Certain dates on the calendar are anniversaries of events so pivotal in our collective history that they prompt reflections of those who weren’t even born at the time. Today, Dec. 7, is one of them.
Sixty-six years ago, in 1941, the United States of America was violently thrust into a world war by a surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It was an attack that touched off a long series of events that formed most of contemporary history as we know it.
Memorialized by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy,” the Japanese navy launched a sneak attack on Pearl Harbor that had been a year in the planning. From a military standpoint, it was strategically brilliant — truly a surprise given the fact that Japan did not formally declare war on America until after the attack. But the tactical victory was short-lived, and within a few years the scope of the miscalculation of the Japanese leadership was apparent.
Even Americans who were children at the time recall how the attack unified the nation. The overwhelming national outrage over what the Japanese had done soon was extended to Germany when that nation too declared war.
The United States was drawn into World War II reluctantly, and some of that reluctance was at least partly due to the fact that our nation was not prepared for war. America had retreated from world affairs after “the war to end all wars,” letting the size of its troops and the quality of arms dwindle. But on that Sunday morning in December 1941, what future Americans would come to regard as “the greatest generation” was mobilized. Ready or not, the nation went to war.
Just six months later at the Battle of Midway, U.S. carriers gutted the Japanese fleet by sinking four aircraft carriers. Meanwhile, in Europe, an inspired American military force fighting shoulder-to-shoulder with their allies from dozens of other countries battled as though they were defending their own soil. In a way, they were. Victory was soon won.
After peace was proclaimed, the United States had emerged as a major force in world affairs, both economically and politically. America assumed its role as a leader in world affairs, a position it continues to hold decades later. The challenge facing current generations is to use that position judiciously.
Pearl Harbor Day is more than just the anniversary of the start of America’s involvement in World War II; it is also the beginning of this nation’s rise to a true position of international leadership. The sound bites still apply: Dec. 7 is the day a sleeping giant was awakened, and it is a date which will continue to live in infamy long after all those who were alive to experience it are gone.