Seventy-six years ago, the United States suffered stunning military losses in the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The losses in lives and U.S. military aircraft were so large that the full extent of the damage wasn’t reported at the time.
More than 2,400 sailors, marines, soldiers and aviators died in that early morning attack near Honolulu. Nearly half of them went down with the USS Arizona. Most of those sailors remain entombed under the ocean and a World War II memorial has been constructed over it.
Thursday marks the 76th anniversary of what President Franklin Roosevelt called “a date that will live in infamy.” It is being observed at Pearl Harbor with a week of solemn ceremonies.
On this anniversary, for the first time, 100 of the sailors killed on the USS Oklahoma, have been identified through DNA testing. Modern science will help identify remains of those war heroes who were first buried generations ago without names. Meanwhile last week, Hawaiian authorities, concerned about the remote possibility of a nuclear attack by North Korea, tested air attack sirens for the first time in a quarter-century.
Only those older than 80 have personal memories of that day, but all Americans should know its significance. American was jolted into World War II by the unprovoked Imperial Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Hitler had already conquered most of Europe. Italian dictator Benito Mussolini had invaded Greece and pushed his army into North Africa. The United States and its allies faced existential threats on multiple fronts.
It was a dark time, as reflected in headlines on the Billings Gazette front page on Dec. 8, 1941, reproduced on this Opinion page. The disaster united Americans behind the world’s greatest war effort: To defend freedom, to defeat Nazism, Fascism and imperialism. There was a broad understanding that all citizens would share in the sacrifices needed to win the war and keep our nation safe.
The year 2017 may well be remembered as a dark time, too. It’s been an 11 months in which the nuclear war threat is more real than it has been since the depths of the cold war. Cyber security is fast becoming an oxymoron. Worse, Americans are so divided in our politics and world views that our internal divisions can be exploited by enemies of America, both foreign and domestic.
Pearl Harbor Day is a time for Americans to remember that united we stand, divided we fail. More of us must try harder to move toward common ground, overcoming labels such as Democrat, Republican, independent, conservative, liberal and moderate. Let’s resolve to strive in 2018 for the greater good in the spirit of 1941.