Lessons of Pearl Harbor

Time Inc., in a book it published in 2008, called 1968 “the year that changed the world.”

The book’s introduction carries the statement that 1968 was “a knife blade that severed past from future.”

Lance Morrow, the author of that introduction as well as of a 1988 Time magazine cover story about 1968, wrote in the 2008 book’s introduction that 1968 “had the vibrations of earthquake about it.”

However, the events of that year were not of the widespread, devastating scope America witnessed on this date 76 years ago, when Japan launched a surprise attack on America’s Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii, exacting major damage, including the destruction of some warships, plus a heavy loss of life.

For this country, the World War I catchphrase “the war to end all wars” was cemented forever as just a hollow cluster of words in the wake of the Dec. 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor attack. In fact, World War I quickly came to represent just a steppingstone to the much more terrifying and horrific conflict that lay ahead.

But prior to that, in the late 1930s and extending into the next decade, much complacency reigned in this country despite the rumblings about the possibility of another world war stemming from Germany’s moves aimed at controlling continental Europe and Japan seeking to dominate Asia and the Pacific.

America considered itself safe, as evidenced on Oct. 27, 1941, when the Chicago Daily Tribune dismissed the possibility of war with Japan, editorializing, “She cannot attack us. That is a military impossibility. Even our base at Hawaii is beyond the effective striking power of her fleet.”

Three years earlier, on Oct. 30, 1938, the Columbia Broadcasting System’s infamous “War of the Worlds” radio broadcast began in part with the observation that “the war scare was over” and that people were going to and fro with “infinite complacence.”

Fast-forward to Dec. 7, 2017.

This, too, is a dangerous time, with North Korea defying America and the rest of the world by way of its intercontinental-ballistic-missile and nuclear testing.

This and other nations are paying more attention now than isolationist-minded Americans of the 1930s and the beginning of the 1940s regarding the seeds of world war that were being planted then.

Having witnessed the horrific events of Sept. 11, 2001, Americans are increasingly unconvinced when they hear skepticism about the range of North Korea’s weapons. And, some are more likely to be asking a question that seems increasingly relevant — a question asked in an article published by the international affairs magazine The National Interest:

“If North Korea launched a missile with a nuclear weapon toward an American city or military installation, how much warning time would the U.S. have?”

This is the day that the United States should remember — and reflect upon — the lessons of Pearl Harbor, but it’s also an important day to acknowledge that a blind eye to dangerous realities could result in catastrophic consequences capable of dwarfing what was witnessed in December 1941.

Were such a situation to play out, another “year that changed the world” would be upon us for all the wrong reasons.