With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph – President Franklin Delano Roosevelt
FDR challenged a nation to muster its determination and come together to face “evil” encroaching on its boarders. The bombing of the Pacific Fleet first at Pearl Harbor and subsequently the coordinated attacks at Malaya, Hong Kong, Guam, the Philippine Islands, Wake Island, Midway Island and on the high seas in the eastern Pacific represented not just an act of aggression by the Japanese Empire but the end of an era in the American psyche.
We were no longer isolated from the rest of the world – the old nations were bringing the problems of the world to us, like it or not. Oceans no longer served to sever us from our responsibilities in the global society and thus, we could no loner fiend a disconnected notion of isolationism as part of the American fabric.
The nation, for better or worse, was thrust into a defining action and in-as-such was forced to confront some of its most basic beliefs and overcome some of its more conservative ideas in order to step up to the challenge which lie ahead.
Sometimes we as a nation failed. We failed to respect the citizenship of our fellow Americans when we interned them concentration camps or tacitly allowed hate crimes to committed on the basis of religion and ethnicity or otherwise promoted segregation. We failed to respect our enemy when we tortured them, used them as human shields and wantonly unleashed chemical and atomic weapons on them. We failed to respect humanity when we targeted non-combat civilians and brutally murdered them.
Many times though, we succeeded. From tragedy we found triumph and brought humanity back from the brink of xenophobic enraged genocide and pressed ourselves into new understandings of racial and gender equality. We used our minds and our muscle to create and innovate beyond perhaps any other point in history. And, we came together under a nationalistic banner that had not previously existed in the late 1800s and early 1900s.
Many men and boys gave their lives on the battlefield and many women in their participation in the war itself (the Soviets, the French Resistance and others, by way of example, had women in combat whereas for the US women were primarily relegated to other duties where they sacrificed life and limb).
Over 70 years have passed since that fateful day. Each year there are fewer and fewer survivors still alive keeping the memory of those events so it is up to us, the current generation, to educate ourselves on the legacy we were bequeathed. And, in that we should consider it not just from the rose colored lens of nostalgia or the tainted skew of propaganda but with a firm understanding of the complexities of the nation and the world at the time. It is ok to be nationalistic and still be a realist about the events of the time and to take a pragmatic look at not just what the history books crafted from it but what the implications are in how we total behave and move forward with our own challenges.
Terrible were the events of 7 December 1941. Terrible were the events of 9/11/2001. It should not take a third set of atrocities for us to put our inherent differences behind us and focus on the coming together of our similarities for the greater good of the whole, be it our own nation or within the grander context of the global human condition. What we should have learned from the date that will live in infamy is about the grand compromises that needed to occur in order to mobilize a diverse and at the time divisive nation to a singular purpose. To show the ultimate respect for those who sacrificed them we should be focusing on just such a coming together of commonality rather than the continued emphasis of our differences.
Each time one side or the other refuses to epitomize the commonality that underlies not just the citizenry here in the United States but in our existence in the context of a global community we disrespect the legacy of Pearl Harbor that was gifted to us. Unwavering partisanship isn’t a mark of patriotism, it is a mark against the truly diverse experience of being a US Citizen and a slap in the face to the compromise and sacrifice that was made. Such callous disrespect of our past will only serve to precipitate the kinds of problems that will lead to future tragedies. For, as far as we’ve come we still resemble entirely too many of the arguments of the past be them capitalism-versus-labor, or immigration-versus-nationalism, temperance-versus-individuality, or globality-versus-isolationism or conservative-versus-liberal and just as they did then, they continue to undermine now the true spirit of the American psyche and erode the actual liberty and justice that our forefathers hoped to impart on us.
Overcoming some of those differences and emphasizing the inherent need to stand on common ground together was part of what occurred in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor when FDR invited a then-split congress to act as one – not just in a declaration of war but in the spirit of lifting a terrified nation up from the depths of fear that could have otherwise embraced it. Overnight in some ways the petty and often adolescent qualms were put aside so that order could exist and a nation could move forward. Let’s not forget that and stop waiting for another tragedy in order to make such an effort again. Let’s show the respect those who sacrificed in loss of life or in physical or psychological well-being then that it was not in vain and we can act as one nation indivisible and with the unbounding determination of our people.