Before Afghanistan. Before “shock and awe” in Baghdad. Before September 11. Before Oklahoma City. Before the fall of the Berlin Wall. Before the fall of Saigon. Before the assassinations and riots of the 1960’s. Before Vietnam. Before Korea. Before Israel became a state. When Hitler and Nazism were on the march and exterminating millions. When the United States was recovering from the Great Depression. When Franklin D. Roosevelt was president. Before the memory of most Americans alive today, December 7, 1941 became the “Day that will live in Infamy” when Japan attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor.
The terrible explosions from the suicide bombers and torpedoes that wiped-out the American ships anchored in the harbor that day, along with more than 2,200 lives, still reverberate through modern society. We don’t often think about World War II any more, preoccupied as we are with celebrity affairs and the escapades of publicity hounds. Heck, we don’t even think about the two contemporary wars slogging on in Afghanistan and Iraq, wars that were also triggered by an attack on the United States.
December 7, 1941 is the day that America began to grow up into a mature, global superpower. The date marks the dawn of the modern age, the age of individual as well as national global awareness, the acceleration of invention, the foreshadowing of nuclear power, the expansion of electronic communications, the hastening of concepts leading to computerization. Because of Pearl Harbor, millions of Americans left their homes to fight wars on both sides of the world, and hundreds of thousands never came home alive.
The millions who marched home victorious often kept their memories of the horrors of war to themselves. My father, who fought in the Phillippines, never talked about his war experience; my brothers and I would sometimes play with his helmet and decorated jacket he kept in the attic, but we could not imagine this kind, big-hearted dad crawling through jungles with guns, maybe even killing other people. We never asked, and he didn’t tell. War is hell, as the saying goes, and the veterans of World War II were mostly happy to leave the memories alone. They came home, built families and communities and corporations, and became “The Greatest Generation” the world has ever known.
Let’s take a few minutes today to remember and thank the Greatest Generation. They made it possible for their children, the Baby Boomers, and subsequent generations to have so much — vastly improved educational and economic opportunities, a standard of living unparalleled in history, and more years of peace than most generations previously knew. We can and must improve our stewardship of the prosperity they made possible.
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