Remember Pearl Harbor
I had a high school history teacher, who back in the 1960’s, would always confront his students with a surprise test on December 7. He said it was to help us remember this significant date in American history, and also give us a little taste of what it’s like to be hit with an unpleasant surprise.
Back then pretty much everyone knew that December 7 was Pearl Harbor Day. Most of our fathers had served in World War II, and December 7 was a hallowed day for them.
But today December 7 has lost its significance for many Americans, especially the younger segment of our population. It’s certainly a milestone in American history and likely always will be, but the connection that was there with my generation and my parents’ generation is sadly fading away.
It was seventy years ago yesterday that the Empire of Japan launched what was at that time the deadliest attack by a foreign nation against the United States. More than 2,400 Americans were killed on that sunny Sunday morning in 1941 when 300 planes launched from six aircraft carriers carried out a surprise attack on our naval base at Pearl Harbor.
The devastating toll on America’s military also included the loss of four battleships and 188 aircraft. Ask someone who was alive then what they were doing when they first heard the horrible news of the attack and they can likely recall the time with vivid detail.
Japanese military officials had expressed concerns prior to their attack that if the United States wasn’t defeated within a year, our nation would rally and unleash a refortified military that Japan would be unable to match.
They were right.
The Pearl Harbor attack galvanized previously wavering American public opinion about entering the war, our industrial production surged, political differences eased and virtually the entire nation locked arms in the struggle to win the war.
By the end of the conflict, America had mobilized for than 16 million military personnel and suffered 400,000 dead. Japan surrendered unconditionally and the Axis nations of Europe were left in rubble.
But probably the best thing to remember about Pearl Harbor is the national spirit of optimism that it spawned. There are countless reasons why those who lived through World War II became known as America’s Greatest Generation and their “can-do” attitude is certainly high on that list. I consider myself fortunate to have grown up in a time when World War II veterans were the leaders of this nation and our cities and towns. It was a progressive, positive time in America that is sadly vanishing.
Today there are just 2,700 survivors of the Pearl Harbor attack. They were the youngest of their comrades, all in their late teens or early 20’s when the attack came. Today they’re in their late 80’s and 90’s.
Two dozen Pearl Harbor veterans took part in memorial services yesterday at the USS Arizona monument at Pearl Harbor. Sadly, this year’s Pearl Harbor remembrance will be one of the last major anniversaries that will feature a significant number of surviving veterans of the attack.
So it will be up to the rest of us to keep the memory of Pearl Harbor and our Greatest Generation alive. There are still lessons to be learned from those times. Today Americans face a stagnant economy, enemies hell-bent on destroying us, a political and ideological chasm as wide as we’ve ever seen, and a legislative deadlock that threatens to grind this nation to a halt.
So God knows we could use a little optimism. We need to remember Pearl Harbor and recall how even in the worst of times, Americans eventually come together, put our differences aside and meet our challenges head-on.
And who knows, maybe we can convince a history teacher or two to unleash a surprise test every year on December 7.