December 7, 2016, will mark the 75th Pearl Harbour anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour. Looking back on that day, consider what Pearl Harbour meant at the time that it happened as well as the legacy built over the last 75 years.
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941 – a date which will live in infamy – the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
President Roosevelt somberly delivered his unforgettable “Infamy Speech” to Congress the day after the attacks. Congress swiftly followed the President’s request and formally declared war. Millions of Americans listened to the speech live from the radios in their homes. Over 3,500 Americans were killed or wounded that day, and the U.S. joined the Allies in World War II.
The United States began fighting a war on two fronts: one in Europe against Hitler’s Germany and one in the Pacific with the Japanese Empire. Many men and boys volunteered to fight, while others were conscripted. Food, gas, and clothing were rationed. Women went to work in full force for the war effort on the home front. Rosie the Riveter entered the public consciousness as an important symbol of the American spirit in the war, and J.M. Flagg’s World War I portrayal of Uncle Sam could be seen across the nation.
But for all of the heroic American words and deeds that came about in World War II, we must also acknowledge one large misstep in the American war efforts: the Japanese internment. The American government rounded up over 100,000 Japanese Americans, forced them to sell their belongings and homes, and put them into glorified prisons for years. Eventually the government made restitution, but much damage had already been done. Yes indeed, America is a great nation, but she is not beyond making errors. We can only hope to learn from our mistakes.
So looking back 75 years to the attack on Pearl Harbour and the American response to it, both positive and negative, what conclusions can we draw? What does Pearl Harbour represent?
The attack on Pearl Harbour and its aftermath displayed the courage of the American people. How afraid were the American people glued to their radios on December 7, 1941? Or listening to President Roosevelt’s speech on December 8? We had been attacked on American soil. Japan had declared war at our doorstep. But the spirit of the American people took that fear and turned it into courage, doing whatever was necessary from the home front to the front lines, from Europe to the Pacific.
Another part of the legacy of Pearl Harbour is that we, as Americans, can learn from our mistakes rather than be defined by them. One of America’s most beloved Presidents is the one who created the Japanese internment camps causing untold amounts of harm. But as a nation we have learned that our country, as great as she is, is not infallible and that moving forward we need to make wise decisions in our responses to these kinds of situations.
Lastly, the attack on Pearl Harbour, and our legacy in the time since, shows that we are a strong and diverse nation and when we band together we can face anything. What did the American people do when the attack on Pearl Harbour shook our nation to its core? They doubled down and fought to protect our nation. The American military was, and still is, one of the most powerful in the world. The U.S. and our allies fought long and hard in Europe and the Pacific to bring peace back to the world.
Over the last 75 years millions of people have visited Pearl Harbour, touring the USS Arizona Memorial and the Battleship Missouri, learning about one of the darkest days in our nation’s history. Visiting Pearl Harbour can be sobering experience, but many also feel the strength and hope of the American spirit in Pearl Harbour. If you have never made a trip to visit Pearl Harbour in Oahu, or if you have not been in a long time, this year, the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbour, may be the perfect time to make the trip.