Pearl Harbor, 9/11 and today
Today marks the 80th anniversary of the surprise attack on the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor by Japanese imperial forces on Dec. 7, 1941. It was a day that President Franklin D. Roosevelt told the nation would "live in infamy." So it has, but the date has also become a day for mourning those who were lost and for honoring the survivors and those who followed them in the war declared the next day.
Today, we pause for that mourning and those honors.
The youngest of the surviving sailors and others who lived through the early morning attack in Honolulu are now close to 100 years old. They have become revered surrogates in ceremonies honoring those who lived to fight another day but have since passed away, either in war or in the hard-won peace that followed. They are the icons, the ones whom today's soldiers, sailors, Marines, Air Force and Coast Guard members strive to emulate.
The casualties at Pearl Harbor were the first for the United States as part of World War II, but millions around the world died in the years from the Nazi invasion of Poland in 1939 to the Allies' separate peace with Germany first, and then Japan, in 1945. Many were civilians who lost their lives in bombings, in foreign forces' occupation of their countries, during interment in concentration camps, or from want and starvation.
How did such evil take hold? What warning are those war years sending to us 80 years later?
Most important to remember on a day such as the Pearl Harbor anniversary is the response to the attack. The universal reaction in the nation in 1941 was to unite, sacrifice, fight and win. Each American had a role. There were, in the terminology of the day, two fronts: the military front and the homefront. In 2001, when air attacks hit New York City, Washington, D.C., and from a heroically re-directed flight over Pennsylvania, the reaction again was to come together. Americans instantly and lastingly supported the families of the victims and of the heroes of rescue and recovery, the first responders.
The USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor; the national World War II Memorial; the National September 11 Museum in New York; the Flight 93 Memorial in Pennsylvania; and the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial also known as the Iwo Jima sculpture, as well as thousands of movies, books and art focus on the climax of the story: not terror but resolve, service, victory and sacrifice. For the 60 years between Pearl Harbor and 9/11, Americans were clear on that.
Our fellow citizens were responding to enemies who attacked the nation from without. They assumed, sometimes with only seconds to react, that their task was to defend their country and all its citizens — not just the ones who agreed with their politics.
In honor of the sacrifices made in 1941, 2001 and throughout the years, it would be a fitting tribute today for all sides to stand back from hardened opposition to fellow Americans and their points of view. The men and women who died for freedom deserve that much. They died with a right to expect all Americans to recognize that democracy was worth dying for, if that must be, but that it would never, after they gave their precious lives, be held cheap.
It is on us now to find common ground, not because we agree on specific issues but because we, like the heroes of the past, can see past them. This generation owes that — and our freedom and democracy — to those generations.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.