An American Tragedy – The Sleeping Giant Must Awaken
By Paul E. Vallely
Many of us who were alive during World War II and slightly thereafter may remember the famous quote regarding America being the “sleeping giant”. ‘Be fearful of waking her!” Do not wake a sleeping giant. This is an idiom which means: Do not disturb/annoy/provoke someone powerful who was not disturbing you in the first place. Japan woke a sleeping giant when they invaded Pearl Harbor.
Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto is portrayed at the very end of the 1970 film Tora! Tora! Tora!, and in the 2001 film Pearl Harbor, as saying after his attack on Pearl Harbor, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve.” The quotation was abbreviated in the film Pearl Harbor (2001), where it merely read, “I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant.”
Randall Wallace, the screenwriter of Pearl Harbor, readily admitted that he copied the line from Tora! Tora! Tora! The film’s producer, Elmo Williams, had found the line written in Yamamoto’s diary. Williams, in turn, has stated that Larry Forrester, the screenwriter, found a 1943 letter from Yamamoto to the Admiralty in Tokyo containing the quotation. However, Forrester cannot produce the letter, nor can anyone else, American or Japanese, recall or find it.
In The Reluctant Admiral, Hiroyuki Agawa, without a citation, does give a quotation from a reply by Admiral Yamamoto to Ogata Taketora on January 9, 1942, which is strikingly similar to the famous version: “A military man can scarcely pride himself on having ‘smitten a sleeping enemy’; it is more a matter of shame, simply, for the one smitten. I would rather you made your appraisal after seeing what the enemy does, since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack.”
Yamamoto believed that Japan could not win a protracted war with the United States, and moreover seems to have believed that the Pearl Harbor attack had become a blunder — even though he was the person who came up with the idea of a surprise attack. The Reluctant Admiral relates that “Yamamoto alone” (while all his staff members were celebrating) spent the day after Pearl Harbor “sunk in apparent depression.” He is also known to have been upset by the bungling of the Foreign Ministry which led to the attack happening while the countries were technically at peace, thus making the incident an unprovoked sneak attack that would certainly enrage the enemy.
After the war, a similar rumor disseminated among occupation insiders that upon learning the attack had been a success, Admiral Yamamoto had said to those around him, “Gentlemen, we have just kicked a rabid dog.” This would have been a tactical metaphor and not intended as an insult, since he was generally fond of America and Americans.
Similar to the above quotation was another that, while real, was widely misinterpreted in the US press. Yamamoto, when once asked his opinion on the war, pessimistically said that the only way for Japan to win the war was to dictate terms to the White House, requiring them to eventually invade the United States and march across the country while fighting their way to Washington — i.e., Japan would have to conquer the whole of the United States. Yamamoto’s meaning was that military victory, in a protracted war against an opponent with as much of a population and industrial advantage as the United States possessed, was completely impossible — a rebuff to those who thought that winning a major battle against the US Navy would end the war. However, in the US, his words were recast as a jingoistic boast.
In a recent discussion with friends, we explored the issue of whether the United States is a “Sleeping Giant” any more, and if it is, what percentage of the population would constitute that “sleeping giant”? Best estimates indicated that maybe 10-15% of America now would be considered the “sleeping giant” and the remainder of population is unaware of the serious threats to the United States, or are truly asleep at the “switch” and clueless to our continuing demise and weakening as a people and country.
There are so many more threats and risks to our families today than before 9/11 with thousands upon thousands of Americans having been killed across the globe since then. While walking my dog, I look at the faces of people with these thoughts in mind, and I see people who look strangely blank or “normal.” But this is not normal. This is acting normal in the face of insanity. Therefore, I cannot remain calm, I must act.
I find myself thinking about World War II and the refusal of the United States to aid the millions of people being killed by the Nazis. The safety of our American sanctuary was shattered by Pearl Harbor and we woke up. Denial was no longer an option, and isolationism was no longer the rule of the day. Today we play politics to death. We talk amongst ourselves and the politicians talk and talk in Washington. While I know rational thinking may ultimately rule, rational thinking without emotion ignores the passion that lights the fire of definitive action; and now is the time for definitive action.
Personally, I do not believe in turning the other cheek. Yet, I do not want to become what I so despise – a fanatic driven by virulence and hatred as to do violence. I do not sanction any kind of fanaticism, because fanaticism feeds on itself and is driven by blind emotion. It demands unquestioning obedience and intolerance, rather than acceptance of diverse and genuine viewpoints. However, I do not believe in passivity either. Nothing goes away until you are willing to take a stand that says: “you may not cross this line because if you do, this will be the consequence”. Well, I am convinced that this line has been crossed. You hurt my people, you hurt my country – you hurt me.
I do not excuse dishonesty, corruptness, and behavior by members of Congress and the White House. Behavior counts, character counts! If a child of mine is threatened, I become a lion. If my people are threatened I feel a personal sense of violation that I need to react to in much the same way. If my country is threatened, my patriotism soars to its highest level, and my blood boils. Punishment for this transgression of my person and my country’s boundaries and way-of-life is essential; it is in my opinion, mandatory as a citizen. Instead of our current dissolution and chaos, we must reunite and roar like the lion we are, the father who is reacting to a wrong done to his child.
Enough politicking and talk. Action is crucial. We have been so afraid to be the lion, afraid to be seen as the bad guy, that we have NOT drawn the line in the sand and said: “you may not cross this line or these are the consequences”. To take a stand is not being the bad guy. It is quite the opposite, it is to be lauded; taking a stand with very clearly defined consequences is being responsible. We need to do more than simply reacting, we need to be pro-active and pre-emptive.
I want to see our people; our fellow citizens do just that, not just as a reaction to the current economic and security threats, but on a continual basis. It’s the equivalent of being a parent who is afraid of being firm and setting boundaries, letting their child run out of control for fear we may be thought the ogre, and then reacts only situation by situation, each time confirming softness instead of resolve. That parent needs to step back, size up the situation and say this is what MUST be done now, so we do not have to face it again. We must change our political philosophy, awaken from our lethargy, erase our apathy and above all, we must abide by our well designed Constitution.
Similarly, it must be conveyed that it is folly and foolish for other countries to confuse our softness and courtesy with weakness. However, we ARE, more than ever, a soft country. Politically, we make so many mistakes; most in the name of misguided politics, foreign perceptions ill-understood, and isolationism. We do not speak out strongly enough about abuses to people in so many other countries, and the blatant evil that exists.
To confuse our softness with weakness is beyond STUPID, it is perilous and self-defeating, and you cannot fix STUPID with politicians who think and act as they do here at home today. When this country is threatened, when our allies face any external threat, we can be very dangerous, and our enemies need to understand this with clarity and utter fear. At home, concerning our internal problems and our outward projection, we, as a unified country, must change that perception for our country’s safety. We must act now, decisively.
I believe we must reclaim our status as courageous warriors, as outraged fighters, as the parents of the child that has been set upon, and say to those that have crossed the line and caused us pain: “there will be reprisal and punishment”.
In our American Exceptionalism, one borne of varied and mixed cultures, peoples with differing origins, of diverse religious affiliations; putting aside our petty differences which keep our combined culture fragmented, is crucial. I am one of those “Sleeping Giants” that has been awakened and want you to be awakened, and join me as a “Sleeping Giant” freshly awoken, a giant no longer asleep that sees the light of day before it is too late and is willing to ACT.
Please America; help us stir the “Sleeping Giant”.