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Pearl Harbor Day
December 7, 2011 - Stephen Browne
December 7 marked the 70th anniversary of the attack on the American Naval base at Pearl Harbor.
It won't be that last anniversary at which survivors of that attack are able to share their memories, but that day is coming. On December 31 the Pearl Harbor Survivors Association is officially disbanding, as their members die off and those remaining are often unable to travel.
There might be a 75th anniversary, there were after all both Union and Confederate veterans at the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.
The Japanese, feeling war was inevitable with the United States, and realizing Japan could not match America's industrial resources and manpower, sought to knock out the Pacific Fleet with one stroke, giving them time to consolidate their conquests in Asia.
They almost did. Fortunately the three American aircraft carriers were unexpectedly away from base, and the Japanese withdrew from the attack without destroying the island's fuel oil storage. The carriers later played a decisive role in the Battle of Midway, the turning point in the Pacific war. Midway also made military history as the first naval battle in which the ships involved were never within sight of each other.
Years after the war ended, the words of the primary planner of the attack Admiral Minoru Genda still rang with defiance.
"If they'd listened to me, you'd still be trying to dig us out of the Rocky Mountains," Genda said.
Nonetheless, Genda became a firm friend and pro-American ally in the Pacific.
A remark attributed to Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto, who approved and carried out the plan, goes, "We have awakened the sleeping giant and filled him with a terrible resolve."
Yamamoto had traveled extensively in the United States, and at one point was in danger of assassination by Japanese militants because of his repeated warnings not to go to war with America.
Yamamoto did not survive the war. His plane was shot down by an American pilot when radio messages about his whereabouts were intercepted and decoded. In an interview years after the war, that pilot First Lieutenant Rex T. Barber, remarked that after reading about his life that he'd come to admire Yamamoto.
All things change. Bitter enemies become firm friends, and it becomes difficult to remember why men killed each other in such numbers, and destroyed massive amounts of the wealth of their countries.
To young people raised in this easygoing and tolerant country, it is hard to realize that whole nations and peoples can become possessed of what Lee Harris, author of "Civilization and its Enemies," calls a "fantasy ideology."
For Japan it was the ideology of a "divine race," for Germany, "the master race," for Italy the rebirth of a conquering Roman Empire. And today America faces an elusive enemy which dreams of destroying the "Great Satan" and creating a world-wide Caliphate.
It is totally unrealistic of course. As the dreams of world conquest by the Axis powers seem with the advantages of hindsight. But on this day it would be well to remember that while fantasy ideologies may seem doomed by reality, while they possess the minds and imaginations of peoples they can wreck much havoc in the world.
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