Seventy-five years ago today, 07 December 1941, at 7:55 a.m. Hawaii-Aleutian time, 360 Japanese warplanes appeared above the island of Oahu and began raining down destruction on the US naval base at Pearl Harbor. In the wake of the carnage, 2,400 Americans lay dead; five battleships, three destroyers, seven other ships, and 200 aircraft were destroyed or badly damaged. Radar operators had warned of large groups of aircraft flying in from the north, but 1st Lt. Kermit Tyler responded, “Don’t worry about it.” Those words would haunt him for the rest of his life.
The US was woefully unprepared for war. Most Americans weren’t concerned with actions taking place on the other side of the world. When, on 08 December 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt asked the US Congress to declare a state of war, the House of Representatives voted 388 to 1 in favor. The dissenter was Jeannette Rankin, a pacifist from Montana.
The atrocities and crimes against humanity which had taken place before the Pearl Harbor attack were undeniable. Germany had invaded Poland and was occupying France. Warplanes were bombing London on a nightly basis. Half a million Polish Jews were being herded into the Warsaw Ghetto before, ultimately, being exterminated, along with nearly six million more by the end of the war.
We ignore atrocities that don’t directly affect us at our own peril. While humans around the world are in real pain at the hands of dictators (like the brutal Cuban dictator who recently assumed room temperature), we march and protest for phony causes created by opportunists. We claim people are being singled-out unfairly in this country, while Christians in the Middle East literally die at the hands of hate-infused radicals.
I heard a radio DJ this morning proclaim, “Happy Pearl Harbor Day, everyone!” Really? We look back and wonder why Lt. Tyler didn’t respond to the warning calls. Look around. We see Americans celebrating actors like they are gods, but how many millennials could name the man who stepped foot on another world for the first time in human history?
I’m not sure what will shake us out of the cultural malaise we find ourselves in. And, in fairness, I know many Americans aren’t watching Kanye and Kim with rapt attention. But I fear we are settling into a new norm that is numb and undiscerning. We see historical events, like the bombing of Pearl Harbor, in the rear view mirror. Meanwhile, we ignore what should be clearly visible on the road ahead.
Most of what the media have us focused on is insignificant at best, pure deception at worst. They distract us with their petty little side shows while real events unfold with little notice. Eventually, however, those real events will manifest on our own doorstep in a dark and horrific manner unless we begin to ignore the side shows and critically pay attention to what is going on in the world around us. “Don’t worry about it” isn’t any better a strategy today than it was back in the early morning hours of December 07, 1941.