‘A date which will live in in­famy’

The Pearl Har­bor at­tack demon­strated how Amer­ica could come to­gether in com­mon pur­pose

The Washington Times Daily - - COMMENTARY - By Philip McMath

On a lazy, sunny Sun­day morn­ing Dec. 7, 1941 at 7:48 Hawai­ian time, a bit­terly di­vided Amer­ica was sud­denly shocked into a sin­gle­ness of pur­pose it had never seen be­fore.

Three-hun­dred-fifty-three Im­pe­rial Ja­panese air­craft in two waves, launched from six air­craft car­ri­ers, at­tacked our naval base at Pearl Har­bor. Of eight bat­tle­ships — the Ari­zona, Ok­la­homa, West Vir­ginia, Cal­i­for­nia, Ne­vada, Penn­syl­va­nia, Ten­nessee and the Mary­land — four were sunk and the oth­ers se­verely dam­aged. Also se­verely dam­aged were three cruis­ers, three de­stroy­ers and sev­eral aux­il­iary ships. 188 Amer­i­can air­craft were de­stroyed, 2,403 Amer­i­cans were killed and over 1,100 wounded.

Ja­panese losses were light. Hav­ing suc­ceeded be­yond all ex­pec­ta­tion, and fear­ing a coun­ter­at­tack, the Ja­panese can­celed a planned third wave. They would later re­gret this de­ci­sion. For­tu­nately, our car­ri­ers were away on ma­neu­vers, as they would re­place the bat­tle­ships as the queen of naval war­fare and our sub­se­quent vic­to­ries at sea.

At Pearl Har­bor, on “a date which will live in in­famy” as Pres­i­dent Franklin Roo­sevelt so elo­quently de­scribed it, oc­curred one of the great­est and most con­se­quen­tial events of world his­tory.

York­town, Get­tys­burg, Pearl Har­bor, Mid­way and D-Day are names writ­ten in­deli­bly in our na­tional mem­ory. They each were his­tor­i­cal plot points that spun the cat­a­clysmic cur­rent of ac­tion into a very dif­fer­ent and de­ci­sive di­rec­tion.

Dur­ing the early days of De­cem­ber 1941, the tide of World War II was turned. On Dec. 5 and 6 the Soviet Union coun­ter­at­tacked the Ger­mans

at the gates of Moscow and on Dec. 7 the Ja­panese at­tacked Pearl Har­bor. The next day the United States de­clared war on Ja­pan, and on Dec. 11, Hitler, hon­or­ing his al­liance with Ja­pan, de­clared war on the United States. We promptly re­cip­ro­cated.

So, within the dizzy­ing ra­pid­ity of a few short days the fa­tal is­sue of to­tal war was joined, and the fu­ture of the Axis was sealed by its own folly and folded away into his­tory’s fate­ful en­ve­lope. Its ver­dict would soon re­veal the ab­ject de­feat, de­struc­tion and dev­as­ta­tion of the Fas­cist plot against hu­man­ity.

Hitler could win a Euro­pean war and Ja­pan could win an Asian one, and each had es­sen­tially done so, but even the meld­ing of these two ma­lig­nant war ma­chines could not win a world war against the Grand Al­liance of the United States, the Soviet Union and the Bri­tish Em­pire.

The Ja­panese soon real­ized that their cel­e­bra­tory suc­cess was Pyrrhic, and, iron­i­cally, it was they who said it best as Adm. Isoroku Ya­mamoto, com­man­der of all Ja­panese naval forces, is re­ported to have lamented, “I fear we have awak­ened a sleep­ing gi­ant and filled him with a ter­ri­ble re­solve.” Adm. Hara Tadaichi later echoed him say­ing, “We won a great tac­ti­cal vic­tory at Pearl Har­bor and thereby lost the war.”

Win­ston Churchill, upon hear­ing the news of Pearl Har­bor said, “Be­ing sat­u­rated and sa­ti­ated with emo­tion and sen­sa­tion, I went to bed and slept the sleep of the saved and the thank­ful.” He knew there “was no more doubt about the end.”

Prov­i­dence some­times “writes straight with crooked lines,” and our in­her­ent na­tional co­he­sion aris­ing from the catas­tro­phe of Pearl Har­bor be­came the elixir of suc­cess in that great­est of all strug­gles. The Ja­panese had in­ad­ver­tently per­formed a kind of emo­tional alchemy upon the Amer­i­can psy­che as we de­cided that since strength came from unity, and we had to be strong, we had to be one. In­deed, through that re­al­iza­tion our peo­ple con­verted a time of ex­treme toil and tears into to­tal tri­umph over a crim­i­nal ag­gres­sion of un­par­al­leled malev­o­lence.

Ear­lier, Abra­ham

Lin­coln both ad­mired and ad­mon­ished Amer­ica in pro­claim­ing that all the armies of the world “could not by force, take a drink in the Ohio, or make a track in the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thou­sand years” if our coun­try is united. Or, in his in­ver­sion of E pluribus unum, he added a much sterner warn­ing, that “a house di­vided can­not stand.”

In his first In­au­gu­ral Ad­dress he hoped to pre-empt our near fa­tal schism with the unique po­etic power of his words and voice in plead­ing for na­tional unity and peace:

“Though pas­sion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of af­fec­tion. The mys­tic chords of mem­ory, stretch­ing from ev­ery bat­tle­field, and pa­triot grave, to ev­ery liv­ing heart and hearth­stone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the cho­rus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the bet­ter an­gels of our na­ture.”

We were never as united as af­ter Pearl Har­bor, but to­day we seem al­most as di­vided as when Lin­coln ap­pealed to our peo­ple in those im­mor­tal words of pre­cau­tion and praise.

To be sure, we have for­mi­da­ble, in­deed per­ilous, problems be­fore us. They do not need enu­mer­a­tion. Di­vided we will not de­feat them, they will de­feat us, but uni­fied we can suc­ceed yet again as we have al­ways done be­fore. With Amer­ica it is never a ques­tion of ca­pac­ity but of will — noth­ing more is needed — any­thing less will fail.

Pearl Har­bor demon­strated this be­yond all doubt. So, let this great les­son be what we learn from its re­mem­brance. We need the unity of a com­mon pur­pose, and not the dis­unity born of calumny and curses, in­sults and in­vec­tive. To em­ploy our lib­er­ties as an in­stru­ment of tribal in­tol­er­ance is to drink poi­son from a golden cup. Amer­ica is an idea, a sub­lime but frag­ile dream enu­mer­ated in our Dec­la­ra­tion of In­de­pen­dence, noth­ing more can ever be done and noth­ing less will ever do. As great as it is, Amer­ica must hold fast to this the grand­est of dreams or it will de­scend into the night­mare of dis­so­lu­tion, de­spair and a de­feat greater than any en­emy could ever im­pose.

Let this great les­son be what we learn from its re­mem­brance. We need the unity of a com­mon pur­pose, and not the dis­unity born of calumny and curses, in­sults and in­vec­tive.


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