Pearl Harbor 75th Anniversary: A perspective from a "millennial"

75 years ago today Pearl Harbor happened. It's been on my mind all day, although I'm just now putting pen to page. The shock of that morning has always brought me to tears, though I wasn't even born for another 41 years. I try to place myself into the shoes of people on that day, and I find myself shaken.

In a world already wrought with unrest, and America caught between two warring fronts of terrifying proportion and building terror. To be someone who was all too familiar with the horrors of war; after all just 23 years before the horrors of World War I had concluded, and many people were still scarred and maimed, spiritually, mentally, and physically, from that experience. Now the same power was raising its head in the East (and being terrifyingly successful); to the West, the atrocities and whispers of acts like the Rape of Nanking were creeping in. The Germans and the Japanese were knocking, and we were hoping to find a clear path without being frayed by warfare again so soon. The country was only just over 150 years old, and there had already been so much exhaustion.

Just crawling from beneath the wreckage of the dust bowl and the great depression, and now the storms on every horizon. Can you imagine the oppression on the hearts of the average American at that time? No wonder Americana was such a large cultural force: cling to each other, cling to our history, and think about baseball, movies, and dancing as much as possible. It was a terrifying time. And that was what it would have felt like on December 6, 1941.

Now picture the morning of December 7. A shocking attack out of nowhere (to most citizens, though the signs were there for leadership in retrospect, but the pieces put together too slowly to prevent the attack). That morning it must have felt like a lightning bolt that struck right in the stomach....but you knew the bolt would come sometime. Maybe there was a feeling of sick inevitability, in a world so topsy-turvy and so recently cruel. We knew we'd get pulled in, but not like this, not NOW. A shock attack, cowardly and early in the morning on a Sunday, perfectly calculated to maximize the carnage of those simply trying to rest. Right before Christmas, on a beautiful Sunday morning, before church. 

2,403 military men were killed that morning; many of them drowned in the hulls of the ships they slept on, in a force at peace. Men like people we know now, who surround us every day. People who had children, who wanted children. There must have been someone who died that loved reading too much, and his brothers teased him for having his nose in a book all the time. There must have been someone who died that took care of every stray animal who came his way. Another who wrote home to his little brothers and sisters every week, and sent them his pay, to help, since the farm still hadn't recovered. There must have been someone who hated to talk, but had a sweet smile if you caught it. They loved, they laughed, they hoped, and they dreamed. They knew they were in a world at war, and they would be pulled into it...but they didn't even get the chance. The horror of that morning resonates today just as strongly as it did then, because our clothes and styles change, but humans don't. They were the same as us. 

And thus they were pulled into the war, and our country was pulled into the war, and our world was never the same. And we learned once again through tribulation who we were and what mattered, and did what we needed to do to make it as right as we could. The sleeping dragon was awoken, and didn't sleep again until after Jimmy Doolittle had his raid, and bombs were dropped, and millions of lives were irrevocably changed. But things were still better than they would have been if we had turned our cheek the other way.

So now, it is 75 years later. And to many it feels as though it's ancient history, and eventually it will be. But to me it feels like it could have happened yesterday, and every year I cry on this day in remembrance of those who were lost, and thank them for their sacrifice. Because the world is still made up of people, just as it was then, and that shock feels just as real now as it did to people then. We try to do the best we can, but sometimes someone decides they need to try to take it. And then we have to fight.