Today, December 7, marks the eighty-first anniversary of the simultaneous and coordinated Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor, Guam, Wake Island, Midway Island, and the Philippines. In the two-wave aerial assault on Pearl Harbor, the Japanese warlords sought to eliminate the United States as a military obstacle to their larger plan for domination and control of the Greater East-Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere, as the Japanese called the entire Pacific and Far East.
Captain Mitsuo Fuchida, who commanded the first wave of the attack on Pearl Harbor, acknowledged that the Japanese had known before the attack was launched that the U.S. aircraft carriers Lexington and Enterprise were at sea. Upon his return to the Japanese fleet, he reported to his superiors, "[T]here are still many targets which should be hit," and he urged another attack in addition to the second wave that was even then hitting the U.S. base. Admiral Chuichi Nagumo, commander of the Japanese fleet, however, "chose to retire."
As devastating as their attack was to the United States, the Japanese plan was flawed from the beginning. Nagumo's decision, it turned out, only made things worse for the Japanese.
As Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy, warned, "I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve." That resolve would unleash an awesome power that would, in turn, devastate and forever change the Japanese homeland, economy, and political system.
Following the declaration of war on December 8, the American people rose up en masse to do battle with the attacker. The American armed forces, which at the time of the attack was only the twelfth largest in the world, grew to be the most powerful by the end of the war, less than four years later. Before the end of 1942, American industry was producing more war materiel that Nazi Germany, Fascist Italy, and Imperial Japan combined. By 1944, it was turning out 150 tons of steel a minute, producing a warplane every five minutes, launching 50 merchant ships a day, and building eight aircraft carriers a month.
Within three years and ten months, that "sleeping giant" had not only awakened but also defeated three dictatorial enemy regimes across multiple fronts that stretched across Europe, the Mediterranean, and North Africa on the west and from Attu, Kiska, and Dutch Harbor in the north to New Guinea in the south to Burma in the Far East and all across the numerous islands of the Pacific.
The question now lingers: Could we do it again?
Let's not allow ourselves to be put into a position of having to find out. We should learn from history, especially its painful lessons. Never again should the United States allow itself to be surprised by an enemy, whether foreign or domestic. Since World War II, the United States has resisted the foolish but frequent urging of some people to reduce our military after every war. Rather, we should ensure that it remains strong and vigilant all the time. As President Reagan posited, our nation should pursue "peace through strength."
Neither should we forget the sacrifices of those who gave up their careers, their families' well being, and even their lives to defend our nation. The World War II generation, which has been called "the greatest generation," is quickly passing from the scene. We should honor those who served and survived. Thank them at every opportunity. But, most importantly, we should learn the lessons that war and its aftermath teach.
Much has been said and written on this topic, but the narrative needs to be repeated over and over because we forget so quickly. If we fail to remember and heed those lessons, we will pay a steep price, for those who fail to learn from the lessons of the past inevitably repeat history's failures.
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