Today, Dec. 7, we the people, including the dwindling members of the Greatest Generation, will gather again in Hawaii, in Washington, at military memorials everywhere, to commemorate a day that, as President Franklin D. Roosevelt said the following day, “will live in infamy.”
At 12:53 p.m., Dec. 7, there will be a Pearl Harbor 75th anniversary commemoration sponsored by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, one of numerous such events around the country.
Seventy-five years ago, the armed forces of Imperial Japan launched an attack on Pearl Harbor, headquarters of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, in which 2,008 U.S. sailors, 208 soldiers and airmen, 109 marines and 68 civilians were killed, launching the United States into World War II, the deadliest conflict in history. By the end of the war, and with the German and subsequent Japanese surrender, the United States had become the preeminent world power.
Pearl Harbor has been marked in great detail by diarists, historians — military and otherwise — and by the broader culture of books, novels, films and television. One of the thousands who served there (and at Midway) was Lou Roffman, uncle of former Georgetowner publisher David Roffman.
Seventy-five years is a long time. Both Japan and Germany, our antagonists and bitter enemies during World War II, have become strong economic and democratic powers — and America’s friends. They are two of our staunchest and most enduring allies. Since 1941, 13 men have served as President of the United States, with Barack Obama counting down the final days of his two-term tenure.
He enjoys the added significance of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe joining him at the ceremony in Hawaii — a first for a Japanese leader.
As it always does, the world has changed — technologically, structurally and politically. The major institutions that emerged since the end of World War II, the United Nations and NATO among them, have endured. New nations have been created out of the ashes and destruction. The Soviet Union and its empire have fallen, there is an ongoing war on terror and globalism is an unavoidable economic reality.
With a new president soon to be inaugurated, and new forces realigning ideologies in Europe, there are, no doubt, more major and as yet unforeseen changes coming.
All the more reason to remember not only the awful losses of Dec. 7, 1941 — and those who fought and died there — but also the terrible and gigantic forces that were then unleashed.