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.