A day that will live in infamy.
That was then-President Franklin Roosevelt’s description of Dec. 7, 1941 — the bright Sunday morning the Japanese chose for a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the main Pacific U.S. naval base in Honolulu.
More than 2,400 Americans died in the attack, including many civilians; another 1,000 were wounded. Eight battleships were among the 20 vessels in the U.S. fleet that were damaged or destroyed. The U.S. declared war the next day.
Eventually, Japan would more than pay for its ruthlessness. It lost the war, saw two cities flattened by the first use of atomic weapons, and its military has never been fully restored.
But the day of the attack has, indeed, lived in infamy: a reminder of the brutality and horror of war; a tragic lesson in not underestimating potential foes, either in capability or intention; and a symbol around which to rally and unite.
The pain and pull of Pearl Harbor Day has waned in recent decades, as most of those who served in World War II have passed and 9/11 gave new generations their own horrific rallying point. But the lessons of Dec. 7, 1941, ought not to be forgotten, lest they be repeated.
Now, our nation finds itself in the midst of a war of another kind, facing a faceless enemy that can’t be beaten with weapons and numbers. The pandemic still raging across the globe is at its most dangerous point in the United States since it first erupted.
There is no “day of infamy” to associate with it, no nation to blame — despite attempts by the president to cast this as an “attack” by China, given evidence of earlier incidence of the virus in Europe, it’s not even clear it began in Wuhan Province, as originally cast.
It has, however, cost more U.S. lives than any war save World War II, and it’s quickly gaining on the 291,500 people lost during that conflict.
Moreover, there has been no unity, no rally point in this fight. Quite the opposite, in fact. Bolstered by the president’s unconscionable campaign to downplay the threat, a large segment of Americans have concluded that the coronavirus is either a hoax, overhyped, or simply not important enough to warrant taking precautions to protect themselves and others.
There’s certainly a different dynamic to a battle against a virus that often spreads without signs of infection, and which we’re still learning about in many ways. We wonder, too, if our society is so divided, so invested in polar-opposite bubbles, that should an event such as the Pearl Harbor attack occur, would we unite for the common good?
We’d like to think so. It happened after 9/11, though for a far shorter time than many predicted. Now, we seem unable to even agree on what constitutes the “common good.”
Recapturing that common ground is essential to moving forward as a nation. As 1941 neared its end, America was still emerging from the Great Depression. Racial and gender inequity were accepted norms. Our country wasn’t perfect, but it was prepared to unite against a common foe.
As 2020 nears its end, today we honor the lives lost on that infamous day and the sacrifices they made to protect the future of the United States. We hope that the citizens of the country they served can again unite, realizing our common foe is not ourselves.