December 7 thoughts: Nils Peterson

I thought you might be interested to read comments former Santa Clara County Poet Laureate Nils Peterson made to the San Jose City Council on this date during his tenure.Remembering is a practice essential to living humane lives. Thanks for your thoughts, Nils.

Sally Ashton
Santa Clara County Poet Laureate

“I feel privileged to be here speaking on December 7th, the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.  I was 8 when it happened.  I lived then in New Jersey where my father had found a job after some difficult years early in the Great Depression, but on that day, we were visiting Mt. Vernon, N.Y. where my parents, both of them from Sweden, had met in an English as a Second Language Class.  They still had many friends there among the small colony of Swedes. We had a nice day, but I was looking forward to the ride home because we were going to listen to Jack Benny.  We drove through the Holland Tunnel, then turned the radio on, but there was no Jack, only news of the attack and the whole world began the change that still goes on.  My father, too old for the army, left a job he loved for work in a factory to help with the war effort.  Half a continent away, David King, my future father-in-law, left his wife and the two-month old daughter who would later become my wife to join the Navy.

Soon meat, sugar, and gas were rationed, (the speed limit was set at 55 if you could find gas) and soon all the windows of all the houses were covered with black shades to make sure light would not betray us to night attack.  Wardens strolled the streets to make certain no glimmer shone through.  Soon there were red and white flags in those windows with space for the blue stars announcing this was a house that had sent a soldier, or soldiers, off to war.  When the first casualty lists came back, some of those stars changed to gold.  And soon the whole world was changed, the great globe at the center of the reading room of the library which had seemed so permanent, each country defined by its own color, became more and more irrelevant.  At the war’s end, it was as outmoded as the Gatling gun.

In those days, at school assemblies, we sang not only the first verse of the “Star-Spangled Banner,” but the 4th which begins:

Oh, thus be it ever that free men shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.

it goes on,

Praise the power that hath made and preserved us a nation

Our time too is difficult with its own wars and desolations, but on this day, it is my hope, and I’m sure the hope of all your constituents, that you will be given the wisdom to make choices that will preserve us, a city, a state, a nation, and, yes, more than preserve – the choices that will help us grow in justice, good will, and freedom.”      -Nils Peterson

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