It was 81 years ago this week that the nation of Japan launched its attack on the United States at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii on December 7, 1941.
The very next day, President Franklin D. Roosevelt convened a joint session of Congress in which he famously declared the attack as, “A day that will live in infamy,” and asked Congress for a Declaration of War against Japan. Germany and Italy, allies of the Japanese who collectively were known as the Axis, then declared war on the U.S., setting the stage for what would become the largest conflagration in world history.
Hundreds of thousands of Americans would die in battlefronts stretching from the European continent to the jungle islands of the Pacific over the next three and one-half years before the German and Japanese war machines finally were subdued.
For more than two years prior to the attack, America had stayed out of the war that already had engulfed most of the rest of the world in the aftermath of the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939. By the time of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Hitler’s Nazis had conquered all of continental Europe and much of Africa, while the Japanese had invaded almost all of Asia, save for the U.S. outposts in the Philippines and other small islands in the Pacific.
Americans clung to the belief that our isolation, separated from the rest of the world by two oceans, would keep us out of the war. Americans had no appetite for re-engaging in another conflict just 23 years removed from the memories of World War I that still were fresh in our nation’s psyche.
But after Pearl Harbor, we no longer could keep our heads buried in the sand. Although America had re-instituted the draft some months prior to Pearl Harbor and had ramped up our military production capabilities, the suddenness of the Japanese attack still came as a shock to every American.
Americans realized that thanks to the capabilities of modern armaments such as Japanese aircraft carriers and German U-boats, even the continental United States was not insulated from attack by a foreign enemy. Citizens on the West Coast braced for a Japanese invasion in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and curfews were instituted on the Eastern Seaboard.
Thanks to the countless number of documentaries and movies over the past 20 years that have told the stories of the brave Americans who fought in WWII, we are fortunate to have a living history of the sacrifices made by The Greatest Generation. The lessons of Pearl Harbor are many, but chief among them is that freedom isn’t free — and that we always must be vigilant to recognize the forces of evil that seek to destroy our way of life.