December 7, 1941, “a date that will live in infamy”. —President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
“And where freedom is, the individual is clearly able to order for himself his own life as he pleases. Then, in this kind of state there will be the greatest variety of human natures. This, then, seems likely to be the fairest of states, being like an embroidered robe which is spangled with every sort of flower.” —Plato, “The Republic“.
In a discussion on democracy and the republic, Adeimantus asks Socrates what the advantages are for letting the people have their freedom. Socrates replies that allowing people to express their freedom allows for a wide variety of behaviors at the personal level, and at the nation-state level.
On December 7, 1941, we saw the worst of human behavior–attacking an enemy whilst they slumbered–and the best of human behavior–Americans, and America as a nation, rising to meet the challenge. The Empire of Japan expressed its desire to provoke America. America expressed its desire to not let another nation attack without some sort of response. America lost 2,402 military members. Compare that to the 2,977 civilian and military lost on September 11, 2001. What resulted was the greatest mobilization of American can-do attitude, a mobilization of military and economic power that thrust America into its role as a superpower, but what came with it was the ugly part–416,800 American deaths by the end of the war. In total, the world lost 2.5% of its population in World War II, a war that America did not join until a couple years after its beginning. Throughout the course of the war, Americans got a taste of the atrocities of war at the German POW camps. America benefitted from the escape of prominent, Jewish scientists who avoided the the near extermination of their kind in concentration camps. In the end, America even committed its own atrocities with the deployment of the atomic bomb and killing 246,000 citizens.
“War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling which thinks that nothing is worth war is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight, nothing which is more important than his own personal safety, is a miserable creature and has no chance of being free unless made and kept so by the exertions of better men than himself.” — John Stuart Mill.
Was America justified in joining World War II after the attacks on Pearl Harbor? Was America justified in ending the War by deploying two nuclear weapons on Japan? That is for you to decide. What is more important on this day to remember Pearl Harbor Day, to remember and honor those who perished on this day in 1941. Also remember that if you are reading this in America, that your freedom is protected by the blood, sweat, and tears of American servicemen and women–and in some cases, it is protected by civilians who are motivated to a higher cause.