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Thursday, December 08, 2011

The one who voted against war with Japan

Yesterday was the seventieth anniversary of the Empire of Japan's sneak attack on Pearl Harbor: the event that catapulted the United States into World War II. On the following day President Franklin Roosevelt delivered the famous "Infamy Speech" before a Joint Session of Congress. Less than an hour after Roosevelt's address, Congress passed an official declaration of war against Japan.

And it was almost unanimous. The final tally was 388 for war, and 1 against...

Jeannette Rankin, member of the House of Representatives from the state of Montana, was the sole vote against the declaration of war. Rankin was also the first woman elected to Congress. During her previous term in Congress she had also voted against the United States entering what became known as World War I. And in case you're wondering, she was a Republican.

As you can probably imagine, Rankin's stance was roundly unpopular: not just with her constituents back home but all across America. She didn't even bother to run for re-election. She passed away in 1973 at the age of 92.

But as for why Miss Rankin did not vote for the war declaration, I can't but find her rationale to be intriguing...

"As a woman, I can't go to war and I refuse to send anyone else."
I must admit: as much as a military response was mandated by the horrific nature of the Pearl Harbor attack, I have to appreciate Jeannette Rankin's rationale. Had women been allowed to serve on the front lines or more to the point, had Rankin been a male... I can't imagine that she would have cast a vote against war. But neither of those happened to have been the case.

I believe that Congress did the right thing by voting for the declaration of war. But I also have to believe that Miss Rankin was acting according to the best of her principles by not voting for that same declaration. That may have conflicted with the demands of those she was elected and sworn to represent... but there I am reminded that ours is a democratically-elected republic and not a pure democracy. It's not perfect, but it's the best that man in his limited wisdom has been able to come up with so far as governing himself goes.

Jeannette Rankin's vote against declaring war with Japan is a most curious example of that.

And all of this was seventy years ago today, December the 8th 1941.