December 7, 1941 is described by President Franklin Roosevelt as “a date which will live in infamy.” Japan, without declaring war, attacked the Hawaiian Islands killing 2,403 and wounding 1,178 mostly soldiers and sailors assigned to the Pacific Fleet.
The country was at war and there was no going back to a state of international neutrality that characterized America’s foreign policy for the first half of the Twentieth Century. While it is true that the United States entered very late into World War I, it was because of President Wilson’s concern that we take part in “a war to end all wars” rather than the common desire of the country to tend to our own business.
The same is somewhat true of President Roosevelt as he struggled to help the democracies, especially Great Britain, with supplies and war materials to fight off the German onslaught beginning in 1939 while maintaining a semblance of neutrality and respecting the anti-war mood of the country. In the early years of World War II, the fear was that the United States might be left alone to deal with the Nazis, Fascist and Communists that were in the process of devouring Europe and Asia.
The Japanese attack changed all of that as The United States joined World War II and its industrial and military might in part transformed the power structure of the struggle. It also altered the focus of the nation from inward-looking to that of global leader.
America’s ascendency to the status of the only superpower is a story that began in Pearl Harbor. After the war, its adversary became the Soviet Union and its Communist ideology that sought to expand its influence across the world.
The contest between these two superpowers, their allies and ideas played out in places like China, Korea, Iran, Vietnam, the Middle East, India, Pakistan and Afghanistan. In time, the Soviet Union began to unravel and lowered its flag on December 26, 1991, an event that left the United States alone on top of the political and military world.
It is in the role of sole superpower that the U.S. led a coalition to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in the 1990-91 Gulf War. This was followed by the war in Afghanistan that began in 2001 in response to the 9/11 terrorist attack sponsored by Mohammed Bin Laden and Al Qaeda operating in that country.
The most recent major war under the leadership of the United States as a sole superpower was the invasion of Iraq in 2003. We are still engaged in Iraq and Afghanistan in a war against terrorist that is in its 17th year.
Just as Pearl Harbor signaled the beginning of America’s rise as the major political and military power in the world, 9/11 may very well be the beginning of the end of the story. 9/11 and the Great Recession appears to be changing the views of many as to our place in the community of nations.
Certainly the political division in this country is in part caused by differing opinions in this regard. The America First Movement represents a case in point of a desire to go back to an America before it was great.
The U.S. is a world leader built on the sacrifice of so many beginning with those thousands of dead and wounded at a military outpost called Pearl Harbor, Hawaii on December 7, 1941. In that spirit, we celebrate all warriors who say, “sleep well, no one will hurt you tonight.”