Lessons From Pearl Harbor 80 Years On

December 7, 2021 Updated: December 8, 2021


This year marks the 80th anniversary of one of the most tragic days in American history. On Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese 1st Air Fleet launched a surprise attack on the U.S. ships and military facilities at Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii.

The attack began shortly before 8 a.m., just as the USS California was sending a boat to pick up the chaplain for Bible study. Two hours later, the Japanese planes had destroyed nearly 200 U.S. aircraft, sunk or damaged eight battleships in addition to many other Navy vessels, and slaughtered 2,335 servicemen.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was launched prior to any declaration of war, while the United States was still a neutral power in World War II and peace negotiations with the Japanese were still ongoing. These facts effectively made it a war crime and a stark warning of the atrocities that Japan was to commit throughout the war. A few hours after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, the Japanese also launched massive invasions of the Philippines, Malaya, Guam, and a host of other Allied outposts across the Pacific. On Dec. 10, the Japanese sank the British battleship HMS Prince of Wales and its escort cruiser Repulse, and secured complete naval supremacy.

Upon learning of this news, even the indefatigable Winston Churchill confessed, “In all the war, I never received a more direct shock.”

In the course of three days, the Allied forces of Britain and America had suffered nearly unimaginable losses. It was now time for action. The day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin D. Roosevelt stood before a joint session of Congress and announced to the world that Dec. 7, 1941, would forever be “a date which will live in infamy.” He didn’t end his speech there, however, but continued on to say that “no matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.”

While Roosevelt would not live to see the end of the war, his prediction proved to be correct.

Answering his call, hundreds of thousands of Americans across the country set aside their lives as they knew them and devoted themselves to defending freedom both at home and abroad. The Associated Press reported on Dec. 8, 1941, that, “like a momentarily stunned giant, the nation awakened Sunday night to the grim fact of war in the Pacific and Americans of all classes and ranks responded immediately.”

Reports across the nation streamed in that “everywhere, the picture was the same. Men, young and old, seething with anger and a determination, turned out in numbers too great for the … recruiting centers.” Even from across the vast Atlantic Ocean, Churchill could see that “the whole American nation would be united … in a righteous cause as never before.” The American people once again dedicated their lives, fortunes, and sacred honor to eradicate the tyranny that was spreading across the world.

Now 80 years past that day of infamy, the world in some ways looks very different than it did in 1941, but also very similar. While the nation of Japan has become one of our closest international allies, we have new and different dangers confronting us. However, the lessons of Pearl Harbor remain as true and vital today as they were then—namely, that the price of liberty is eternal vigilance. If we are to preserve our freedoms, our rights, and indeed our very country, we must follow the courageous example provided by both those who sacrificed their lives on Dec. 7 and those who dedicated theirs on Dec. 8.

We would do well to remember the speech Roosevelt gave a week after Pearl Harbor. Addressing the nation once more, he reminded Americans of the heritage of liberty given to us by our Founders. Roosevelt said that as Americans, “We will not, under any threat, or in the face of any danger, surrender the guarantees of liberty our forefathers framed for us.”

As he finished the speech, he paused, and invited the nation to join together and “covenant with each other before all the world that having taken up arms in the defense of liberty, we will not lay them down before liberty is once again secure in the world we live in. For that security, we pray; for that security, we act—now and evermore.”

To commemorate the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, let us honor those who laid down their lives for our freedoms by dedicating our lives to the preservation of those hard-won liberties for “now and evermore.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Timothy Barton is the president of WallBuilders, a national organization dedicated to highlighting the true facts about the founding of America, our Constitution, and our rich history.