Pearl Harbor

Posted by Rebekah
Dec 07 2011

I went to bed last night, warm and feeling safe. Despite the cloud of anxiety I often see in the news in places like Afghanistan or the election result and riots throughout the Middle East, I still slept soundly, knowing that though those events could have a deep impact on my life, I did not fear that I would awaken to find soldiers on my front lawn, attacking, shooting, hurting my family.

I awoke this morning, safe and mildly rested (children didn’t have a restful night).  Still, it was a nice morning, not too cold, though a dusting of snow lay on the tips of the grass and my resting flower beds.  I made a special breakfast for my family, due to a family birthday, then my husband set off for work, like he does every weekday, and I set about my daily tasks, or would have, if I wasn’t so sick with a cold. A morning so unremarkable that if it wasn’t for the birthday and the cold, I’d soon forget all about it, and it would blur into hundreds of other mornings that have happened in my life. (And despite the cold and the birthday, the details of today will soon blur anyway)

Why do I mention these inanities on the 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor?  Because, the more I learn about history, the more I realize that while each individual person is unique, people and the human condition is so similar thoughout the centuries that history can, and sadly often does, repeat itself.

The people of America and even Hawaii probably felt, on the night of 6/7 December 1941, as I did on this night of 6/7 December 2011.  Storm clouds were swirling, but whether in the Pacific or Europe, they were swirling OVER THERE.  Not here. Most slept well, got up, made breakfast, went about their day’s work.  Since 7 December 1941 was a Sunday, not a weekday, many people were out and about to church, getting breakfast, just enjoying the lovely weather that a Hawaiian December was.

Yet their fate as drawing closer, and by 7 am, though the official attack was well over an hour away, it was already nearly inevitable. But they still felt secure that today was any other day.

That is why Pearl Harbor still reverberates to this day.  The most thorough shattering of a person’s world happens when they discover nothing was as it appeared.  Things appeared safe that morning, but before dawn, at least one enemy submarine was already in the harbor, possibly two. Another sub had already been attacked and sunk by 7 am, though no one believed the report that came in from the WARD.  Enemy submarines at Pearl Harbor?  Unbelievable.  Hundreds of planes were already in the air, roaring towards their target. But no one knew it, and when they were spotted on Radar, they were mistaken for a group of American bombers that were due to land that morning.

Everything, in fact, appeared safe and normal until the last second, when the planes roared over Pearl Harbor.

And the world Americans believed they were inhabiting, one in which life was calm and safe, if difficult,  shattered. Distance was no barrier any longer, and if we could be struck at Pearl, then our territories of the Philippines, and Guam, and Wake Island, and Singapore, and Malaysia, in just 48 hours, where else could the seemingly invensible and innumerable Axis armies strike next?  A U-Boat strike off of New York, or Washington DC? Invading Japanese soldiers in Los Angeles?  Sometimes, we can laugh now at the thought, since we knew the end of the story of WWII, but back then, it was a real fear.

Few historians today doubt that America would eventually be drawn into WWII, it was just a matter of when the danger from the outside would loom large enough to overcome the resistance from within.  As Germany and Japan advanced, soon the Americas would have to defend themselves, but if it took too long, some feared, the Axis would be too strong to defeat by just the Americas alone, and some countries in South America had strong ties to the Axis-maybe they would fight with them instead of with us.

So today, I write this post, on an average day.  My husband is safe at his workplace, the downtown of my city is as quiet as it ever is. We go about our business unperturbed, despite taking the time to remember a day when our world changed forever, leaving a scar on our history, and in the minds of those who still live today. And studying Pearl Harbor and the rest of WWII makes me grateful for the peace and quiet, and so deeply thankful to those who woke to something different in Oahu that morning.  To all those, military, civilian, children, medical teams, who experienced that day, I say, ‘Thank You.’  Not only for what you had to live through, but how you kept going, cleaned up the harbor, repaired those ships, took care of our men for four long years, and now, preserve the history for my and future generations.  I thank those who signed up to protect your family and friends and community, putting yourselves in danger and sacrificing the comforts of home so the rest of us can now live.  I thank you, for giving me, 70 years on, my average, quiet day.

And for those of you who now, sit on the front lines, in our submarines, in our military camps, in our outposts, behind our computer systems, on our planes and base camps, here at home, and around the world, I also say thank you.  For standing in the gap, like your predecessors.  While we stop today to revisit a national tragedy of Pearl Harbor 70 years ago, may we not forget the modern soldiers, marines, air force, coastguardsmen, and sailors, who are doing their best to keep such a thing from happening again.  And may those of us who live under your protection remember you ore often than a few days a year.

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