Just a couple months ago, we marked the 10th anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Almost 60 years before that dreadful day, our nation suffered an earlier, just as deadly and despicable, sneak attack. It was the attack on Pearl Harbor on 7 December 1941, a “date which will live in infamy”, declared President Franklin D. Roosevelt. Seventy years later, we’ve been at war for a decade, yet the evils are, amazingly, not so different.
The attack on Pearl Harbor in 2,403 US deaths, both civilian and military, compared to 2,977 killed on 9/11. The Japanese, however, sought to destroy military targets, sinking or severely damaging 18 ships and destroying some 160 aircraft. Pearl Harbor was the catalyst for US entry into World War II, ultimately putting over 16 million in uniform. Nearly 300,000 gave their lives in the name of freedom and democracy.
Most of us remember 9/11 and what we were doing at the exact moments of the attacks on the twin towers, the Pentagon, and the downing of the fourth plane in a Pennsylvania field on 9/11. There are not so many who remember Pearl Harbor left.
According to the Bureau of Veterans Affairs, as of this May, approximately 2 million World War II vets were still with us. But we are losing them at the rate of around 850 a day. In February 2009, their median age was 86. In a few years, it will be over 90. In another decade, the survivors will be counted in the thousands. Their children will follow in 20 or 30 years. Who then will remind us of Pear Harbor, the Bataan Death March, Guadalcanal, Midway, Normandy, the Bulge and the U.S.S. Missouri anchored in Tokyo Bay?
The deficit in historical knowledge is at least as ominous as the national debt. Sheep have no memory—individual or collective. They are creatures to be sheared and, ultimately, consumed.