70 years ago today, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and forced the United States into the Second World War. The heroics of Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett from that day will always be remembered by a grateful nation.
My first understanding of the significance of the “date that will live in infamy” came from the classic motion picture Tora Tora Tora, which I first watch as a kid. The surprise air attack that Sunday morning in Hawaii was a good 30 years in the rear view mirror by that time. If you have not had the pleasure, I recommend the film highly. It provides a recounting of the events leading up to that fateful day from the point of view of both the Japanese and American sides, and the battle scenes are epic. The explosions and artillery fire that lit the screen seemed authentic, but not scary. War is a noble enterprise when portrayed on film, especially since in the end, we knew we would end up winning this one.
The movie was very antiseptic in its depiction of the battle scenes when compared to what I was seeing of the Vietnam War on the news before school every morning. Right before we would switch the channel to Bugs Bunny and Friends at 8 AM (I had to leave for school by 8:20 AM), the body count for the previous day would appear on screen. Day after day, the number of Viet Cong reported killed dwarfed the number of U.S. servicemen killed, causing me to ask my mother one fine morning, “If we are always killing so many of them, why aren’t we winning?” I wonder if anyone else has as clear a memory of their first encounter with propaganda. War was a mathematical riddle to be solved.
The first Gulf War provided another weigh station on our journey to complete military conflict desensitization. We gathered around the fledgling CNN, at the time an unheard of 24 hours of nothing but news, to watch our brave men and women rein bombs upon Baghdad by night. It was a televised Middle Eastern 4th of July, celebrating our independence from having to watch real warfare on the streets.
At some point in time over the past 70 years, December 7, 1941 became more of a contrived movie plot than a day of national tragedy. I would imagine that when the balance finally tipped in favor of this date becoming redefined as historical fiction, no one noticed. The slow road to indifference is paved by many events, and besides, we have busy lives.
The history of our world changed on December 7, 1941, as it did for the current generation on September 11, 2001. Given how we recall the attacks on Pearl Harbor, I am left wondering. When we reach September 11, 2071, will anyone stop at 8:46 AM and whisper a silent prayer? Or will we work all day, head home and curl up in front of our 3-D television to watch the 9-11 movie marathon starring Suri Cruise and Shiloh Pitt-Jolie?
So today, on a day that we remember a real war with real fighting and real consequences, I read that short term GOP candidate Rick Perry has vowed if elected (insert your own joke here) to end Obama’s “War on Religion”. War on Religion? Are the armaments for this struggle included in the latest Department of Defense budget, and if so, how will it be paid for? If the war is now on religion, then I must conclude that the War on Christmas is now just a skirmish in this greater crusade. Must every disagreement be couched by politicians as a war? At some point, doesn’t it diminish the real bang-bang shoot ‘em up thing? Before you know it, they’ll declare a War on Zevon (send lawyers, guns and money!). He’s an excitable boy, they all said, and that’s dangerous.
Personally, I’ll hold my fire until someone declares a War on Political Hyperbole. That’s a fight worth having. Then I’ll come out shooting off my mouth.
Please take a moment today to remember those who died on December 7, 1941, and all those who fought then and now to protect this nation. We mourn your passing and thank you for your sacrifice.