Sunday, December 07, 2008

The legacy of WWII veterans

Today is the anniversary of Pearl Harbor and the Flint Journal observed it by telling the story of one man who survived the attack, Staff Sgt. Ward Anderson of Chesaning.

It was 7:55 a.m., Dec 7, 1941 and Anderson and some friends had just left church and were thinking about going to the PX for breakfast.
Suddenly planes appeared overhead, flying low and loud. The men didn't pay much attention at first.

"We thought it was probably Navy maneuvers," said Anderson, then 20.

Then they noticed "big red suns" painted on the planes' wingtips: The Rising Sun emblem of Japan.

"I said, 'Oh, hell,'" Anderson said. "Or probably something worse."

Anderson counts himself lucky to have survived the first foreign attack on U.S. soil, which claimed the lives of more than 2,000 and pulled America into the second World War -- 67 years ago today.
His service to our country does not go unnoticed. Anderson wears his "Pearl Harbor Survivor" hat while out in his community and he's often approached by grateful people, rightly so, but we shouldn't let this day pass by without recognizing the sacrifice and service of an industry that has been maligned quite a bit lately - the Big 3. The Detroit News stepped up and recognized them in an editorial today: Remember the Arsenal of Democracy
We note with considerable irony that today, as the fate of Detroit's automakers rests in the hands of Congress, the nation marks the 67th anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor.

In the days after that attack, as the nation geared up for war, the federal government turned to Detroit's automotive industry and asked it to convert its factories to produce military hardware.

In a matter of weeks, Ford, Chrysler, General Motors and the other automakers of the time were churning out tanks, planes, Jeeps and other machinery of war. They stopped making passenger cars and turned their full energies toward defending the nation, and agreed to only a minimal profit for their work.

When America's survival was on the line, Detroit didn't ask questions; it pitched in with all its industrial might to save the country. The Big Three's survival is now on the line. We hope Congress remembers the sacrifice the auto industry has made for America and considers carefully whether it would ever want to go into a war of that magnitude again without the Arsenal of Democracy.
I hope Congress also remembers the survivors of WWII, who came home after the war and worked in factories across the country to build a better future for their children and grandchildren. Unionization grew to one-third of the workforce, every income group grew (incomes grew fastest for the lowest-income Americans) and most middle-class Americans had good health care and could look forward to a secure retirement.

The "Greatest Generation" fought in WWII because it was the right thing to do, and they came home and fought for shared prosperity and better living standards for everyone because that was the right thing to do too. As Americans, we honor them by fighting to protect what they worked so hard to give our country.


abi said...

Well said, Kathy.

Yes, auto execs in Detroit have made some pretty bad decisions, just as bankers have. But it makes no sense to let the workers and the country suffer just to punish some greedy or stubborn or just plain stupid decisionmakers.

And Congress has to shoulder some of the blame, too. Dan Wasserman made the point in a cartoon in the Boston Globe this weekend.

Kathy said...

Thanks for the cartoon, Abi. Leave it to a cartoonist to point out what other journalists should have been saying all along.

This whole auto industry thing goes beyond the Big 3 and UAW. Middle-class workers have been losing ground for decades in this country and allowing the Big 3 to fail will only hasten the race to the bottom.

A Toyota worker was interviewed on Good Morning America yesterday and he said he wanted the domestic automakers to survive. He admitted that when they thrived, so did he, since Toyota was pressured to pay their workers better. He pointed out that if the Big 3 go under, the foreign auto industry will probably start cutting wages.

Corporations didn't hand the veterans of WWII their middle-class wages out of gratitude. Workers unionized and demanded their fair share and the gains trickled up to other workers.