Pearl Harbor: A turning point for America

Pearl Harbor: A turning point for America

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The memorial sits above the USS Arizona, a sunken battleship, in Pearl Harbor on the island of Oahu in Hawaii. File photo

There are moments in American history that change the course of our democracy, and our lives. Several have come out of a clear blue morning sky.

Dec. 7, 1941 in Hawaii began with just such a morning..

But it was not just “a date that will live in infamy,” in the words of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt (D), which he used to begin a speech to Congress and the American people the day after the surprise bombing on the naval base at Pearl Harbor. It was also a day that marked a major transition for the United States of America.

“I think December 7, 1941, is perhaps the most important day in American history,” Paul Sparrow, director of the FDR Library in Hyde Park said in an interview aired on CBS Sunday Morning television last weekend. “It is the transition day when we shifted from being an isolationist nation to being a global superpower.”

Roosevelt initially did his best to keep the country out of World War II. The Great Depression had taken a toll on the American people, and the memory of the destruction and lives lost in World War I still lingered.

When faced with the mass destruction that took place at Pearl Harbor, Roosevelt knew he had to make a swift and decisive response to an attack he called “unprovoked and dastardly.”

Roosevelt’s rallying cry was met with an immediate response from a unified and committed nation. America retooled, fought and took on a leadership role in the world it has maintained ever since.

Seventy-five years later, we might be experiencing another total policy realignment. Will the new administration, with its America-first doctrine, lead us back to pre-Pearl Harbor isolationism? One of the most important parts of American tradition since 1941 is our willingness to lend a hand to other countries and support them. Though it remains to be seen what values our new commander in chief will maintain, we must not forget our history.