Today’s Courier Herald Column:
We were a very different nation in almost every way. 70 years ago, the America that endured a surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was a younger nation that had not yet seen its true potential. Much like the boys that were quickly enlisted and sent to the front lines in Europe and the South Pacific, the country grew up between 1941 and 1945.
While America had been a full participant in World War I two decades earlier, our role in the second great war changed this country and the world forever. Soldiers who had never left their hometown before joining the military were suddenly marching across the fields of Europe or sailing through remote islands throughout the Pacific. When they returned home as victors, they brought with them new perspectives, customs from other parts of the world, and the can-do spirit from victory that they began to apply to their lives at home.
The young men who fought and won World War II are among our most senior statesmen alive today. They are called America’s greatest generation for a reason. They fought and won a war that America did not ask to join, as 70 years ago it found us. They put their lives on hold, were sent to far flung points around the globe that were not of their choosing, did their job, and came home.
Once home, they set about building the America that we live in today. Suburbs did not exist prior to World War II. Factories that had been used for the war effort turned their efforts to producing goods for an American public that had gone without since the twenties. Our country was linked together with interstate highways and airports. All of which and so much more fueled by a generation that learned between 1941 and 1945 that if a country applied its greatness, and individuals were committed to improvising as needed to tackle challenges as presented until the mission was accomplished, then no goal was too big.
One of the great joys of my life has been knowing the members of this generation. Each unique in their own way, it is hard to generalize them in a proper honorarium. But common among them was a humbleness that belied the uncommon accomplishments which they had achieved both during the war years and the period after. They were and are not a boastful lot. Most would simply say that they just did what they had to do. They did, decades before the phrase was coined, not what they could do for their country. They are who we aspire to be.
Yet 70 years ago today, there was real pain for a country that was shocked into a war that it had spent years trying to avoid. Families received word that loved ones stationed in Hawaii would never return home. Much of our naval fleet was destroyed, and our nation’s psyche was severely bruised. President Roosevelt, addressing the nation, declared it a day that would live in “infamy”, a word whose direct definition means shame.
Yet time heals all wounds, and success is a powerful medication. Those with which we engaged in war seven decades ago are now among our closest allies. America now represents the world’s largest economy, but Japan holds the third largest and Germany the forth. Our grandfathers may have engaged in combat, but today we rely on each other in an interdependent. Instead of fighting each other, the leaders of each nation are now spending a large share of their time attempting to boost economic output while balancing the financial and currency systems of each country. The economy whose foundation was the post-World War II boom now relies on the ability of past enemies to work together to fix.
It will also require those of us who are the children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren of those who fought to approach our country’s economic issues with the same can do spirit, willingness to improvise, and belief that as a country, united, we can overcome whatever task that is put before us.
These are issues that will have to be addressed in the weeks and months to come. Today, we take a minute to thank those who fought this fight 70 years ago and remember those no longer with us. America will never again have that moment in time, and the days when we have those who rose to accept and conquer the challenge are growing few. Because of them, the infamy became merely infamous, the shame replaced with honor and earned respect.