Today is Pearl Harbor Day—the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on the United States, a standard for treachery that lately we seem determined to surpass ourselves. We see so many Republican senators energetically working to betray their country's basic precepts, it is easy to forget that once zeal prompted certain politicians to support our nation, even at personal cost to themselves. So I thought I would dig this up, from the 70th anniversary. It was melancholy to see Ed Burke pop up here. Then, the wellspring of symbolic tribute to those he considered heroes; now marinated in shame at his own venal behavior. And Chris Kennedy, a supposed pal before I joined the chorus pointing out what a lousy gubernatorial candidate he was. Took his ball and went home, never to be seen again.
|At 50, Paul Douglas was the oldest Marine recruit|
ever to go through basic training at Parris Island.
Seventy years ago — Dec. 4, 1941 — the Chicago Sun, the seed of this newspaper, was sown by Marshal Field III, an attempt to support Franklin D. Roosevelt’s interventionist policies and counterbalance the Chicago Tribune, Col. Robert McCormick’s isolationist, reactionary, deeply biased Republican multimedia bully (what, you think it started with Fox News?)
The city, keen for a newspaper war, which at the time involved squads of armed goons attacking each other, stayed up late Dec. 3. The presses ran at 11 p.m. A million copies of that first edition were sold.
The timing was bad. Three days after the debut, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and even the Hitler-coddling Tribune got behind America’s opposing fascism. Still, the Sun kept shining, 70 years now and counting.
When we remember Pearl Harbor, we remember the surprise Japanese attack, the 2,000 American lives lost, the “day that will live in infamy.” And that’s about it. I certainly didn’t know how Paul Douglas responded; I only knew one fact about Douglas — he was once a U.S. senator from Illinois — and that was only because I wrote Chuck Percy’s obit, so I knew Percy defeated Douglas in 1966.
Then I bumped into Ald. Ed Burke (14th), who had Douglas on his mind.
“After Dec. 7, he resigned from City Council and enlisted in the Marines,” said Burke. “He was 51 years old when basic training was over.”
Once Douglas joined the Corps, he used his connections, not to avoid combat, as some do, but to get sent into battle.
“In every age, there are patriots we need to honor,” said Burke.
When you look closely at the details, history tends to be more complicated, more human and — in my view — more interesting than Greatest Generation generalities. Douglas enlisted after Dec. 7, yes, but he also wanted to enlist before Pearl Harbor.
“I tried to make amends for my sedentary years,” Douglas wrote in his memoirs, of his summer, 1941 spent getting fit, swimming and running at the Indiana Dunes. “Although on the edge of fifty, I found myself obsessed with a wish seemingly impossible of fulfillment. I wanted to do more than talk. I wanted to enlist in the armed forces.”
A Quaker, during World War I Douglas had gone through “internal agony” trying to decide if he could kill fellow human beings. He registered as a conscientious objector then, in 1918, had a change of heart and tried to enlist, but let himself be turned away.
Douglas quit City Council (Paddy Bauler shouting out “Good riddance!” as he announced his resignation) enlisted, fought, earned two Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star, returned and was elected to the Senate, where he fought equally hard for civil rights, serving Illinois from 1949 to 1967.
“Illinois has traditionally sent two types of leaders to Washington,” said Chris Kennedy, the former Merchandise Mart president. “Great moral leaders, like Paul Simon, and great operators, like Dan Rostenkowski. Paul Douglas was the archetype of the great moral leader, and he garnered a lot of his legitimacy through personal courage and what he did in World War II.”
Burke thinks the city should find a way to honor Douglas.
“Nothing is named for him in Chicago,” said Burke. “Just as we honor those patriots fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, we ought to remember the example of patriotism and bravery that those who went before them represented.”
So when I fly my flag to mark Dec. 7 Wednesday, I’ll remember Paul Douglas, for both patriotic and personal reasons. The night that the Chicago Sun went on sale, the risk of violence was so great it was uncertain whether newsstands would accept bundles of the upstart publication. Douglas, then an alderman, pressed the mayor to assign a policeman to every newsstand, to help deter the Tribune thugs. Time to return the favor.
—Originally published in the Sun-Times Dec. 5, 2011.