Pearl Harbor Day, December 7th, 1941, started as idyllic Sunday in Hawaii where winter is far gentler than in most of the rest of America. It ended with wrecked ships, destroyed planes, and the dead and the dying in the thousands.
A Japanese fleet consisting of six air craft carriers and numerous support ships launched two strikes against the US Pacific fleet and bases in and around Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, then a US territory. Surprise was all but complete and when the day was over, America’s proud fleet of battleships was all but annihilated. Japan, hitherto thought to be a quaint, little country, had handed the United States the worse defeat in its history.
No wonder then President Franklin Roosevelt called it “the Day of Infamy.”
Most Americans first learned that the United States had been yanked into World War II by hearing news bulletins on the radio, then the means of instant communication. The emotions Americans felt on that day and in the days to follow started with shock, then premeditation, then fear, then outrage, and then finally, as FDR again put it, a “terrible resolve.”
If the dear reader thinks that sounds familiar, cast your mind back to another day of infamy, September 11th, 2001. In that case we saw the dastardly attack on our soil unfold on TV in real time. Such is the advance in communications technology, though the destruction and the death were the same, and the emotions were the same.
December 7th, 1941, was one of those dates that bisects history like a sword. Before, America was a country that thought it could isolate itself from the world and its problems. After, America knew that was no longer possible. During the next nearly four years America poured forth its young men, its treasure, and its strength to set right what happened on December 7th, 1941, Pearl Harbor Day, as well as all the atrocities committed Japan, Germany, and their allies before and since. In so doing, America helped to shape the modern age.
One thing we can learn from what happened sixty seven years ago is the magnificent way in which our grandparents and parents acted in the months and years that follow and then wonder if we have the moral fortitude to follow their example. There was no blathering about “but the Luftwaffe didn’t attack Pearl Harbor”, no Congressional efforts to cut off funding for the war, no Cindy Sheehans making deranged statements about how FDR killed her son, no promises by political candidates to “withdraw from Europe” in sixteen months.
They knew, back then, how peace is won, when an enemy attacks. It is won by the sword and with the enemy dead or defeated. Wrangling over tactics, strategies, mistakes, snafus, and all the other things we seem to worry about now were left for the historians to ponder.
Oh, and by the way, Hollywood would not have even dreamed of making a World War II version of Rendition or Lions for Lambs or Stop Loss. The purveyors of popular culture knew, back then, who the real enemy was and what it would take to defeat and destroy them.
Victory came in less than four years from Pearl Harbor day. Victory in the current conflict will be longer in coming, harder, and perhaps more ambiguous. Do we have the heart and stomach to see it through?
Source: Pearl Harbor Raid, 7 December 1941, Department of the Navy, Naval Historical Center