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Dec. 7, 1941: Learning the lessons of history

Seventy-five years ago today, America was shaken to its foundation.

Shock, anger, and fear gripped our nation as 353 Japanese aircraft pulled off a sneak attack on the U.S. fleet at Pearl Harbor, sinking or damaging 19 ships (including eight battleships), destroying 188 aircraft and killing 2,403 Americans.

It was utter and brutal devastation, an attack we didn’t expect and we couldn’t prevent.

And that single moment solidified our national resolve as it drew America into World War II, the epic battle that left some 60 million people dead across the planet and brought to light some of the most horrific human rights abuses ever conceived by man.

It ended only after America, provoked at Pearl Harbor and determined to succeed, dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan … unleashing a new terror into the world and bringing and end to both a war and a way of fighting.

Today, we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Some among us remember that day – where they were when the news of the attack broke across the radio; a family member sparked by patriotism who went to fight in the wake of the attack; and friend, neighbor or relative who never made it home.

They are among that heralded “Greatest Generation,” the men and women for whom work ethic and patriotism are innate, who believed in valor and in defending their homeland, who understood the value of respect for life and for neighbor. And they are the generation who helped bring the world back from the collapse of war and who ushered in the sweeping changes we saw in the 20th Century.

It’s hard for many of us to imagine what Dec. 7, 1941. Movies and documentaries tell the story, but they can’t capture the palpable fear and shock that so many Americans experienced. Those among us old enough to remember and understand the 9/11 attacks can relate, having our security shattered in one fleeting day.

Now, 75 years later, America talks of greatness again. Our newly elected president seeks to “Make America Great Again” amidst a world filled with threats more real and dangerous as those Japanese fighter pilots. We are at war, still, this time with a faceless enemy who lurks in shadows and sleeper cells, waiting for the moment to attack and shatter our sense of security.  But instead of a patriotism and sacrifice, our nation is rife with political polarization and strife. We are a nation divided, by race; by culture; by political beliefs; and by economic circumstances.

If we learn no other lesson from our history and from Dec. 7, 1941, let it be this: that our nation, when unified, can be great and can defeat even the darkest evils.