NOTHSTINE: Lessons beyond Pearl Harbor and the Pacific

U.S. Marines walk onto the USS Arizona memorial during the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor in Honolulu

I remember being fascinated that oil was still leaking out of the U.S.S. Arizona when I first visited the peculiar white monument as a kid in the late 1980s. It still leaks to this day, 75 years after the attack. More chilling to me is that bodies are entombed inside the battleship and, being young and naïve, I strained my eyes to see if I could catch a momentary glimpse of a body. This proved to be impossible. It seemed unfair though that Americans were left down there, but survivors of the Dec. 7 attack who died years later have added their remains too, further hallowing the shallow waters.
For those who didn’t live through it, Pearl Harbor is a little more palatable after American blood was ferociously avenged. The war in the Pacific began to turn after Midway and the island-hopping campaigns. “Uncommon valor was a common virtue,” declared Admiral Chester Nimitz of the Americans who fought at Iwo Jima. A few years ago I read Eugene B. Sledge’s haunting memoir “With the Old Breed.” The fighting in the Pacific “made savages of us all,” declared Sledge. He noted it was “the most ghastly corner of hell I ever witnessed.”
It’s hard to fathom now that we packed young men in small landing crafts and sent them to suffer such horrors. It was a different time, long ago, we tell ourselves. But some of them, too few, who did that, are still with us.
Still, it’s hard to imagine asking kids today, on campuses that use coloring books to help alleviate stress and tension, to liberate islands or continents, even given the proper training and hardening. But it could happen again. Heroes are made from the ordinary out of a necessity for them. That is the lesson of Pearl Harbor and World War II. It’s a reminder too that we are not impenetrable as a nation.
World War II is an essential reminder to get freedom right, and that ultimately human nature is unchanged — always needing to be checked by higher truths. One of the great things about America is our history teaches us so many lessons about life, liberty, and ourselves. Bill Clinton said something simple and enlightening in his 1993 inaugural address: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”
It is much too fashionable today to attack and degrade the ideas and institutions that made this nation great. Perhaps that is what Admiral Harry B. Harris was getting at when he said, during the 75th anniversary ceremony at Pearl Harbor on Wednesday, that “You can bet that the men and women we honor today — and those who died that fateful morning 75 years ago — never took a knee and never failed to stand whenever they heard our national anthem being played.”
It was a swipe at Colin Kaepernick and the “sacrifice” that is fashionable today for sure, but it was also a reminder of the importance of listening to and respecting older generations. Today, more than ever perhaps, we require more ancient truths to teach us about bravery and the moral courage needed to defeat evil.