Monday, December 7, 2015

One December Morning

Oahu residents were awakened, 74 years ago, to the sounds of warplanes, gunfire and explosions. Although Americans had been fighting and dying in the war against Axis aggression for several years, December 7th brought the attack that catapulted America "officially" into the war. Nearly three thousand people - soldiers, sailors, hospital personnel, civilians - lost their lives. Many of them fired the first shots of our war, and didn't live to see the world they helped make free.

Americans remember those sacrifices and struggles. In a sense, remembering that awful morning brings us closer to understanding just how vulnerable Americans felt. Much of the Pacific Fleet was in ruin, damaged or sunk, in the harbor. Half of our military aircraft stationed there were destroyed. An invasion, first of the Hawaiian Islands and then of the homeland itself, was not just theoretically possible but expected. It looked as though an irresistible force would soon overwhelm the West Coast.

President Roosevelt, unlimbering polished rhetorical flourishes appropriate for the occasion, called December 7th, 1941, "A date which will live in infamy." An enraged America went to work, and to war, with a single-minded purpose. Victory. Total, complete, unconditional victory.

Sixteen million Americans served in uniform. Nearly half a million died, some only now being found and returned home to their final rest. We were a country mobilized to fight, sacrifice being the word of the day.

Seventy years have passed since the instruments of surrender were signed on the deck of the battleship Missouri. Can we cherish the heroes, remember the sacrifices and be in awe of the courage without recalling the rage with which we greeted the surprise attack? Japan has been a trusted ally, valued trading partner and friend for nearly 70 years. In the many decades since WWII ended our countries have found peace with each other. Every day an airliner lifts off from Denver, raising its gear and pointing its nose west. The next time the pilots extend the landing wheels are as they prepare to land in Japan. Its cargo? Souls, going about their lives in glorious freedom. Every day of the week.

None of this is to devalue the horrors of our war with the Imperialists in Japan. It was ferocious, savage, with no quarter asked or extended. Americans died by the thousands for crumbling atolls whose names were barely known then, but are now etched forever in our history. The attack on Pearl Harbor signaled the start of a war so vicious its lesson - we must resolve our differences without slaughtering each other - has, between our countries, withstood the test of time.

I remember this day as one of honoring those Americans who fought, especially those who died, on a Sunday morning seventy-four years ago. Theirs was a battle, ultimately successful, to keep us safe, and free. At great cost our enemies were vanquished, the men who initiated the war of conquest gone forever. We bask in the blessings of liberty today because of those who fought there, as does so much of the rest of the world, including the men and women who are descendants of people we once called "enemy."

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