What lessons will our children learn, playing their music where so many died so pointlessly?
The Longhorn Band on Wednesday, Dec. 7, will play close by the sunken tomb of the USS Arizona, whose crew accounted for almost half of the 2,402 Americans who died in the Japanese surprise attack on Pearl Harbor 70 years ago.
On that “day of infamy,” the Japanese sank four battleships, three cruisers, three destroyers and several other ships, besides destroying 188 planes — mostly on the ground. The cost: 29 aircraft, five midget subs, 65 servicemen — and the war.
That attack arose from miscalculation and folly and finally drew the United States into the cataclysm of World War II, the greatest orgy of killing in human history.
The roughly 50 members of the Payson High School Band spent months raising money to finance the trip, after receiving the tremendous honor of the invitation.
You can watch them perform live starting at 2:30 p.m. on the Internet by going to www.channel808.tv. Eleven other college, high school and community bands will memorialize the surprise attack that shouldn’t have been — and the crushing victory that ensured Japan’s defeat.
We’ll be well represented on Wednesday, by young people who represent the best of us. We’re proud of them and we hope they absorb the complicated lessons of that place.
The terrible attack arose from the blindness, misunderstanding and denial that set the stage for all great human tragedies. A decade into a foolish attempt to make a colony of China, Japan found itself trapped by a U.S. decision to cut off its vital supply of oil imports. When the U.S. insisted Japan all but abandon its attempt to subdue China or face a crippling embargo, Japan laid its plans for a surprise attack. In truth, Japan needed the oil resources of the Dutch and the British in the Pacific, not a war with the U.S.
The miscalculations built one on top of the other. The U.S. sought to intimidate the Japanese by moving the Pacific fleet from San Diego to Pearl Harbor, which only made it vulnerable. The Japanese gambled on the surprise attack, not knowing the U.S. had no intention of sending its fleet out immediately to protect places like the Philippines, having already settled on a strategy of concentrating on Germany first in the event of a war.
Even the attack itself, proved a disastrous victory. Ironically enough, the Japanese used aircraft carriers to cripple the eight U.S. battleships — the strike itself proving the irrelevance of battleships in the shadow of aircraft carriers. The three U.S. carriers were out of the harbor and the Japanese foolishly didn’t linger to deliver a third attack, leaving the fuel depots and submarine base almost untouched. As a result, the attack disabled the suddenly irrelevant battleships, but left intact the aircraft carriers and submarines that were to ultimately cripple Japan.
The attack finally drew the United States into the greatest disaster in human history, a war that claimed 60 million lives and revealed a human capacity for horror and cruelty that still casts its terrifying shadow across our history.
On Dec. 7, we pause to honor the men and women who stood to their posts — displaying the uplifting courage of our species even in the face of our tragic hatreds.
We hope the teenagers who worked so hard to make that trip will play perfectly and learn carefully the terrible lessons of that place — so they can return as citizens to help make sure it never happens again.