A guest post by Pete Hitzeman
“Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.”
–Franklin Delano Roosevelt, December 8, 1941
It’s another one of my favorite and least favorite days. Like Veterans’ Day, Memorial Day, and now Patriot Day, Pearl Harbor Day is one in which people update their Facebook statuses with pictures and quotes, briefly put on somber faces, and talk about remembering and honoring those who died. And then they tick the box of their annual moral obligation for another year, and go on looking at pictures of cats with things on their heads.
I submit that while remembering and honoring are fine and noble things, would it not be more useful, indeed more appropriate to talk about what happened and why? Would not the voices of those honored dead beg us to prevent future tragedies in any way possible? I don’t think we can honor their sacrifice properly without diligently trying to learn from and prevent the circumstances that precipitated the necessity of that sacrifice. This sort of discussion, while uncomfortable, is important, and today is an appropriate time to have it, lest we put it off indefinitely and fail to take its hard lessons.
The most painful lessons of days like today and 9/11 was that they didn’t have to happen. In the weeks, days and hours leading up to each of those attacks, there were signs that were ignored, intelligence that was discounted, and warnings that went unheeded. More than that, the circumstances that facilitated the possibility of those attacks were rooted in flawed policy and naïve beliefs about the nature of the world. Almost inexplicably, there are many today pontificating that we should again espouse those very same policies and beliefs.
I believe that the men and women who died on those days would be far happier if we were trying to figure out how to prevent future similar events, rather than simply “honoring” them with some sort of superficial sobriety.
This is part of a larger issue, for me. It is “impolite” to discuss difficult things (like politics) in polite company. It is “inappropriate” to talk about the reasons we have to send our young men into battle on the days we have selected to honor their service and sacrifice. The result of this mindset is, to me, that we never discuss those difficult things because they are uncomfortable, and that has led to redundant wars that cost us lives and strain our nation, and a political system so broken that no one believes it can be fixed. We should, and we must start having these discussions, and I can think of no better time, so long as it is done respectfully, than days like today.
An objective assessment of the histories of the two largest attacks on American sovereignty in the past century lays bare the fallacy, still being advanced as truth today, that if we leave the world alone, it will return the favor. One of the principal challenges of being a global superpower is that we must, in the interest of our own survival, discover and engage threats to us, our allies and our interests at home and abroad, before they precipitate into full scale assaults on our homeland and civilian populace. If we fail to do so, if we forget or ignore the lessons offered by the catastrophes of our past, we are guaranteeing that in the future, we will have to set aside yet more days to remember our fallen. And that in no way honors those who have already died.
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.