ran inside and looked at my bother’s map of the world so I could see what Japan looked like. … When we found Japan, I could not believe what I saw! Here, out in the ocean next to China was this curled up piece of land with Japan written on it. How in the world could this little country think they could start a war with the United States of America, the greatest nation on earth? …
[L]ittle did I know that Sunday afternoon how much that war was going to change all our lives, but boy did it ever change our little town and all who lived there at the time.
Monday, December 8, 1941, Tupelo, Mississippi – Our sixth-grade teacher, Mrs. Hand, told us we were all going over to the Emma Edmonds Auditorium at the high school to hear President Roosevelt ask Congress to declare war on Japan.
I will never forget that day as long as I live. Everybody from the fifth through the twelfth grades crowded in the auditorium that morning to hear the president. Mr. Tom Milam, the superintendent of our schools, spoke to us for a while and then led us in a prayer for our country and for our president. …
President Roosevelt’s voice came in really clearly when he said that Sunday, December 7, 1941, would be a “date which will live in infamy,” and he asked Congress to formally declare war on the Empire of Japan, but since “the dastardly attack yesterday morning, a state of war already exists between the United States and Japan.” President Roosevelt went on to speak for several minutes, but I can’t really remember anything else that he said. I just knew that we were at war, and I wasn’t old enough to go.