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Rachel Dailey,12th Grade, Homeschool, Oak Harbor, WA

Why Should We Remember Pearl Harbor?

One cold day not many years ago, my older sister and I were walking around downtown and noticed something peculiar. All the flags were at half mast, but we could not think of any reason for them to be lowered. We racked our brains, talked through the possibilities, and even asked people that we met if they knew, but came up with nothing. When we came home we were still discussing the mystery. Mom looked at us and said, “Don’t you know? It’s December 7th.” My answer has indeed lived in infamy (within our immediate family, anyway). I said, “So what?”

Besides the fact that my opinion of my own intelligence was significantly lessened, the incident made an impression on me. Certainly, I had studied Pearl Harbor in school, but how quickly I had forgotten it! Why was it that something so important, so momentous in the history of my country, could be so easily laid aside? And it is indeed important, important enough that every American student ought to stop, as I did, and answer that question. So what? What happened at Pearl Harbor in 1941 changed this country forever. It launched us into World War II, and shook our confidence in our own invincibility. Today, it is an ongoing reminder to honor and respect our soldiers and veterans. Pearl Harbor taught us lessons then and it teaches us lessons now—if we would choose to learn them.

Students must remember Pearl Harbor because it was one of the key moments in the history of America and, indeed, the world. At the time of the attack, America had retained a neutral position in World War II. Hitler had won victory after victory in Europe, and Britain itself seemed dangerously close to collapse. America’s own armed forces had been neglected for years, and were inadequate to deal with a full scale war. Then came the attack on Pearl Harbor. Due to communication delays and a failure to take proper defense measures, it was a complete surprise. Over two thousand people were killed, another thousand wounded, and five battleships were sunk. The underhanded nature of the attack, the incredible loss of life, and the suddenness of it all combined to jolt ordinary Americans awake. Our own shores, our own soldiers and civilians, had been targeted. We now had a personal interest in what was happening in Europe, and we had a war cry to unite us—“Remember Pearl Harbor!”

The rest (of course) is history. But bringing America into World War II was not the only consequence of the attack. It also shattered the fragile fantasy that America was untouchable. Many reactions to the new awareness of our own vulnerability were wrong, as in the forcing of Japanese Americans into internment camps, but we would never again be complacent—or at least, not for awhile. This is the second reason that we must remember Pearl Harbor. Complacency, not conflict, destroys nations. America survived World War II, but only because we were shaken out of our indifference by an attack on our very doorstep. Yet, today, we are more concerned with the latest blockbuster than the turmoil in the world around us. Will it take another Pearl Harbor to remind us that freedom must be protected?

This leads me to the final reason that students must remember the events in 1941. Our freedom is protected. On that December morning, it was protected by the 1,104 men aboard the USS Arizona, who died when the battleship was hit by a bomb. It was protected by Lieutenant John William Finn, who manned a machine gun and continued firing into the enemy despite being wounded many times (he later received the Congressional Medal of Honor). It was protected by hundreds of others who by incredible courage laid their lives down for their fellow soldiers and for their country. And today, it is protected by those who carry on their legacy, the armed forces of the United States of America. We must remember Pearl Harbor, because we must remember them.

Whether we realize it or not, what happened on December 7th, 1941, has influenced what America is today. It changed the course of a world war by frightening us into action, and called upon us to acknowledge the courage and nobility of the defenders of freedom. In 2011, whether or not we remember it may change the course of the world yet again. Perhaps some people will forget it, choosing a precarious ignorance over a painful memory. But some of us, perhaps, will be willing to let it frighten us into taking action against injustice, corruption, and oppression. Some of us will remember what our veterans have done for us and honor them with our respect and admiration. I, for one, will never again ask why the flags are at half mast on December 7th.

I will remember.


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Student Travel – WWII Educational Tours
High school and college students, learn the leadership principles that helped win WWII on a trip to France or during a weeklong residential program in New Orleans. College credit is available, and space is limited.

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Visit the Classroom Victory Garden Project website to learn about food production during WWII, find lesson plans and activities for elementary students, get tips for starting your own garden and try out simple Victory Garden recipes!

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