I am astonished that, eighty-one years later, the waters at Pearl Harbor continue to glisten with oil seeping from the sunken hull of the USS Arizona. Under the vigilant eye of the Missouri, she, alongside the Utah, rests at the bottom of the harbor with the thousands of crewmen lost on December 7th, 1941—when the U.S was “suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan,” as declared by President D. Franklin Roosevelt (Groton Form of 1900) in his “Day of Infamy” speech.
For the vast majority of Americans, including myself, one can only fathom the charged emotions that America felt that day—anger and grief, but also determination. Emperor Shōwa (widely known as Hirohito) had approved the surprise attack with three intentions: to destroy the American Pacific fleet and complete its conquest without disruption, to hinder American mobilization abilities and buy time for its consolidation of power, and finally to devastate American morale to such a degree that the U.S. would acquiesce with Japan’s demands.
They botched the first two (they did not strike either Pearl Harbor’s drydocks, maintenance shops, and oil tanks, enabling the U.S to respond quickly), but no miscalculation was as egregious as their last objective. Instead of being greeted by a submissive and crippled America, Japan awoke the next day to a unified front. (In response to both Pearl Harbor and attacks on their territories, the British Empire joined America in declaring war on Japan.) Hirohito had gravely underestimated the power of the resilient American spirit, and unbeknownst to him, he had woken a beast—unleashing a wrath unlike anything the world had ever seen, one which would change the course of modern history. In retrospect, historians consider the attack on Japan to be one of the most ill-planned, tactically foolish moves ever in warfare (I highly recommend the podcast “Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History” for more!).
Etched on monuments throughout Pearl Harbor is a phrase: "Remember, Honor, Understand." I interpret it to mean remembering the events of that fateful day, honoring the sacrifices made, and understanding why. In such a divided period of the American story, it is evident that much of the country has drifted away from these ideas. Consequentially, having lost the footing of our core values, we are unable to unite and form the mighty national coalition that once existed. I strongly believe that any sort of effort for cohesion and problem-solving will be in vain unless the country takes a moment to reflect on these three principles.