Seventy years ago (December 7, 1941) the U.S. Naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii was attacked, launching America into the Second World War. Then President Roosevelt called it, “A date which will live in infamy.”
A lot has changed in the few short decades since that attack. The United States and our allies defeated both Germany and Japan in World War II and millions of people died in that conflict. Through aid and rebuilding efforts both West Germany and Japan emerged as close allies. The beginning and end of the Cold War with the Soviet Union, hot wars in smaller countries throughout the world, the space race, and the eventual fall of the Berlin Wall and reunification of Germany led to a changing economy in Europe, and close ties with Japan led to a manufacturing boom that continues and has spread throughout Asia. Many new nations that did not exist in 1941 have entered the global scene, many winning independence from others. In a new global economy and technologically interconnected world the political, economic and xenophobic world that existed only sixty years in the past seems so foreign.
Is December 7 still a day of infamy? Perhaps we have not forgotten, but its sting seems increasingly distant.
Yet for all the progress we have made – divisions remain, fear remains a constant, and uncertainty in a declined global economy triggers similar feelings of mistrust that can create a climate not of hatred toward enemies. In my own lifetime the attacks of September 11, 2001 still cut deep and fresh. The conflicts they have inspired are still moving toward resolution, but still seem beyond reach. Countries we hardly knew a decade ago have become center stage in a new political/economic/religious struggle. We have witnessed this last year in the Middle East regimes change by the people rising up against tyranny, and we have seen places like Iran and North Korea slip deeper into entrenchment. Places like India and China are emerging to new global economic and political leadership, while the continent of Africa continues on the margins as the self-imploding forces of violence and outwardly exploited mess it has been far longer than many can remember remain locked in a perpetual cycle. The U.S. seems to be discerning its role in a changing world even as it struggles to keep up with it and apply the lessons learned ever since, “a date that will live in infamy” became part of our vocabulary.
People compare and contrast our own time with those who struggled through economic uncertainty and wartime in the 1930s and 40s with great and determined fervor. Without taking sides in that debate, I believe that all decisions have unforeseen implications and sometimes we make better choices than others, but as a people we remain cautiously optimistic as we continue to endure from one crisis to the next. I also believe that human ingenuity, bravery, progress and leadership can only take us so far, even with “a date which will live in infamy” to motivate us. Patriotism may be learned in our triumphs as well in the enduring moments when the circumstances are the toughest, but a true and lasting peace among all people seems more elusive than ever, and our continued conflict with one another remains the greatest exposure of our human brokenness and sin.
As you go about this December 7, seventy years after “a date which will live in infamy,” do the things you would normally do to commemorate such an event. Fly your flag, honor those you may know or may have never known who have and continue to serve our country in harm’s way, and be grateful for the freedoms we at times so passively enjoy. But do one more thing. Pray for the oppressed, for the struggling, for the exploited, for those who feel as though there is no hope, no peace and no light, and pray with steadfast vigor for the Prince of Peace to reign eternal. And if you are not sure how to do so, just keep uttering these three words again and again, “Come Lord Jesus.”
Peace to you this Advent day,
“The people who walked in darkness
have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
on them light has shined.
You have multiplied the nation,
you have increased its joy;
they rejoice before you
as with joy at the harvest,
as people exult when dividing plunder.
For the yoke of their burden,
and the bar across their shoulders,
the rod of their oppressor,
you have broken as on the day of Midian.
For all the boots of the tramping warriors
and all the garments rolled in blood
shall be burned as fuel for the fire.
For a child has been born for us,
a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
His authority shall grow continually,
and there shall be endless peace
for the throne of David and his kingdom.
He will establish and uphold it
with justice and with righteousness
from this time onwards and for evermore.” (Isaiah 9:2-7)