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Robert Cox

Writing on the Wall

Robert Cox is associate editor, online editor and lead designer for Carroll County Newspapers. His email address is CCNnews@cox-internet.com.

Opinion

Pearl Harbor, 9-11 defined generations

Tuesday, December 7, 2021

Eighty years ago, a peaceful Sunday morning in a tropical paradise was broken up by the sound of airplanes and explosions, as an air fleet of 350 planes began taking off in two waves from six aircraft carriers.

Their target was the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

“Hello, NBC. Hello, NBC. This is KTU in Honolulu, Hawaii.

“I am speaking from the roof of the Advertiser Publishing Company Building. We have witnessed this morning the distant view a brief full battle of Pearl Harbor and the severe bombing of Pearl Harbor by enemy planes, undoubtedly Japanese. The city of Honolulu has also been attacked and considerable damage done.

“This battle has been going on for nearly three hours. One of the bombs dropped within 50 feet of KTU tower.

“It is no joke. It is a real war.”

Those were the words conveyed by a reporter as he witnessed the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor by Japanese air and naval forces on Dec. 7, 1941.

A day later, President Franklin Roosevelt delivered one of his most famous speeches as he addressed Congress and called for a declaration of war.

“Yesterday, Dec. 7, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”

Certain events define generations. For mine, it was unquestionably 9-11. For my grandfather’s generation, it was the attack on Pearl Harbor.

When I was young, it was hard to imagine what went through people’s minds upon hearing the news.

Twenty years ago, I got a taste of that when terrorists hijacked four airliners, crashing two into the World Trade Center and another into the Pentagon. The passengers on United Airlines Flight 93 were hailed as heroes after they lost their lives attempting to take down the terrorists who hijacked their plane, crashing into a field in Pennsylvania. Their sacrifice prevented even more damage.

The events of 9-11 — which left 2,996 people dead and more than 6,000 injured — are the only thing that compares to the magnitude of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The final toll of that Sunday morning attack: 2,403 Americans were killed, 1,178 wounded, three warships destroyed, 21 ships badly damaged, and 169 aircraft lost.

The Japanese lost 64 men, three mini-submarines and 29 planes in the attack.

Adm. Husband E. Kimmel, commander of the United States Pacific fleet at the time, called the early-morning raid “one of the most brilliantly planned and executed attacks ever achieved at the start of a war.”

After the attack, young men enlisted in the military in droves as the country geared up for war.

After the U.S. declared war on the Japanese, Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, bringing us fully into the Second World War.

The American people came together to face a common foe, stopping a terrible man and his horrible scheme along the way.

After 9-11, there was a similar rush to enlist, although the target of our anger was much less clear, and our objectives even less so.

After Pearl Harbor, Americans of Japanese descent were treated terribly, even rounded up and forced to live in camps for fear of being spies.

After 9-11, we began to distrust an entire religion based on the actions of a few extremists. Muslims were attacked in the streets, simply because of how they worshipped.

Some of that hate — unfocused and undeserved — still exists, long after those responsible for the attack were dealt with.

In the end, Pearl Harbor and 9-11 were defining moments. They certainly weren’t the first and likely not the last.

Hopefully, our next one won’t involve as much death and destruction, or lead to so much hate.