Less than two months earlier my father, E. King Stodola, had turned 27. After graduating from Cooper Union with an engineering degree in 1936, followed by a series of "starter" jobs, his career was starting to take off. With the dawn of a new decade, he found himself with a new wife and a diagonal promotion within the Signal Corps involving a move from Washington DC to the Jersey Shore doing research and development on radar at Camp Evans. Indeed, his hire was likely part of the War Department’s growing if belated appreciation of the extent to which radar and associated technological developments would forever transform military conflict.
Although my father and his colleagues were acutely aware of the war underway in Europe, it was still someone else's war, going on not here but "over there." Then, on December 7, 1941 the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and everything changed. The following day, Roosevelt responded with a declaration of war on Japan.
Pearl Harbor had surprised not only the Americans but also Hitler—who, however, quickly came to the support of his Japanese allies. Four days later, on December 11, 1941, both Hitler and Mussolini declared war on the US.
As my father later recalled, "Pearl Harbor...was a tremendous shock to us. I guess if we really stopped to think of it, we would have realized that something like this was inevitable, because Hitler's intentions were very clear--dominate the world!--and he would form whatever alliances and do whatever he needed to do it."
My father had learned an important life lesson: Always listen carefully to what people say they are going to do, and never shrug off the possibility that they will do it, however far-fetched or brazen their words may sound. Unfortunately, many world leaders far older and more experienced than my father had failed to heed this lesson and allowed Hitler to build up his capabilities until it was too late to stop him without unspeakable carnage. For this reason, Winston Churchill believed that World War II should have been called “the Unnecessary War,” saying “there never was a war more easy to stop”--if only they’d been paying sufficient attention and listening to what Hitler was saying.