On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941 – 81 years ago today — the forces of Imperial Japan struck the U.S. Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Some 2,400 Americans were killed in the surprise attack, which triggered U.S. entry into World War II.
While direct memories of Pearl Harbor are increasingly fading into history, the event remains a seminal one in our nation’s history. In that regard, it continues to provide lessons that should resonate today.
Much like the 9/11 attacks, Pearl Harbor succeeded in part because of unheeded warnings and a lack of diligence. The attack was the culmination of a lengthy and surreptitious mission, with Japanese ships traveling more than 3,000 miles over nearly two weeks before launching their planes — all while remaining undetected.
An hour before the planes arrived at where the U.S. fleet had congregated, George E. Elliott Jr. was operating radar equipment when he noticed a large blip approaching the island. After a call to a supervisor, the incident was dismissed and attributed to American B-17 bombers arriving from the mainland. Instead, it was 183 Japanese fighter planes, which soon began dropping bombs and torpedoes.
The following day, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously told Congress that Dec. 7 was “a date which will live in infamy.”
While that declaration is ingrained in American lore, Roosevelt also said, “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. . . . With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.”
Such resolve must continue to guide our nation from direct and indirect threats. Be it in protecting our borders, strengthening international alliances, using military intervention when necessary, addressing climate change, preparing for a pandemic or securing elections from foreign and domestic interference, righteous might is imperative for protecting our nation’s interests and her people.
As the Department of Defense has warned, climate change is a national security threat: “Increasing temperatures; changing precipitation patterns; and more frequent, intense, and unpredictable extreme weather conditions caused by climate change are exacerbating existing risks.”
And as CNA, a research organization dedicated to national security, has warned, a pandemic emboldens extremist organizations that seek to “exploit the COVID-19 crisis to further their ideological and political agendas, and integrate current events into existing narratives to substantiate their predictions and calls to action.”
And as FBI officials have warned, nefarious actors work to interfere in elections and sow “panic or lack of confidence in our election infrastructure.”
Each of these presents an unconventional threat to the United States. Yet they call for the kind of resolve that was inspired by the attack on Pearl Harbor.
In response to that event, the United States became engulfed in a global battle fought on two primary fronts. Through righteous might and unbounding determination, the United States and her allies prevailed after four years of bloody conflict.
Modern communications and surveillance are not enough to prevent surprise attacks on the scale of Pearl Harbor. Memories of that long-ago event should continue to inform and inspire American steadfastness.