President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously and correctly called it a day that will live in infamy. It surely was that, Dec. 7, 1941, 71 years ago today.
Among other things, it was the most brazen and unprovoked assault on the United States — unchallenged until three months shy of 60 years later, when unsuspecting civilians were shocked, horrified and killed in New York City, Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania countryside by terrorists.
Dec. 7, 1941 — Pearl Harbor Day — should also be remembered as the catalyst to the most thorough and spectacular retaliation in the history of the world. For it impelled a peace-loving but conflicted behemoth into a giant bent on revenge and restoration of order.
In addition, we have no choice but to judge that, by launching that attack, the Empire of Japan committed history’s most disastrous miscalculation, apparently believing the United States would be cowed by a sudden, devastating show of force. Instead, the nation joined hands in solidarity and determination to right a horrendous wrong and, four years later, Japan was dismantled.
Today, we commemorate Pearl Harbor Day. We certainly don’t celebrate it. At just before 8 a.m. that historic day, planes that had traveled 274 miles from an aircraft carrier off the coast of Oahu began their mayhem. A second wave of bombers arrived an hour later to complete the devastation.
Eight ships were destroyed or damaged; 188 planes were demolished; 2,403 servicemen were killed. If Hitler hadn’t managed to mobilize America’s indignation, Hirohito surely did. There was no longer any question whether America was going to have only a rooting interest in World War II.
Japan wasn’t finished after leaving Pearl Harbor in ruins. Three hours later, it bombed American facilities in the Philippines, as well as hitting Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand.
But what was left of America’s Pacific Fleet in Hawaii, as well as fuel-storage depots, formed the foundation of a response that the Japanese Empire would deeply regret. The following June, the United States won the Battle of Midway, which set the Allies on a course that led to the total destruction of Japan.
Our greatest shock and despair aroused our greatest response and, surely, our greatest heroisms.
The ranks of veterans of Pearl Harbor and World War II are thinning because of time. But no amount of time will ever erase the historic moment of Dec. 7.
Infamous, by all means. But valorous and, in the end, victorious.