Defense Sec. Leon Panetta has issued a commemorative message to the survivors of Pearl Harbor. It might better be called Leons Amazing Whodunnit. The secretary waxes poetic, calling the generation that fought World War II the greatest generation and lauding their heroic sacrifice. He thanks them for their courage and steadfastness. This is entirely appropriate.
Theres only one thing missing: Nowhere in Panettas paean to the vets does he mention why this date, which President Roosevelt called a date which will live in infamy, should be remembered. He never mentions that the attack was staged by air and naval forces of Imperial Japan.
Now, if you are a modern Secretary of Defense, you must remember always that America has had a close and cooperative alliance with democratic Japan for more than half a century. You doubtless recall as well that we have U.S. armed forces stationed in various bases in Japan today. You will also want to keep in mind the fact that Japan looks to us for military assistance in the event that North Korea attacks South Korea, or China attacks Taiwan. And we rely on Japan for vital intelligence about movements in Asia.
All of that is well and good. It would have been quite fitting to denounce only the infamy of Japans militarists of 1941. For more than twenty years prior to that dastardly attack, the forces of democracy in Japan were under assault at home. Leaders of Japans parliamentary government were systematically targeted for assassination by young fanatics in the military. Those militants were given encouragement and shelter by these same senior militarists.
No good purpose is served by failing to point these things out. When Saigon fell to the Communists in 1975, the hapless President Ford said this is no day for recriminations.
Ronald Reagan, soon to mount a powerful challenge to Ford, reportedly said: What better day?
So it is today. What better day to recall that on this date in 1941, air and naval forces of the Empire of Japan staged a bloody attack on a nation with whom they were at peace? Failure to point these things out today leads us to underestimate the miracle of our genuine friendship of today.
Former President George H.W. Bush spoke to the U.S. Naval Academy Midshipmen several years ago. He said the most underreported story of the second half of the Twentieth Century was the renewal of close friendship between the American and Japanese peoples. Bush told the Mids they could not imagine the hatred that existed toward all Japanese in the Second World War. As the youngest naval aviator in history, Bush described his plane being shot down by the Japanese over Chichi Jima.
As the waves pushed his inflatable boat inexorably toward that Pacific island, Bush described how he frantically paddled to get away. He knew that captured American fliers were tortured, killed and eaten there. Crying and puking, he said, he thanked God when he saw the submarine USS Finback surface to rescue him.
President Bushs remembrance was of vital importance to those Midshipmen. Within the Brigade of Midshipmen that listened attentively to him that night were several cadets from the Japanese naval academy. Also in attendance were several exchange officers from todays Japanese Navy.
My own family cherishes the friendships we have with foreign exchange officers at the Naval Academy, including those from Japan and Germany. Those nations were our bitterest foes in World War II. We have reached out to our foreign friends, as well as to those Midshipmen who come from newly independent navies of the former Soviet Union.
Peace and reconciliation are sweet rewards of American victories. They are the fruit of peace through strength. Nothing is served, however, by memorial messages that dont memorialize. Amnesia is never a good policy. Mr. Secretary: There is a who in this whodunit!