On this day in history – December 7, 1941 – the Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise attack against the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii. The day, coined as a “day of infamy” by President Franklin Roosevelt, thrust the United States into the Pacific Theater of the second World War.
American losses were massive: 2,403 deaths, 1,178 wounded, 188 aircraft destroyed, 159 aircraft damaged, and 19 ships destroyed.
There were numerous historical precedents for unannounced military action by Japan, but the lack of any formal warning, particularly while negotiations of military action in Asia were still ongoing, led our President to his famous “infamy” characterization of the date. Because the attack commenced without a declaration of war and without explicit warning, the attack on Pearl Harbor was later judged in the Tokyo Trials to be a war crime.
“A date which will live in infamy.” There have been other dates like that – in each of our lives. For me those dates include December 15, 1979 (dad’s death) and September 28, 2008 (mom’s death). On a national level, those dates include November 22, 1963 (death of John Kennedy) and September 11, 2001.
We attach significance to specific dates. These dates serve as reminders of past crises and events. They remind us of things we need to avoid. They teach us lessons of the past that guide us into a better future.
So on this anniversary of the Second World War – 76 years ago – may we all resolve to be a better nation and a better people. This “date of infamy” only defeats us if we fail to learn its lessons.