Americans should continue to remember Pearl Harbor
"December 7, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy ..."
-- President Franklin D. Roosevelt
Sadly those words uttered 64 years ago by the 32nd president of the United States today ring hollow for far too many Americans, particularly younger Americans.
Those words, of course, sounded our nation's speedy and mammoth military response to the unprovoked Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then a territory of the United States.
At about 8 a.m. on that morning, on that inlet of the Pacific Ocean on the southern coast of Oahu, more than 2,400 Americans died and 1,100 were wounded in an act of imperialist aggression by Japan. The United States officially became a major player in World War II, an engagement that dramatically changed the American military and the American way of life.
Over the years, many veterans of Pearl Harbor and many of those who lived through the infamous day have died. Too, new nation-altering events -- the unprovoked attack on America on Sept. 11, 2001, prime among them -- have eclipsed Pearl Harbor in our collective conscience. Nonetheless, we must not lose sight of the importance of Dec. 7 as a defining moment in U.S. history.
Indeed it is important to pause today and recognize Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a national observance to honor the lives lost in that attack and to salute all veterans of World War II. President Bush has urged all Americans to fly flags at half-staff today to pay tribute to Pearl Harbor veterans, all veterans and to those men and women now serving in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Pearl Harbor Day is a day Americans should remember. Many historians consider our entry into World War II as one of the most pivotal events of the 20th century.
Militarily, pre-World War II America resembled a weakling. In the aftermath of the Great Depression and World War I, the United States assumed an isolationist posture and had allowed the size of its armed forces to dwindle. The Army, for example, fell to a low of 134,000 members. The War Department spent frugally, hesitating to invest in armaments to replace increasingly outmoded weaponry from World War I.
The sneak attack on Dec. 7 changed all that in a flash. Millions of Americans lined up to join the armed services. About 850,000 Ohioans -- one tenth of the population -- would serve in World War II. In short, the country learned quickly and forcefully the importance of a strong defense and solid military preparedness.
On the homefront, outrage over the attack unified Americans in unparalleled patriotic fervor. People of all backgrounds sacrificed for the greater good of the American war effort. The nation fired up factories to produce robust levels of supplies and munitions. A strong work ethic stimulated the war economy, the ripple effects of which would keep the overall U.S. economy humming for many years afterwards.
Clearly that fortitude, that sacrifice and that resolve to conquer aggression served America well in its response to Pearl Harbor. Such qualities are needed in equally large doses today as the nation fights much less defined enemies in a much less defined theater of war.
When we remember Pearl Harbor, we must remember more than that one day of infamy 64 years ago. We must remember its primary lesson that ensuring a strong defense must rank as a national priority. That lesson is one we can ill afford to forget as our battles against 21st century aggressors show no signs of abating.