Along with July 4, 1776, Nov. 22, 1963, and Sept. 11, 2001, Dec. 7, 1941, is a date etched in American history and consciousness.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt called it “a date which will live in infamy.” On that Sunday morning in Hawaii, Japanese planes and subs all but destroyed the Pacific Fleet as it lay in mooring in Pearl Harbor. In total, 2,408 Americans died in the attack, and 1,178 were injured.
Prior to Dec. 7, many Americans resisted U.S. entry into war, both in the Pacific and Europe. With the bombing, the country united against Hirohito’s Japan, Mussolini’s Italy and Hitler’s Germany.
The vast majority of Americans living now weren’t alive then. You would have to be in your late 70s now to have any firsthand memory of the start of the war. Last year, it was estimated that there are about 2,000 Pearl Harbor survivors.
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After vicious campaigns against the Japanese on Wake Island, on Midway, on Peleliu, on Okinawa, on Guadalcanal, on Iwo Jima, and myriad other major battles, Japan surrendered to the United States and its allies on Aug. 15, 1945, known today as V-J Day.
Japan surrendered to the United States and its Allies on Aug. 15, 1945, known today as V-J Day. Japan long since has become an ally and a partner. That may be why Aug. 15, 1945, is not a catechism date.
Japan long since has become an ally and a partner. That may be why Aug. 15, 1945, is not a catechism date. Seventy years is a long time, the biblical full lifespan of a man. But those people who lived through it will never forget, nor should their children and grandchildren.
Aug. 6 is commemorated. On that date in 1945, the United States dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. Scholars argue the necessity of our use of an atomic bomb; it is a complex and emotional debate. The bombings killed nearly 250,000 people.
In the context of the time, it accomplished the goal of ending the war. Prior to the devastation of Hiroshima and, three days later, Nagasaki, the imperial government of Japan had offered implausible terms of surrender.
Allies were planning the invasions of the Japanese Islands of Kyushu and Honshu for later in 1945 and 1946. But the atomic bombs flatly ended the war and brought Japan to the deck of the USS Missouri on Sept. 2, 1945, to sign the terms of surrender in Tokyo Bay.
Millions of Americans poured into the streets in joy and relief. In New York’s Times Square, where the largest celebration ever there took place, a sailor grabbed a nurse and kissed her, and the photograph of that kiss became the iconic image of V-J Day.
We inhabit a very different world now. Assembling the massive coalition that defeated the Axis powers would be virtually inconceivable today.
But for all the complexities of today’s challenges, let’s pause and offer thanks that men and women of good will did precisely that. What we have today – and we have a great deal – we owe to their tenacity and courage.