It is hard for our generation to understand the significance of what happened that day. Without perspective, it is just another day with a title. Let’s take a brief look at the details.
On December 7, 1941, Japan initiated a proactive attack on the United States. The intent was to cripple our military and eliminate the ability of the United States to fight the Japanese takeover of countries in Pacific region. The attack was calculated to deliver the maximum impact with the least resistance: they struck at 7:55 on a Sunday morning. No one saw it coming.
To put it into a fresh perspective, let’s compare the two acts of aggression, both the attack on Pearl Harbor and the attack on 9/11:
2,402 Americans died at Pearl Harbor.
2,819 Americans died on 9/11.
I had the opportunity to visit Pearl Harbor and the USS Arizona Memorial. It was an extremely sobering experience. I honestly had no idea as to the extent of the loss. In addition to the loss of human life, the wreckage of the Pacific fleet was astounding.
1288 Americans wounded.
18 Ships were sunk or severely damaged.
263 Aircraft were destroyed or severely damaged.
At the memorial, we saw artifacts from the military families that lived at Pearl Harbor. We saw many photos of the devastation. It was unimaginable. Giant battleships were laying on their sides in the water. Men were scrambling to cut holes in the sides of the ships to release soldiers who were trapped. Anyone who could reach a gun did their part to stop the waves of attack. A few pilots managed to get fighter planes into the air and engage the enemy. Yet, in the chaos of the attack, friendly fire took out at least one of our own pilots.
The next day, Congress and President Roosevelt declared a state of war with Japan.
You see, the attack at Pearl Harbor was the 9/11 of our grandparents’ generation.
Some 30 years earlier, President Franklin Roosevelt’s distant cousin, President Theodore Roosevelt, spoke these stirring words in a speech at the Sorbonne in Paris, France:
“….It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
To the Americans who were attacked at Pearl Harbor, to the Americans who tried and failed that day, we pay you our highest respects.
Thank you from the bottom of our hearts.