We remember Pearl Harbor, not just because it was an infamous attack on a peaceful nation, but because it marked the start of America’s world dominance.
Today, we “remember Pearl Harbor,” the day on which the Japanese launched an unprovoked attack again the United States, killing 2,335 Americans serving in the military and wounding another 1,143, as well as killing 68 civilians and wounding 35 others. If you have ever been to the Pearl Harbor memorial, you know what a solemn and painful place it is. When I was there in 1988, the U.S.S. Arizona was still leaking oil, with one drop after another rising slowly to the surface, where each drop created a shiny, dark patch on the water. That oil was a surprisingly vital connection to a long-past tragedy.
Pearl Harbor is memorable not only because of the savagery of the attack and the devastating damage inflicted on America’s seagoing forces, but also because it marked the start of American world dominance. Although it took American might to help end WWI, after the war Europe and America returned to their respective corners.
The two continents, the old and the new, spent the next two decades indulging in various degrees of self-destruction, with America first enjoying the 1920s and then struggling with their aftereffects, and Europe watching passively as Germany bounced from bankruptcy and destruction, to revolution after revolution, to the Tacitus-like peace that Hitler and his fascists imposed on that unstable nation. They also sat things out when an increasingly belligerent Japan smashed through China, where the Japanese committed truly unspeakable atrocities against Chinese civilians.
So it was that, when Germany’s malevolent fascism burst out across Europe, America was more than willing to sit that war out. Americans hadn’t forgotten that their one-year involvement in WWI she killed almost 117,000 men. Americans therefore had no desire to pull Europe’s coals out of the fire again. Even the spectacle of Hitler’s demonic antisemitism and his drive to enslave the Slavic nations (which, ironically, long ago had given their name to the English word “slavery”), didn’t change America’s decision to sit tight. While her emotional commitment and, thanks in large part to Churchill’s persuasive powers, her money might have been on England’s side, Americans were not willing to shed their blood again for the foolish old world.
America’s pacifism changed the moment that the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On that infamous day, America was dragged willy-nilly into the war. Rather than being sidelined, as the Japanese had hoped would happen before they began their complete domination over the rubber-rich Malayan islands and most of Southeast Asia, America roared back, gearing up for total war in an almost inconceivably short time.
What few people realize is that, while Americans instantly decided to fight back against Japan, that decision still didn’t include fighting with the Allies against the Axis powers in Europe. What triggered America’s involvement in Europe was Hitler’s decision, four days after Pearl Harbor, to declare war against America. For America, there was no pulling back from that pronouncement. The sleeping giant was roused and was going to take on the Axis powers around the world, both in the lands they had conquered and in their home lands.
By war’s end, America had lost over 400,000 military men (and some military women). Another 671,000 Americans were wounded during the war. It was a huge loss of America’s greatest treasure — her people.
Staggering though America’s losses were in this overseas war, they were dwarfed by the losses other countries sustained. Sometimes these losses were numerically huge, as in the Soviet Union’s loss of something between 8,500,000 and 11,400,000 troops and 10,000,000 to 20,000,000 civilians, numbers that are almost incomprehensible. Germany lost around 5,000,000 troops. At other times, those losses were huge as a percentage of a country’s population. Although few of us think of Greece in connection with WWII, it lost between 7% and 11% of its population. Lithuania lost almost 15% of her population. Yugoslavia lost around 8% of her total population. Poland suffered a staggering loss of 17% of her population, mostly civilians. Most of Europe’s Jews were slaughtered, leaving a scattered remnant in Europe, as well as thankfully substantial Jewish populations in the United States and British mandate Palestine.
In addition to the human casualties, the entire European and Southeast Asian infrastructure was destroyed: homes, factories, dams, roads, farms . . . everything gone. Large swaths of the old world had been returned to pre-industrial, even Stone Age, conditions.
At the end of the war, not only was America part of the winning team, she was the last man standing. She still had a fully functioning infrastructure — indeed, a better one than she had started out with in 1942 when America was still recovering from the Depression. That’s how the American era started.
America poured her money into helping to rebuild the rest of the world, both winners and losers, while sending her culture out far and wide. America’s only true enemy was her former ally — the Soviet Union. The resulting Cold War kept America on her toes for the next 45 years, costing her some blood (Korea, Vietnam, etc.), but mostly spurring her onwards, whether in going to the moon, developing her civilian infrastructure, building her military, or extending her protection over greater and greater parts of the world. The same Cold War eventually bankrupted the Soviet Union.
Since the Soviet Union’s fall, the New World Order, instead of bringing peace, has been a troubled and perilous time. In America, although the Soviet Union died, it’s had a second chance at taking down America because it managed before its fall to spread its socialist toxins throughout America’s education and media. These institutions that have worked steadily for decades to destroy America’s self-identity and lead it down the same dead-end path as the Soviet Union and all the other failed socialist, and semi-socialist, nations around the world.
And all that happened because the Japanese decided to attack Pearl Harbor.