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Warren Christopher’s War


War shapes a man; his ideas and values. This was no less true of Warren Christopher, the 63rd Secretary of State under President Bill Clinton.

Born in Scranton, North Dakota in 1925, Warren Christopher moved to Hollywood, California while a young teen. Like many young men, he relished the idea of attending college and enrolled at the University of Redlands in 1942. But with America gearing up for full entry into World War Two, he assumed he’d be drafted when he reached the age of eighteen. Hoping to find a way to remain in college, Christopher volunteered for the navy, preparing for enlistment on this date in 1942. Serving in an officers training unit at Redlands, he was allowed to remain in school before transferring to the University of Southern California’s Navy ROTC unit where he received both a degree in finance and a commission as ensign in early 1945.

Within months, he was abroad the USS Tomahawk, a tanker converted for the transport of high-test gasoline used for refueling aircraft carriers at sea. In mid-August of 1945, the crew of the Tomahawk, while refueling carriers in the South Pacific, received word that the United States had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima. Christopher, in writing to his mother that night, reflecting on the destructive power released over Japan, said, “One finds his mind in a turmoil, pondering how awful and how wonderful it is all at once. If it is as powerful as we understand, world peace ceases to be an aim and becomes a necessity for survival.”

A few days later, when Japan surrendered on August 14, 1945, Warren Christopher’s ship was ordered into Tokyo Bay as part of the carrier force escorting General Douglas MacArthur as he signed the treaty ending World War Two.

Before sailing home from Japan, the war offered Christopher one last life-changing experience. With permission to go ashore, he witnessed first-hand the utter devastation caused by the firebombing of Tokyo. Recalling the smoldering rubble and homeless Japanese, he wrote later in life, “when someone mentions war, these are the images that are called up for me. Not flags waving or bands playing, but rubble, hardship and suffering.” These were memories forever etched in Warren Christopher’s mind; memories that remained with him even as he rose to become one of the most powerful people in America.

Dakota Datebook written by Christina Sunwall

Christopher, Warren. Chances of a Lifetime: A Memoir. Simon and Schuster, 2001