And like Nov. 11, it is a day we willingly choose to use as a tribute to those men and women who have made, and who continue to sustain, our nation as the greatest on Earth.
We say “greatest,” not because of military prowess but because of the size of hearts that have defended American values and our unwaivering belief in freedom since this nation’s birth.
We say “greatest,” not because of the red, white and blue of a proud Old Glory, but because of the courage displayed by hundreds of thousands in defending her against all who would oppress and any who would abuse.
We say “greatest,” not because of wealth, material possessions nor power of diversity, but because of a readiness to step up for what is right and to step forward against all that is wrong.
We say “greatest,” not because of a desire to impose our will, but because of a moral mandate to defend our beliefs.
Saturday is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, an observance of a tragedy 72 years ago that saw democracy clash with tyranny. It was an assault that pulled the United States into global warfare.
In the heartbroken words of a great American, it was “... a date which will live in infamy.”
The emotional declaration came Dec. 8, 1941, a day after the terrifying attack on Pearl Harbor that took the lives of 2,335 U.S. servicemen and 68 civilians, while wounding 1,178. The aggression crippled the U.S. Pacific Fleet — though it did not deter prompt retaliation.
America now found herself in a role she had sought to avert — a key combatant in World War II.
Proclaiming this “infamy” was President Franklin D. Roosevelt. His words came during an epic speech made before a joint session of Congress. It was a “Declaration of War” in which the U.S. commander in chief sought justice against the Empire of Japan for what he described as a “premeditated invasion” of the United States.
It set the stage for a bloody, four-year military conflict between the Allied Powers (primarily America, Britain and Soviet Russia) and the Axis Powers (primarily Japan, Germany and Italy).
Even to this day, historians continue to dissect the root causes of this horrific war that encircled the globe and held captive millions of innocent observers. As with any military confrontation of this magnitude, opinions differ — even seven decades later — on who did what, why and when to force the escalation of this unprecedented fight. We will leave it to scholars both domestic and abroad to decipher fact from myth.
For now, we concern ourselves with Saturday — Dec. 7, 2013 — and with our community’s tribute to America and to our veterans who defend her with unconditional conviction.
President Roosevelt’s powerful testimony to the American people came with resolute tone and matter-of-fact expression. Let us review just a few segments:
- “It will be recorded that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago.”
- “The people of the United States ... well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.”
- “... The American people, in their righteous might, will win through to absolute victory.”
- “... We will gain the inevitable triumph. So help us God.”
- “I ask that the Congress declare ... a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese Empire.”
World War II tested nation against nation, people against people and ideals against ideals. Their merit will be debated for generations to come.
In defining fact from fiction within any military conflict, this hard truth remains a cold fact of war.
Soldiers do the fighting. And soldiers do the dying. Responsible leaders understand this inevitability.
Franklin D. Roosevelt was one such leader, yet deep within his heart this great American surely felt the weight of a nation in asking for a war that he knew would send hundreds of thousands of soldiers — American, allied and enemy — to their deaths.
It is this group of warriors we honor Saturday.
It is Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, a time of tribute and an hour of mourning.
It also is this wish — that those who threaten war from any nation, any people or any culture will exhaust all measures for peace before firing the first weapon of aggression.
War is sometimes unavoidable. But when it comes we should learn from its lessons.
Those who forget its pain are those who are doomed to repeat its tragedy.