Few are left that recall Pearl Harbor from experience, but many remember it. All Americans should remember it, because such shared experience will prevent future disasters.
Today is a day that will live in infamy, because America was attacked without warning and our liberty was imperiled. Americans in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, died and the World War came to our own homeland.
Pearl Harbor was a 9/11-style attack from a mighty empire, not just a terrorist organization. It controlled a vast area of China and threatened to seize still more.
If the empire had prevailed, millions now living in relative freedom would be in slavery. Now by the grace of God and the service of many brave men and women in our armed forces, Japan is a firm ally and we are able to appreciate much that is good in Japanese culture.
Japan is better and we are better, because of what came of Pearl Harbor.
When we remember an event that we did not directly experience, we enter into the experience of others. We share the pain, suffering, fear, and errors of our historical neighbors. Most of us were not alive at the time, but we can understand the times, because human fear is still fear, death is still death, and suffering is still suffering.
The folly of supplying our future foes with the raw materials that came back to destroy us, the foolish lack of preparedness, and the isolationist tendency in America are also something that has not ceased with the end of World War II.
An advantage of remembering and experiencing history is our moral safety. We are far enough removed from the events that the temptation to hate our enemy is much less. Surely there are few remaining that would loathe Japan for the attack. We can love the enemy of December 7, 1941, because while they are our enemy we know the end, the outcome of the war. We know everything will be all right.
This is, of course, always true. God is in command of history and though He will allow evil, even great evil because of our misuse of the gift of free will, history will be redeemed. No hurt will be forgotten, no injustice (however small) remains unfixed.
In fact, the biggest danger is to think that American victory in World War II, while good, was God’s ultimate justice. God has more elaborate plans. American received some justice and was the moral cause, but we did not always pursue our just cause with justice. We used racism and hate to motivate the nation. We imprisoned innocent American civilians with Japanese background.
God uses history to rectify these injustices. These divine actions are less obvious, but no less real.
Still the American victory was good for mankind and the alternative almost surely worse.
Pearl Harbor reminds us that the challenge may be great, but with God’s help humankind can defeat great evils. The empire of Japan had to go and when we set our wills to do so with our allies, then it was done. Thousands of Americans died on islands their families had never known, but as a result I am free.
Remembering brave men and their sacrifice makes me more likely to be brave and sacrifice in my time. Words are easy, but the patriotism after Pearl Harbor was greater: Men loved their nation enough to die for it. They may have been imperfect, but until I am as noble in deeds my criticism of their errors must be muted.
Finally, a remnant of the World War II generation is still with us. They remain as active members of civil society and we must not forget them. We can serve them if they are disabled; bear the burdens they can no longer stand. As important is our ability to still learn from their wise words and direct experiences. Their virtues are different from our own, as are their vices, and so they remain as witnesses to another time.
They knew Civil War veterans, their age now when they were middle-aged. In American history, they knew the generation that saved the Union and then they saved it again. It is vital that we fill our role and pass on their experiences and their memories of earlier times to the next generation. They link us to Lincoln, and someday we can link people yet unborn to Franklin Roosevelt and General Eisenhower.
Much that should not be forgotten will be remembered if today we remember Pearl Harbor.
John Mark Reynolds is the founder and director of the Torrey Honors Institute and professor of philosophy at Biola University. In 1996 he received his Ph.D. in philosophy from the University of Rochester. Reynolds can be found blogging regularly at Scriptorium Daily.
Publication date: December 7, 2011