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Living in Infamy No More

December 7, 2014

attack on Pearl Harbor

December 7 is a day of tremendous significance in the history of this country. Or at least it should be. On that date in 1941 Pearl Harbor was attacked.

In his famous address, President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed that this was “a date which will live in infamy.”  However, a mere seven decades later, it seems as though this event is perceived as ancient history. Poll any group of Americans under the age of thirty and see how many of them have much of an awareness of this momentous day. It is not even noted on the wall calendar I have.

The attack, which resulted in the death of more than two thousand Americans in only two hours and crippled the critically important Pacific Fleet, plunged us into World War II. That alone should be enough reason to keep it alive in our national consciousness. But even more important are the lessons that it should have taught us as a nation, lessons which seemingly are forgotten as readily as the event itself.

The very nature of war is encapsulated in this attack: the arrogance of nations who would use military aggression to achieve their goals as well as the arrogance of those who think that such a thing could never happen to them; the heroism and sacrifice of ordinary individuals in the face of death; the seemingly insignificant factors — from errors in judgement to plain dumb luck — that can change the course of events; the tragic toll of suffering and human life on both sides that is the inevitable result.

That the impact of powerful events such as this recedes as time goes by is perhaps part of human nature. The generation who lived through that difficult time is dwindling. The following generation who heard the first-hand stories of it are older and no longer commanding the attention they once did. Unless society and its institutions take the responsibility of active preservation, Pearl Harbor and the war it symbolized shall settle beside Verdun and Gettysburg and Bunker Hill on the pages of the history books.

But let us not remember this date in an artificially glorified or superficial way. Instead, it should be a time of acknowledgment and reflection, a day set aside to consider both where we were and where we are now as a nation and a world. Let us honor those who served for the greater good and those who perished in its defense. But let us also understand well how the continual ebb and flow of national interests and power can lead to conflict and its extreme consequences. Let us do this in the hope that we can one day eliminate the necessity for such days of remembrance.

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