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. [Read more…]