Remembering to Look Forward: Rising to the challenge in Pearl Harbor

By Rear Adm. Brian Fort
Commander, Navy Region Hawaii and Naval Surface Group Middle Pacific

Winston Churchill, who was a World War I warfighter and World War II Prime Minister of Britain, famously said, “The longer you can look back, the farther you can look forward.”

Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day is an opportunity for the world’s citizens, especially those of us in the United States and Japan, to remember key lessons of the past and reflect on the meaning of the Second World War.

Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island, Dec. 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy video/Released)
Photograph taken from a Japanese plane during the torpedo attack on ships moored on both sides of Ford Island, Dec. 7, 1941. (U.S. Navy video/Released)

Seventy-six years ago, under Western sanctions for having invaded Manchuria and Southeast Asia, Imperial Japan miscalculated and attacked Oahu. Veterans who were around then said they knew war was inevitable. War was already underway in Europe, as Churchill tried to stave off Hitler and the Nazis. When Japanese planes destroyed our battleships in Pearl Harbor Dec. 7, 1941, we rose to the challenge to fight fascism, both here in the Pacific and in Europe.

On the home-front, families also rose to challenges and confronted new realities. Women joined the workforce in nontraditional occupations. The armed forces became more diversified. Our nation came together in the name of freedom.

SOLOMON ISLANDS (Aug. 9, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) transits to the site of the wreckage of the World War II Royal Australian Navy heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (DD 33) near Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Barry participated in a memorial ceremony held for Canberra, which was sunk on Aug. 9, 1942. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Wesley Timm/Released)
SOLOMON ISLANDS (Aug. 9, 2017) The guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) transits to the site of the wreckage of the World War II Royal Australian Navy heavy cruiser HMAS Canberra (DD 33) near Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. Barry participated in a memorial ceremony held for Canberra, which was sunk on Aug. 9, 1942. (U.S. Marine Corps photo by Sgt. Wesley Timm/Released)

In the first year after the attack here in the Pacific, despite some initial setbacks, our aviators literally rose up in the Battle of Coral Sea and Battle of Midway. Submarines and surface forces took the fight to the enemy like never before. We continued to turn the tide in the Battle of Guadalcanal 75 years ago.

Just as our military would descend throughout Europe to fight fascism, our Marines, Soldiers, Sailors and Coast Guardsmen would rise from the South Pacific and move steadily up the island chain toward the Japanese archipelago. Even back then, we were “ready to fight tonight.”

Today, America’s relationship with the people of Japan is a model for good citizenry and good relationships everywhere. Britain, France and Germany, once mortal enemies, in some cases over centuries, are now strong democracies, friends and allies in Europe.

Our Navy trains and operates with the Japan Self-Defense Force and other navies throughout the world, including here in Hawaii during the Rim of the Pacific Exercise. The world, with just a few outliers, values security, prosperity and stability. History shows democracies, in general, work together to foster peace and cooperation.

Churchill encouraged us to look deep into the past to study history and understand how we can look forward. On this Dec. 7, we will once again remember and honor those who were killed 76 years ago and in the war that followed. At the same time, we will commemorate the reconciliation, security, stability and prosperity our veterans and their families achieved, beginning here at Pearl Harbor.

PEARL HARBOR (July 8, 2014) A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldier, left, New Zealand army soldier and a U.S. Navy Sailor aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA5) render honors while passing the USS Arizona Memorial while departing Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in RIMPAC exercise from June 26 to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2014 was the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amanda Chavez/Released)
PEARL HARBOR (July 8, 2014) A Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldier, left, New Zealand army soldier and a U.S. Navy Sailor aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA5) render honors while passing the USS Arizona Memorial while departing Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to participate in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2014. Twenty-two nations, more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft and 25,000 personnel participated in RIMPAC exercise from June 26 to Aug. 1, in and around the Hawaiian Islands. The world’s largest international maritime exercise, RIMPAC provides a unique training opportunity that helps participants foster and sustain the cooperative relationships that are critical to ensuring the safety of sea lanes and security on the world’s oceans. RIMPAC 2014 was the 24th exercise in the series that began in 1971. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Amanda Chavez/Released)


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Remembering to Look Forward: Rising to the challenge in Pearl Harbor