Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Pearl Harbor Day

It's been seventy years since the United States was summarily drawn into World War II by the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7th, 1941.

Growing up in the seventies, this was always an important day, probably because veterans of World War II were plentiful, many in their late fifties or early sixties and in significant positions throughout society, from political offices, to educators, to management in various corporations. As such, the day was not one that could go by unnoticed, given the cost of the War, personal experiences, and fallen comrades.

But now, those people are gone. The number of World War II veterans is dwindling rapidly. According to Wikipedia, there are some two million veterans still alive (out of sixteen million), with over eight hundred dying every day. There are no more World War I veterans still alive, the last one from the United States--a Mr. Frank Buckles--having died this year.

It's a sobering moment, knowing that these people are fast disappearing from the world, taking with them their memories from such a significant period in world history. My own Grandfather--Carlton Upright--served in Europe during World War Two. He passed away in 2005, having served as a sergeant in the 9th Army 135th Antiaircraft Artillery Gun Battalion "C" Battery and having been awarded the French Croix de Guerre. I think of him often and wish he was still here, wish I had more time with him, partly to know more of what he knew and experienced during the War.

Recent schools of thought suggest that the Empire of Japan was forced into war with the United States, that the latter's expansion of economic activity and control in the Pacific was essentially choking of the economy of the former. And there is some merit in that. Some. In that respect, the attack on Pearl Harbor was perhaps the only chance Empire had of defeating--or at least stalemating--the United States. Nonetheless, the attack at dawn was a surprise, catching thousands off guard and sending over twenty four hundred Americans to their graves.

After the news of the attack reached the mainland, support for isolationism all but disappeared and the United States quickly declared war on the Empire of Japan. Germany soon declared war on the United States in response and World War II extended around the globe.

All that we are today, all the lines of demarcation around the world of peoples, economies, and nations are products of this past in identifiable ways; the War did more than define a generation, it established a world order. And it created a mythos of the American experience, built first and foremost on the day that would live in infamy. We would do well to remember it, even as those that experienced it move on.

Cheers, all.

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