pearl harbor

Pearl Harbor Memorial

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At 7:55 a.m., Hawaii time, a dive bomber with the red Rising Sun (the symbol of the Japanese Empire), clearly seen on its wings and tail, appeared out of the clouds over the island of Oahu. It was followed by 360 warplanes bearing the same symbol. For the next two hours, the naval base, Pearl Harbor, was bombed, strafed, and battered by this unprovoked attack. In the end, five battleships, three destroyers, and seven other ships were sunk or severely damaged. (All but USS Arizona and USS Utah were eventually salvaged and repaired.) More than 300 aircraft were destroyed, and the airfields, docks, and buildings that held these ships and planes. But most tragic was that around 2,500 Americans were killed and about 1,200 were wounded.

The next day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed Congress. He said, “Yesterday, Dec. 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.

“The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with the government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific...

“The facts of yesterday speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation...

“No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

“I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again...

“With confidence in our armed forces - with the unbounded determination of our people - we will gain the inevitable triumph - so help us God.” (The text and audio of the complete speech is available at www.historyplace.com/speeches/fdr-infamy.htm)

After this speech, the United States Congress voted, with only one dissenting vote, to declare war on Japan, and in two days with Germany and Italy. With that, the U.S. was now in WWII.

That was seventy-nine years ago. A lot has happened in history since that day. Still, as Roosevelt said, it is a date that lives in infamy. With everything happening in the world and here at home, too, why do we still commemorate this date with pomp and ceremony? The term “Lest we Forget” is appropriate there. The thousands of lives lost on this day, and the hundreds of thousands that followed, demand that we remember not only this day but what led to such a destructive war. History has shown us that unless we learn from the past, we will be doomed to make the same mistakes and repeat the past. As we remember the attack on Pearl Harbor, we can be focused on the future. We will see the signs and the trends that could lead to another great conflict and avoid it with better decisions and policies.

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