ANALYSIS | Dec. 7, 1941, dawned on an America that still considered itself isolated from the world. The war in Europe and the advance of Adolf Hitler worried many. Others worried about the idea of yet another American intervention.
Few anticipated war any time soon.
In the evening of Dec. 7, when the sun set over the still burning Pacific fleet at anchorage at Pearl Harbor, that America was gone forever. The righteous rage that swept over nearly every American that day and sent 12 million men (and some number of women) across the four corners of the world to smite Nazi Germany and militaristic Japan into the ash heap of history was just the beginning.
Just four short years later, American soldiers would face Soviet soldiers across the Elbe River and would be ensconced in a Japan ruined by bombing, including two nuclear strikes on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They have not yet returned, entirely, 65 years later.
What Pearl Harbor taught to generations of Americans is that the United States could not ever again be isolated from the world. Conflicts that would flare in some faraway place could and would spill over to involve the United States. That was true during the four-and-a-half-decades-long Cold War against Soviet Communism. The lesson was repeated on Sept. 11, 2001, the Second Day of Infamy.
The consciousness that America must be involved in the world has waxed and waned. There was a danger of a return to some kind of 1930s isolationism in the wake of Vietnam and again after the fall of the Soviet Union. But memories of Pearl Harbor, the shock of it, the anger of it, have lingered. America cannot go back to isolation even if it wanted.
Besides the number of young men whose lives were forever changed by Pearl Harbor and the war that followed, a number of public figures were made great by the attack. Had Pearl Harbor not happened, the world would likely have never have heard of people like Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Nixon, or the first George Bush. All were elected president, in the fullness of time, because of service they did in World War II, as vice president, as the supreme commander of Allied forces in Europe, and as lowly servicemen.
American technology took a leap forward because of the requirements of the conflagration Pearl Harbor wrought. The jet airplane, the atomic bomb, and the first, rudimentary computers arose from the war. Americans acquired German rocket technology that less than 25 years after the war help put America on the Moon.
Pearl Harbor was a shock and a humiliation. But it was the making of modern America as a world super power. Without Pearl Harbor, that development might have happened anyway; America had and has rich resources, natural and human, that lend itself for economic and military strength. But Pearl Harbor made it happen sooner, so that the blood and treasure of America could first destroy the imperial ambitions of Germany and Japan and then those of the Soviet Union. What happened at Pearl Harbor forged the present-day America that faces down Islamic terror far across the sea and worries about the nascent ambitions of China.
For America, “never again” means Pearl Harbor. An enemy would ignore that at his peril.