Today is the 71st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor that precipitated U. S. entry into World War II. The median age of the American veterans of that war is now over 90 and there are fewer of them alive every year—fewer than 1.5 million as of last count. Soon there will be no Americans who remember that war let alone took part in it.
In commemoration of the day I’ve been seeing newspaper editorials, op-eds, and blog posts urging us to remember the lessons of that day. What are they? I’m sincere: what are they?
I think it’s reasonable to remember and honor the sacrifices that our parents and grandparents made for their country. That may be the only lesson worth remembering: the number of Americans who stood up and were willing to die for something larger than themselves.
The country that they fought to defend no longer exists and, frankly, many of us today would not consider it worth defending. Consider the lives of women, African Americans, and homosexuals in that country. There was no problem of the homeless—they were beaten up by the police and dropped off at the edge of town. Children with mental or physical defects were institutionalized. Healthcare was inexpensive but it was also ineffective. Jobs were scarce and life was hard for people without jobs.
If we had fought the Japanese and Germans the way we have fought radical Islamists, we’d probably still be fighting them. I’m not suggesting that we should have. The honest truth is that we weren’t fighting Japanese militarists or the Nazis. We were fighting the Japanese and the Germans. If we fought violent radical Islamists the same way we fought the Japanese and Germans, we would be at war with nearly a billion people and there would already have been hundreds of millions of innocents killed.
So, are there lessons to be learned from Pearl Harbor? And what are they?