Today marks the 71st anniversary of one of the most notorious and momentous days in the history of our nation, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. It is a day that was perhaps one of the worst in the nation’s history, but still serves to remind us of the strengths of our nation.
In the early morning hours of that sleepy Sunday morning, waves of Japanese fighters and bombers descended on the unsuspecting U.S. Pacific fleet and the hundreds of aircraft parked on naval and Army Air Corps airfields. Complete surprise was achieved by the Japanese.
By noontime, more than 2,400 American servicemen were dead, 1,200 more wounded, seven of the largest warships ships in the harbor were sunk or damaged, more than 300 American aircraft destroyed or damaged, and numerous other ships and military facilities were destroyed or damaged.
It was an attack that packed a ferocious level of devastation. It was intended to hobble the United States fleet and allow Japan to launch a series of attacks across the Pacific. Indeed within the coming weeks, American and British bases and territories throughout the Pacific fell — Guam, Wake Island, the Philippines, Singapore and others. For our nation, each week brought a fresh defeat.
Four days after the Pearl Harbor attack, Italy and Germany declared war on the United States. German submarine attacks commenced on American shipping in the Atlantic. Germans found easy pickings off our East Coast cities at night, as the blaze of city lights silhouetted merchant ships.
It seems unconscionable today that within the scope of a few days, America went from a nation at peace to one imperiled on both coasts, with the West Coast anticipating an imminent attack.
But as we look back, Pearl Harbor gives us insight into an inherent strength in our society.
Leaders in Japan and Germany were convinced that a nation based on what they considered to be a weak founding principle — democracy — could not stand up to fascism. Democracy was too unfocused and undisciplined to face societies rooted in militaristic principles, led by centralized governments that do not tolerate dissension and nonconformity.