It was just before 2:30 in the afternoon of Sunday Dec. 7, 1941 when a
New York radio station interrupted the broadcast of the New York Giants
football game with a shocking news bulletin: The Japanese had staged a
surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, the U.S. Naval base in Hawaii.
of the game quickly resumed after the brief report. It was the same
across America as NBC, CBS and other radio networks broke into Sammy
Kaye’s Sunday Serenade, a performance of the “Inspector General,” an
intellectual discussion of Canada’s role in the war in Europe — and then
returned to normal programming.
There were occasional bulletin interruptions throughout the afternoon
and evening, but it was not until the next day that the nation learned
just how devastating the attack was.
“Yesterday, December 7, 1941
– a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was
suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire
of Japan,” said President Franklin Delano Roosevelt as he began his
famous 6 ½-minute speech to Congress that unified the nation.
detailed Japan’s coordinated “surprise” attacks throughout the Pacific
region and acknowledged there was “severe damage to American naval and
“I regret to tell you that very many American
lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported
torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.”
He concluded, saying, “always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.”
the hour, isolationist sentiment evaporated and Congress voted to
declare war on Japan, and four days later to declare war on Germany.
losses caused by Japan’s 400-warplane assault were terrible: more than a
dozen ships sunk or badly damaged, 188 U.S. aircraft destroyed; 2,402
service personnel killed, 1,282 wounded.
Those who lived through
that date of infamy have never forgotten what happened. It was seared
into their memories by the words of the president, and it unified the
nation for a long and painful four years of war.
Yet, by the 10th
anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, America was helping to build
Japan into the dominant economic power in Asia, and Germany into the
dominant economic power in Europe.
Now, as we grieve on the 10th
anniversary of the terrorist attacks that brought down the Twin Towers
of the World Trade Center in New York and killed 2,753 people, we need
to reflect on all that has happened, how much the world has changed and
how much has been achieved.
None of us can ever forget the horror
of that day or forget the date, Sept. 11, 2001. We saw what happened
with our own eyes with continuous live television coverage, from the
first bulletin that an airplane had crashed into the first tower to the
death and destruction that followed.
We have been at war
continuously these last 10 years against a pernicious idea as much as
against a shadowy enemy. The men and women in our military have paid
dearly and the costs to our nation have been great.
But we have prevented the terrorists from again doing great harm to us
and we are seeing uprisings across the Arab world that have overthrown
long-time tyrants and planted the seeds of freedom.
There is an
appointed time for everything, a time for every event under heaven –
this is a time to move beyond our grief, our anger, our fear and to heal
ourselves as a people.
I think that’s the lesson that this great tragedy has to teach us.
are a nation divided against itself, engaged in an uncivil war between
know-it-alls and know-nothings who do not speak to what is in our hearts
or in our interests. We have lost faith in so many of our institutions,
and lost confidence in ourselves.
The martyrs of 9/11 will have
died in vain if we are unable to find our common ground as Americans and
work together for the common good.
It may seem old-fashioned to
many, but we need to rediscover the core of the American spirit that
unites us with respect for our differences and frees us to fulfill our