Never take our freedoms for granted

Published 12:05 am Sunday, December 7, 2014

Seventy-three years ago today, the world changed with a deadly act of war.

Japanese fighter planes waged a highly successful, surprise attack on the U.S. Navy base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii, just before 8 a.m., Dec. 7, 1941.

The hundreds of planes in the sky wreaked havoc on the vessels and their crews. The two-hour battle was devastating to the U.S. Navy with 20 vessels destroyed and more than 2,000 soldiers and sailors killed, another 1,000 were wounded.

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Pearl Harbor became not a place but and event, a seminal event that nudged the United States into what we now know as World War II.

Imagining the feeling of utter helplessness those on the ground felt during and just after the attack is impossible for us today.

That feeling, that real, connected-to-history feeling has kept generations of Americans cognizant of the need to always be ready.

Unfortunately, the date passes now without much mention. The challenge isn’t apathy as much as attrition. A few years ago dozens and dozens of Pearl Harbor survivors dotted the American landscape.

Today, only a handful survive, most others taken by old age.

Like Civil War history that was still somewhat fresh to my great-grandfather, having spoken to relatives who were involved, Pearl Harbor is rapidly becoming that for my generation and obviously those who follow it.

For those Americans who lived through World War II, Pearl Harbor represented the dirtiest deed most had ever known. A surprise attack on U.S. soil wasn’t something we’d had to think about much prior to Dec. 7, 1941.

In fact, many of us had forgotten much about it until another fateful day in which our country was tested came a few years ago — Sept. 11, 2001.

Equally as surprising and more deadly, the terror attacks also caused American to stumble, briefly, before regaining our balance and resolve.

Both unprovoked attacks galvanized the public in the days, weeks and months after.

In 1941, the world truly did change for most Americans as the nation geared up to create a war machine that eventually changed not only America but the entire globe.

On 9/11, the changes were far less dramatic. Aside from a momentary surge of patriotism, for the most part our lives didn’t change much, unless you were in the military or had a loved one who was.

Aside from the shock of 9/11, we’re mostly insulated from the war that has waged since.

Just like Pearl Harbor, 9/11 prompted America into war, too, though the war on terror has been much less protracted and much more focused.

Because it’s a war that doesn’t affect many of us directly, we tend to simply ignore it, just like we do Pearl Harbor’s anniversary and just like we do all of the milestones of the American Civil War.

The facts become fuzzy, the deeper meaning lost.

Shame on all of us who take our freedoms and the 24/7 watch the men and women of our military provide for granted.

From a pure military perspective, Pearl Harbor was a horrible defeat for America. But the day was a wake-up call that led America to stand up and lead throughout the war.

The defeat helped ultimately make America a global powerhouse.

Even though the men who were physically there at Pearl Harbor are almost all gone, we must not forget the amazing bravery they showed in the face of such a savage surprise attack.


Kevin Cooper is publisher of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3539 or