Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Remembering Pearl Harbor

"Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it."
—George Santayana, The Life of Reason

Seventy years ago today, aircraft and submarines of the Japanese Imperial Navy attacked the United States naval base and associated army airfields at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.  The attack resulted in the near-destruction of the United States’ Pacific Fleet, and over 2400 servicemen killed.

Below is the text of Franklin Roosevelt’s December 8, 1941 address to a joint session of Congress (while I am no fan of FDR, this speech is undeniably one of the finest pieces of American oratory of all time):
“Mr. Vice President, Mr. Speaker, Members of the Senate, and of the House of Representatives:
Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 -- a date which will live in infamy -- the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.
The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.
Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.
It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.
The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.
Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.
Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.
Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.
And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.
Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.
As commander in chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.
No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.
I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.
Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.
With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph -- so help us God.
I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.”
I do not expect that we will again see Zeros and Kates screaming out of the clouds over a U.S. naval installation.  But it is folly to think that we do not face threats (in no particular order, see Iran, Pakistan/Afghanistan, Venezuela, Russia, China).  As we remember the events of that day and sacrifice of those lost, we would do well to keep in mind that, as President Kennedy would say 20 years later in addressing the nation on TV concerning the Cuban missile crisis, freedom always has a price:

“[T]he greatest danger of all would be to do nothing.  The path we have chosen for the present is full of hazards, as all paths are.  But it is the one most consistent with our character and courage as a nation and our commitments around the world.  The cost of freedom is always high, and Americans have always paid it.  And one path we shall never choose, and that is the path of surrender or submission.”

We must remain ever-vigilant so that we are prepared to defend ourselves and our interests against those who would attack our freedom or threaten our way of life.  Anything less ignores the lessons of December 7, and renders to waste the price so dearly paid for them.

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