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Pearl Harbor, 65 years later

In the end, the Japanese attack led to some positive effects in the US.

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On this day in 1941, the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, was attacked. The bombing killed 2,388 Americans, put much of the Pacific fleet out of commission, and came while the Japanese ambassador in Washington was preparing for a diplomatic appointment at the State Department. Among the losses was the battleship Arizona, which went down with nearly all hands on board. It is still there as a national shrine.

In President Roosevelt's speech to Congress the next day asking for a declaration of war, he called Dec. 7 "a date which will live in infamy." Congress responded promptly with a declaration of war against Japan. It followed up on Dec. 11 with retaliatory declarations of war against Germany and Italy. World War II was the last time the United States has declared war, though it has fought three major wars (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan-Iraq) and numerous minor ones. Not many Americans are old enough to remember the events of 65 years ago. So it seems worthwhile to reflect on some of their consequences.

The Pearl Harbor attack unified a country that had been divided over the war in Europe, but it also terrified the country. This was much the same reaction as followed the attacks of 9/11. Just as 9/11 led to unjustified imprisonment of some Muslims living in the United States, so Pearl Harbor produced persecution of Japanese-American citizens. Most of them lived in California; they were rounded up and interned in remote camps in Wyoming and other inland Western states. Although the Japanese were not tortured, their treatment was as morally bad as what's happened under Bush's watch in Guantánamo, Abu Ghraib, and other prisons. Critics of President Bush (including this one) should take note. In 1988, Congress developed pangs of conscience and formally apologized to the interned Japanese. It also provided payments of $20,000 to each surviving internee.

Those who say that Mr. Bush's campaign for global democracy is overreaching (again, including this writer) should also note that democ- ratization is a thread that runs through American history. One of President Wilson's goals in World War I was to make the world safe for democracy. That is not quite the same thing as making it democratic, but it's a big step. Even before Pearl Harbor, in the State of the Union message in January, 1941, President Roosevelt proclaimed a goal of ensuring "four essential human freedoms." They were freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. He wanted to see all of these everywhere in the world.


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