#73

By: Gary DeBoard

A little more than a month ago, for the 73rd time, America quietly remembered Pearl Harbor Day. 73 long years ago, Franklin Delano Roosevelt stood before an emergency joint session of Congress and the nation to proclaim one of the most memorable, awful, and terrifying sentences that has ever been uttered in an official capacity, “Yesterday, December 7th 1941, a day that will live in infamy, The United States was suddenly and deliberately attacked…”

It’s difficult for those of us not alive during the 2nd world war to fully comprehend the context of such a statement. Today, when we talk of wars, we think of them as being over before they start. Though much bravery, heroism, and sacrifice was necessary, Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam and the like were never seen as a clear and present threat to our own neighborhoods and families. But in 1941, it was a much different equation. The axis of evil had long been bulging with terrifying muscle under the crazed leadership of Hitler, Mussolini, and the Empire of Japan. America, seeking to avoid a conflict that would inextricably change its history for either good or ill, now had no choice but to defend its borders. Think of this, America was not dispatching itself to protect its interest or democracy around the world, America was dispatching itself for its very right to exist.

Japan immediately feared what it had awakened. The Japanese admiral Yamamoto himself said, “A military man can scarcely pride himself on having ‘smitten a sleeping enemy’…since it is certain that, angered and outraged, he will soon launch a determined counterattack.” And a counterattack it was. Not only from distant battlefields, but from American factories, families and the collective spirit of a nation with a most determined pose. America wakened in the most mighty way.

In the commendable line of sacrifices our country has made in the name of true freedom around the  world for us and others, our fighting in WW2 was among the finest examples. And though the sacrifice was great and the hour was sad, it would serve as yet another defining hour in the history of our still relatively fledgling nation.

And yet some reading this might find an overtly romanticized, pro-American author who sees through rose colored glasses and is the very definition of the idiom that says history is written by the victor. To this I would say that you may have a point. War and nation building is a messy business that often operates in the gray, waiting for the far off future to justify its means. Being the leader of the free world means that we live in a country that will always be scrutinized and analyzed (and rightly so) for its decisions, actions, and course for the future. And certainly our actions have not always been commendable (sometimes quite dishonorably the opposite) and our decisions have not always been the right ones. But those very good points aside, the indisputable truth is that the high ideal of America has always been exceptional. Yes, I used the word “exceptional.” I’m not alone in that sentiment, our leaders, both Democrat and Republican would agree. It was Kennedy who said,

“Today the eyes of all people are truly upon us—and our governments, in every branch, at every level, national, state and local, must be as a city upon a hill—constructed and inhabited by men aware of their great trust and their great responsibilities..”

And of course Reagan spoke all his life about a shining city on a hill, “America is a shining city upon a hill whose beacon light guides freedom-loving people everywhere.”

And then Clinton said, “America remains the indispensable nation…”

After 9/11 Bush 43 said, “America was targeted for attack because we’re the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world and no one will keep that light from shining.” It’s not so much a philosophical idea as it is a distinctly American reality.

So how does Pearl Harbor Day fit into all this? Simply put- when called upon to defend the ideas of freedom and liberty, America stood up and was counted even if it was out of necessity. It reminded itself of the sacredness- and cost of a free land without tyranny or affliction. It was most impressive, if it only lasted for what seemed, all these years later, like seconds. Those seconds must endure in our memory and convictions lest the tree of liberty require refreshment. Another generation has to understand the vitality of America today, that ideal of a shining city on hill, tried and true for the world to consider. It must be worth our thoughts, our efforts and our convictions. For the city always must shine from the inside out.

All Ripples Travel

“It was a good game that may even have served a purpose.”

-Quote from, “Single Harness”

You never know in life the things that will make a difference. You never know how one thing will affect another and then another even still. The most minute detail or experience could likely have a profound impact on one’s ability to be a person they never would have been had it not been for that seemingly insignificant moment.

We see these moments and experiences scattered through history in the lives of those who have accomplished the most astounding things. One of those such lives was Walt Disney. This man behind the mouse grew up in the very American town of Marceline, Missouri, with the very American job of a paper route. And it was in these moments of the hardest kind of work, in the coldest kind of winters that Walt Disney learned the value and necessity of hard work regardless of the circumstances. This would be a value and a trait that would later loom large in his relentless pursuit of the most iconic company in the history of the modern age.

Then there was the late Silicon Valley founder, Steve Jobs. In his initial moment of profound insight, his father would come home and teach him how to take apart and put together radios and TV’s. These quintessential moments would later lead him to not just influence culture, but create it. The touchscreen wonder in your pocket and the tablet you are likely reading this on right now are all a direct result of a seemingly insignificant moment in a garage 50 years ago.

There was also the great communicator, Ronald Reagan. Fresh out of college, Reagan decided to interview for a radio broadcast job at a university in Iowa. Little did he know, this was the first domino out of many that would fall to lead him to places no one ever thought he would go- all the way to the presidency of the United States. And not just any president, but one of the most significant and important in our nation’s history. Yet it was the insignificant radio job that would, among many other things, provide him the experience and opportunity to ultimately possess the most important job in the world.

These people and their stories are worth remembering if for no other reason than they remind us that the big things in life don’t “just happen”. Instead, the big things require the little things. And it’s the little things that in hindsight, are the most mysterious of all. What if Walt never had the paper route? What if Jobs rode his bike instead of being in the garage? What if Reagan never took the job? Of course we can’t know the answers to those questions and for the sake of our psyche it’s probably best we don’t even ask. But it’s slightly comforting knowing that maybe, just maybe that fairly insignificant thing you’ll do tomorrow might just serve a purpose.

Coming Home

“…my step Granddad survived the Bataan Death March and never quite came back…everyone called it “shell shocked” back then.”

-Quote from, “Single Harness”

There has always been a unique fascination with the phrase, “fog of war.” First coined by military analyst Carl von Clausewitz, the term has found its way into pop culture. And though it is legitimately experienced by only a few, all instinctively understand it. In fact, one can see it practically portrayed in many a war scene from the comfort of their own home. But for those who know it more intimately, they know it all too well.

“War”, according to Robert McNamara, “…is so complex it’s beyond the ability of the human mind to comprehend.” The awfulness of many a war is truly incomprehensible. And if the “fog of war” is difficult to bear in war, then how much more difficult is the aftermath of the incomprehensible when all is done, the air is still, and nothing but the sound of quietness is heard. The psychological aftermath of war has the ability to inextricably strip the mind bare and leave the soldier always searching for something he cannot find. Many an American warrior has come home only to never find it the same again. As the song in Les Miserables so eloquently and painfully exclaims, “There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain that goes on and on.”

In our modern era we have put a medical diagnosis to this post war “shell shock.” Doctors call it Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSD). Though the PTSD diagnosis is used for other traumatic events beside war, it was first recognized in the war veteran. PTSD is of course nothing new. Soldiers have long dealt with the emptiness that comes from the post war quietness. It is just simply a new label. But at the same time, it serves as a reminder. A reminder that the cost to our warriors reaches far beyond the battlefield and into their homes, relationships, and other areas of life. Of course this is not to say that all soldiers come home with massive phycological wounds. Because they don’t. But for more mysterious reasons some struggle more than others. But the point is this- every soldier that comes home, brings with them more than they took. And they will deal with those things for the entirety of their lives. Let us be careful to take care of those (and their families) who have sacrificed so much so that we ultimately could be free.

As we wrap up 2 wars and seemingly start another, times of relative peace seem far off. And our warriors likely will once again be called upon to right the world. But as they come home, let us be sure and help them. Help them find the home they left so we wouldn’t have to.