Significance of Pearl Harbor unquestionable

Published 12:00 am Friday, December 7, 2001

Sixty years ago today in a few hours’ time, America – and the world – changed forever.

On the morning of Dec. 7, 1941, the Japanese military attacked the U.S. Naval Station at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. The event launched the United States into World War II.

Almost instantly, Americans knew the battle ahead would be a tough one and knew that thousands of men and women would be killed.

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“Within a few days people had a sense that we were not just at war with the Japanese, but with the Germans, too,” said Jim Wiggins, history instructor at Copiah-Lincoln Community College’s Natchez campus.

The war’s ultimate outcome propelled the U.S. into a new role as a superpower.

Even today, some people remain concerned with how the surprise attack occurred, why the U.S. didn’t know and why the country wasn’t more on guard to prevent it.

“We could speculate endlessly about how things would be if the Japanese had not attacked Pearl Harbor,” Wiggins said.

But Wiggins said such speculation is a waste of time.

“Pearl Harbor is what got us into World War II,” he said. “It’s the most important event in, certainly 20th century, America.”

And after 60 years, the words “Pearl Harbor” still evoke anger and an immediate recollection of the surprise attack.

In September, almost immediately after the terrorist attacks on New York City and the Pentagon, people began drawing parallels between Pearl Harbor and the latest terrorist attacks.

Wiggins said he doesn’t like such comparisons.

“We don’t have historical perspective on it,” he said. “At this moment, this is no world war. It’s not close to a world war. (But) we don’t know where things are going to go.

“It’s impossible to have proper perspective on things at the moment,” Wiggins said. “Give it a few years, or maybe a decade, (and) we’ll be able to put it into perspective.

“Anything can change tomorrow, but at this moment, I don’t think there are any parallels between Dec. 7, 1941, and Sept. 11.”

Yes, the attack on Pearl Harbor was the dawn of what Tom Brokaw dubbed the “Greatest Generation.”

World War II was “not a John Wayne movie” Wiggins said.

“In terms of casualties, in terms of people numbers, Pearl Harbor wasn’t all that bad, but the Japanese weren’t concerned about that,” he said. “They were concerned about destroying ships.”

And the importance of Pearl Harbor goes far beyond how much the attack crippled the U.S. military forces.

“There was a genuine anger,” Wiggins said. “The public was shocked. The top military brass was shocked it was Pearl Harbor, but not shocked at an attack.”

Wiggins said only time will tell whether or not the attacks on Sept. 11 will have historical resonance in 100 years.

“But Pearl Harbor probably will,” he said. “It will be pointed to as a gigantically important event.”

Kevin Cooper is editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at &160;