Franklin Delano Roosevelt was correct when he declared that December 7th, 1941 would be a day that will live in infamy. The brutal Japanese attack on the US bases at Pearl Harbor shocked what had been just before a naive and isolationist nation into realizing the reality of the state of the world and plunged it into three and a half years of some of the most brutal warfare the world has ever known.
Yet, 75 years later, it is easy to forget the lessons Americans needed to learn from that event and to imagine lessons that should be forgotten.
The fact is that we should not remember Pearl Harbor out of some sense of xenophobia or bigotry or fear. It is easy to imagine that we should be suspect of those different from us and cast them as enemies, but if we were to do so, we would be wrong. The attack on Pearl Harbor was about far different lessons.
Instead, we should remember Pearl Harbor, and indeed all of World War Two, for what it represents about the world. The world is an unsettled, dangerous place, and it always has been. There has never been a time when the price of liberty is not eternal vigilance, and even when we are most vigilant, those who oppose us retain the ability to strike.
But, instead of despairing and fearing that reality, it should prompt us to adhere even more fully to the ideals that should define us. We should advance liberty even more. We should protect the oppressed with more zeal. We should prove to the whole world why we are a beacon rather than a blight.
It is by remembering the nature of our darkest days that we remember who we are. We must take hold of the ideals those events woke and put them into action. We must not let the darkness overcome the light. This is why we remember.
I once opined that no one can face a fiercer opponent than someone fighting for what they hold most dear.
We Americans, and really most Westerners, have a very romantic view of that idea. When we hear it, we see Spartans fighting at Thermopylae or Colonists fighting the Redcoats or Churchill exhorting the English to fight the Germans on the beaches.
Sure, there is that, but nobody said that what someone holds most dear has to be lovely or honorable in order for someone to be willing to die for it.
In fact, it is that very romantic fallacy that is causing us to lose the so-called War on Terror. What we’re failing to realize is that the fighters who have flocked to the likes of al Qaeda and al Shabbab and ISIS and their many brethren around the world fiercely love the variety of Islam they have embraced. They love it so much, they are willing to kill themselves trying to spread it and defend it.
Until we realize these people have embraced in harsh reality an ideal we have turned into fuzzy romance, we cannot beat them. It will never be enough to drop some bombs on the places they are currently hiding or to occupy the countries they happen to be operating from today. No, we have to attack the very foundations of what drives that ideology in the first place.
I understand that last notion is ugly and fraught with the potential for being cruel. As it turns out, so is our enemy.
Last week, a madman visited a terrible tragedy on the nation of Norway, murdering 76 people in a rampage that included a car bomb and a shooting spree at an island camp for youth.
Yet in the hour and a half that shooting spree occurred on that island, a even more tragic thing occurred: no one fought back.
I do not blame the victims for this fact because, frankly, they had the idea of fighting back robbed from them by a society that indoctrinated them into believing all violence is wrong. Because of that indoctrination, someone who rejected it was able to systematically take 76 lives without fear for his own safety. Reports indicate he surrendered peacefully to the police when they finally arrived.
What is even more sad to me than the event itself is the response it will illicit from the very people responsible for the fact that no one fought back. These people will call for more laws, tighter regulations, and more pacifist indoctrination, all the while ignoring the fact that none of those efforts succeeded in preventing this terrible tragedy.
And it is a tragedy that will happen again and, more than likely, soon.
The only counter to this kind of madness is to teach ourselves and our children that there is a time and a place for violence. There is a time and a place to fight back. Defending oneself and others threatened by violence is not wrong. We need to teach ourselves again that no human can have greater love than to die defending others from harm.
Until we begin to teach this ideal again, more senseless tragedy of this magnitude will follow, but it will not have had to.
It is appropriate that our nation should set aside a day to remember the sacrifices of all those who gave of themselves in defense of their nation to the point of giving their lives. Without such sacrifice, the republic could not be free, and out ideals of individualism, liberty, and independence could not succeed.
Yet, we must not forget those sacrifices or ideals the other days of the year. The fact that the men and women we remember today, taken from us by the violence of war or the cold hand of time, gave of themselves for the greater cause of what our nation stands for and is built upon should be seared into our minds every day, not just on Memorial Day. It is through the example of their service that we come to realize the full cost of the freedom we claim, and it is by their sacrifice that we should measure the value of our own payment toward that ideal.
And, if we find ourselves falling short of their example, then it is by their example that we can find our own way to pay the cost. This does not mean we must pay in our blood or our lives, but we must pay in a lifelong struggle to establish ourselves as individuals, exercising the liberty we have been blessed with, and standing firm in the independence that others earned and we continue to secure. It is when we do these things that we honor those who have gone before and we lay the foundation for those who will follow.
Godspeed then, brothers and sisters who have gone before. May we be found worthy to be counted among your ranks when then time comes.