It was a tragedy in 1941, but before the U.S. could develop a serious policy response to Germany’s action, Japan attacked Pearl Harbor. Within a week after that, our policy towards Germany was set by Germany’s declaration of war on the U.S.
It’s important history for a couple of reasons.
- The sinking was part of the massive, years-long Battle of the Atlantic, which the Allies won only by building ships faster than Germany could sink them. Had the Allies lost this battle, the war would have been lost, too.
- While the USS Reuben James was a Navy destroyer, the key weapons of the Battle of the Atlantic were Merchant Marine cargo ships, carrying goods and arms to Britain and other Allied nations. “Civilians” played a huge role in World War II, supplying the soldiers, armies, navies and air forces.
- Recently, politicians took to making claims that the U.S. declared war on Germany without any hostile action having passed between them, without Germany having perpetrated any hostilities toward the U.S. Look at the dates, it’s not so.
- Woody Guthrie wrote a song about the event, giving us a touchstone to remember.
Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub covered the event with longer, detailed articles in past years, including these, which you should see especially if you are a student in a history class or a teacher of one:
- “We remember: U.S.S. Reuben James sunk October 31, 1941”
- “Woody Guthrie’s ‘Sinking of the Reuben James'”
Europe has changed. The world has changed. The U.S. has changed. War has changed. We should remember, especially those people who died defending the merchants who defended the idea of the Four Freedoms.
- Liveblogging World War II: October 31, 1941: The Torpedoing of the U.S.S. Reuben James (delong.typepad.com)
- This day in history for Oct. 31 (goerie.com)
- Divers locate Battle of the Atlantic lost shipwrecks from the Second World War (warhistoryonline.com)
- Book Review: Engineers of Victory, by Paul Kennedy (historynet.com)