The world after Pearl Harbor

On the morning of December 7, 1941, men and women on a distant island suffered the wrath of an imperial war machine. War in the Pacific had violently erupted and veterans made a sacrifice beyond words. This is a day of hardened memory.

War demands everything from humanity. Sometimes the war churns slowly. Sometimes the war falls together like dominoes. The cost is high for nations that commit their lifeblood to the great cause. Future generations have the burden of preventing violence of such magnitude while wrestling with conflicts of their own.

Would the war in the Pacific have started if the Japanese did not attack Pearl Harbor? Or would a new treaty stabilize the waters between young and ancient empires? Conjecture is a luxury in lectures and books now that the guns have stopped firing and the wrecks have settled to the bottom of the sea. We should not turn to these thoughts. We should turn to the veterans who remember this age. We are caretakers of their memory. Their stories are not just lessons. They are a challenge to remake the world in a better way.

Our military is a far more effective force than the one caught by surprise at Pearl Harbor. Weapons and tactics have changed. New technology allows America to project its influence in any direction. But the sea has been altered. Container ships fill the shipping lanes and 747s sweep the skies. This is a scene of global development. Countries have a stake in the prosperous Asia-Pacific market. The American military–even in concert with the Japanese–protects these interests. Troops have shifted training and tactics to deal with terrorists and pirates. Ships and aircraft rush humanitarian aid to distant countries after quakes and tsunamis. When the military functions more frequently in a supportive role, rather than striking with missiles and soldiers, an age of peace is visualized.

Granted, this peace does not always feel so permanent. The cycle of violence runs in different countries on different scales. Some of that violence is a requirement for justice. Thomas Jefferson declared “eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man.” As a national power, we often need hostility to secure such evils. But there will always be the chance to cut against the grain and make friends instead of enemies. Look today to Japan and the United States, strong allies, as they give pause to the honored dead.

There will come a time when diplomacy dominates the playing field, and non-violent solutions become the essence of statecraft. This new world is a promising world. Vengeance, greed and hate must have no part in it.


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