Buried at the bottom of the New York Times editorial page today there was one op-ed by a Japanese scholar that mentioned Japan’s attack on our base at Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, the “day that will live in infamy”. The op-ed was mostly about Japan’s modern foreign policy challenges, notably its issues with an increasingly assertive China. That’s it. Although several columns at the Washington Post might have mentioned it, they didn’t. I presume it was the same for the U. S.’s other major newspapers. It’s clear that as the last frail, elderly veterans fade from the scene it’s not considered pertinent enough or interesting enough for attention.
What should we remember about December 7? I think there are three things.
The first, far too often forgotten by Americans, is that it is terribly difficult and expensive to make war against us. The Japanese leaders knew that and hoped to remove us from the game with a single, devastating masterstroke. The stroke failed as they learned to their sorrow. We riposted and it’s not too great an exaggeration to say that we ended their civilization for it. Japan of today bears only a superficial resemblance to the Japan of 70 odd years ago. You can injure us with an attack, as we were reminded not too long ago, but making war against us is an enormous task.
That’s the reason we spend so much on our military. The other great powers of the Western Hemisphere—Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and so on—cannot project power the way that we can. Some years back the Argentines learned that they couldn’t even make war against the remnants of a great European empire just off their shores.
The second is that the “Second World War” as we call the war into which we were drawn in response to the attack that occurred 72 years ago today was the greatest mass mobilization of productive capacity and manpower in history and will probably be the last such mass mobilization. We might as well call it the “Last World War”.
It’s not that there will be no more wars. I’m not as arrogant as those who predicted that nearly seventy years ago or almost a century ago. It’s that we will no longer fight wars in that way. When, after the attacks on New York and Washington on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush somewhat infuriatingly and frustratingly advised us to “go shopping”, it was a confession that although war remains expensive it is no longer waged through that sort of mass mobilization.
That there are some who look back nostalgically on that mobilization as “the good old days” is almost too awful to contemplate. It was a terrible, frightening time.
The final thing I think we should remember is that in response to the attack that took place 72 years ago a hundred million Americans uprooted their lives, millions served in uniform, and nearly a half million Americans perished, giving what Lincoln called about another horrific American war the “last full measure of devotion”. And, as G. K. Chesterton noted in another context, they uprooted their lives, served in uniforms and gave their lives not primarily because they hated what opposed them but because they loved what they were defending.
Their sacrifices created the world we’re living in today and that day that will live in infamy should be remembered for that reason.