Today I found myself, at somewhat short notice, back on the air for America's Number One radio show - on the 75th anniversary of a day that changed the course of the 20th century:
It's just past midday on America's East Coast. That means just past seven in the morning in Hawaii. At more or less exactly this moment three-quarters of a century ago, two young men, Private George Elliott and Private Joe Lockard, were on top of a cliff at Opana with nothing but a couple of thousand miles of ocean to look at. They weren't looking at the water. They were in a monitoring van. Radar was in its infancy. In fact, the acronym – Radio Detection And Ranging, RaDAR – had only been coined the previous year, 1940. It wasn't yet a word, and their main responsibility was not to use the equipment but to guard it – to make sure that no curious locals swung by to monkey with it.
They'd been up since a little before 4am, and their stretch of the shift had ended at 7am – about seven minutes ago. Their job was to monitor the system as this or that American plane took off for a training run. Joe Lockard, 19 years old from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, was in charge, so he got to run the oscilloscope. George Elliott, 23 years old from Chicago, Illinois, was the new guy, so he had to track the occasional plane's position and enter it in a log. The boring part of the job, no playing around on the fancy new equipment.
So the shift ended. And because George was the new kid he asked Joe if he could practice on the cool gear. Radar back then wasn't a blip on a screen, like it is now. It was an oscilloscope, and a plane showed up as little spike rising from a flat line – a bit like the monitor at the end of your hospital bed. And so George and Joe swapped chairs. And that's the quirk of history. They might have just cleared off at the end of the shift and gone for breakfast, and the machine would have been switched off. Instead, Joe left it on, and as George settled in his seat he saw the oscilloscope spike. And not just any spike – but the largest spike he or Joe had ever seen. Not one plane or two on a training run, not three planes or five or ten or twenty. But thirty, no, forty, fifty planes, more, heading this way.
And so began a day that will live in infamy – at this very hour, 75 years ago, December 7th 1941.
I was touched to receive after the show emails from John Miller of Liverpool, Pennsylvania and other old friends of Privates Elliott and Lockard. Their names should be known.
It is not clear to me that December 7th continues to "live in infamy", at least as far as Generation Snowflake is concerned. But, even if they're entirely unaware of it, they are the beneficiaries of what followed from that day. As I said on air, it was one of the great hinge moments of history:
The most consequential decision of the 20th century was Winston Churchill's after the fall of France in May 1940 – that the British Empire would not sue for peace with Germany but would fight on alone, in hopes that America could be persuaded to join the war. The most consequential actof the 20th century came 18 months later - the Japanese Empire's attack on Pearl Harbor, which brought about Churchill's wish. All of us born since 1945 live in the world those two decisions ushered in.
You can find a few other moments from the show here:
Hitler understood the power of hair. The Washington Post wants to know: Are all the Nazis secretly hipsters or are all the hipsters secretly Nazis? We just don't know! Yes, this is the newspaper of record in the nation's capital.
Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security can't stop guys who want to kill Americans getting into the country, but it can stop my incoming bûche de Noël:
The important thing about Trump is you don't become successful in business unless you can prioritize, and prioritizing means you have to choose. So you can have a Department of Homeland Security that bans sponge cake from Canada, or you can have a DHS that stops people like the big stabby-stabby Ohio State University stabber from stabbing Americans, but you cannot have both.
Among the generally positive mailbag to the show were the usual blizzards of F-words. In the old, pre-Internet days, I used to get odd letters, nutty letters, from slightly obsessive persons, but not a lot of feeble belches of tired profanities that long ago lost any force. As recently as a quarter-century back, the notion that respectable people would one day append their names to ineffectual moronic grunts all day long would have seemed improbable. Yet here is Dennis C Owens of Moose Pass, Alaska (see previous) bursting with pride at another flaccid squib:
Hey Mark f**k you and your immigration opinion. How does it taste kissing Rush's fat ass?
Dennis C Owens
He too is part of the long journey from December 7th 1941 to December 7th 2016.