“December 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy” FDR
The greatest generation’s legacy could be said to be established on a single date. The coalescing of a national identity in reaction to one of the nation’s gravest experiences.
An ever increasingly divided nation in need of a rallying cry found just such unity in the most unfortunate of times. There’s something to be said for what occurred in the United States in the subsequent days and weeks as former domestic enemies found kinship against a common evil. The putting aside of perceived differences allowed them to create an aire of
Compromise is often perceived as a dirty word. The word sacrifice in this context of compromise thus negatively represents what one or both sides perceive they had to give up in order to reach said compromise. This alludes to the act of sacrifice not in being noble for the greater good but being a sign of something like weakness or a lack of conviction. The focus becomes on what is thought to be lost through compromise rather than on the inherent gain the combined agreement should create.
The truth however is that well constructed compromise doesn’t result in a loss for either side. The correct interpretation of compromise should be of the gain both sides have that they otherwise could not have achieved.
In the time before Pearl Harbor, dating back at least to the late 1800s, there was an increasing wariness about compromise. Hardline positions were formed on everything from global involvement economically and militarily, how to handle immigration, how to deal with increasing industrialization and the labor force, how to respond to the increased demands of women and minorities for greater equality socially, economically and politically, and even how to handle the religiously inspired conservative temperance movement among other national “problems.”
Not all of this was put aside at the advent of war. There were still divisive arguments relating to segregation, immigration and workforce regulation as well as disagreements about the treatment of Asian-, German-, Italian- and Jewish-Americans who faced in the worst cases domestic concentration camps but at the minimum increased persecution in their daily lives as Citizens.
However, many other aspects of the nation’s identity which were callously pushed to extremes were put to a different kind of test – one of which commonalities were sought and compromise was found to advance the greater good of the Nation. This narrowing of the gap between positions was not thought of as the spineless softening of rhetoric we so commonly expect from modern politicians but rather the belief that no other such outcome could exist other than finding things to agree upon in order for the nation to move forward.
Progress, even if in increments, became more valuable in many partisan disputes than steadfastly adhering to an ideology with a zero-sum result. The nation could no longer afford to thrive on disagreement and for a brief moment in time was able to accept the positive attributes of compromise.
FDR’s speech drew bi-partisan support from a chamber so previously divided that they were able to pass support for a declaration of war within hours. Necessity is the mother of invention so to speak.
What we, as a nation, should learn from this though is it shouldn’t take tragedy to come together in progress. It shouldn’t take Pearl Harbor or 9/11 as a nation or a marital divorce or family disowning argument or suicide or other personal tragedy as individuals to drive us into soul searching and for us seek out common ground with one another to gain future successes. We shouldn’t have to lose something in order to understand compromise isn’t about loss it’s about overcoming adversity for common gain. We shouldn’t have to be confronted with deep individual pain and sorrow in order to begin to comprehend how the only way to survive is by working together for a common goal.
Can we come to that realization as individuals, as a country, as humans in a global society? One would hope so, though, the state of affairs today, 70 years later does leave a lot to be desired about our individual and our nationalistic interpretation of dealing with the human condition.
We must, if we are to continue to survive and thrive as a nation, embrace the legacy of Pearl Harbor and the unrelenting push it created to come together, to confront our own shortcomings as a nation and progress forth toward a common goal of liberty.